(Just a couple of wild and crazy guys. Courtesy of Reuters)
I've made reference multiple times recently to the Yankees having another strong bullpen in 2013, and I strongly believe that's going to be the case. They've got the greatest closer of all time back for another shot at a last go-round, arguably the best setup man and one of the best pressure relief pitchers in baseball ahead of him, 2 strong lefty specialists to play the late-inning matchup game, what will be a more than serviceable long man in whoever loses the 5th starter competition between Ivan Nova and David Phelps, and 2 veteran power arms to work the middle relief innings in Joba Chamberlain in David Aardsma. But it is worth pointing out that the overall depth created by the loss of Rafael Soriano is slightly less than it was in 2012, when depth became a really important issue for obvious reasons.
Keeping that "anything can happen" experience from last season in mind, Joba and Aardsma could have more important roles to fill this season than people first realize.
When Mo went down with his knee injury last year, the Yankees barely missed a beat in the 'pen because they had Soriano and D-Rob there to fill the void and pick up the slack. Boone Logan was effective early as a middle reliever, they got their usual collection of strong contributions from the Wades, Eppleys, and Phelpses of the world, and everything was fine. With Soriano now in D.C., that role of slack picker-upper is going to fall on Joba and/or Aardsma if and when the time comes. Mo could get hurt again, and D-Rob did have some injury hiccups early in the season last year. It's not at all far-fetched to think that Joba or Aardsma could have to step into a setup or even a closer role for a period of time.
Normally this wouldn't be a big deal. Joba first made his name as a flame-throwing rookie setup guy and has pitched in his fair share of big spots, and Aardsma has closing experience from his 2 years in Seattle. They've each proven that they're capable of handling high-leverage innings and high-leverage roles if the situation calls for them to. But they're also both coming off short 2012 campaigns spent mostly recovering from Tommy John Surgery. Joba got much more Major League work in than DA, pitching 20.2 innings of 4.35/4.01/3.55 ball and getting a few appearances in the postseason in. Aardsma appeared in 1 Major League game towards the end of the regular season, and has only pitched a total of 11.2 innings in the last 2 years.
We saw Joba struggle with his command early upon his return to in-game action, a staple of almost every TJS comeback, before starting to find the feel for his slider and pitching lights out down the stretch. I would expect something similar from Aardsma in the first few months of this season based on his walks in his limited work in 2012, and could certainly live with a month or 2 of him working to get his groove back. Where things could get sketchy is if both guys struggle to re-adjust to a regular workload. If they show diminished velocity and inconsistent command, suddenly the Yankees' 'pen depth gets a little more shallow and suddenly the Yankees are at risk of being exposed if Mo or D-Rob goes down. Joba and Aardsma are basically combining to be what Soriano was for the Yanks last season, and if they aren't up to the task the Yankees' most consistent source of strength could take a step back.
The fact that both Joba and DA were able to get through their rehab work without major issue and get back into game action at the end of 2012 was huge for them. Now they'll have time to follow a normal offseason workout and throwing routine and should get to go through a normal Spring Training to prepare themselves for the regular season. In a perfect world, Joba's velocity will be back to mid-90s and he'll still have his slider working, and Aardsma will work out most of his command kinks in ST. If that happens, the 'pen should be in good shape and able to overcome any more unforeseen injuries. If not, then hopefully the injury bug stays away.