(Courtesy of Corey Sipkin/NY Daily News)
As discussed in last week's roster evaluation post, the bullpen has experienced greater turnover from last season to this than it has in a long time. Mo is gone, Joba is gone, Boone Logan (and Loone Bogan) are gone, and the Opening Day bullpen in 2014 will look very different than it did at any point in 2013.
The final major roster battle this spring is for those open bullpen spots. The number of available spots could be anywhere from 3 to 1 depending on what happens with the 5th starter competition and the health of the pitchers involved in that, and there are a number of players vying for those spots. The top competitors are an interesting group to say the least, from veterans to rookies, righties and lefties. Adding further intrigue to the competition is the presence of the recently-signed Andrew Bailey. He's not expected to be ready until late summer at the earliest, but he said upon arrival in camp that he "100%" expects to pitch this season. Until that happens, here are the leading contenders for the season-opening spots.
Matt Daley- Was dominant in 39.0 Triple-A innings last year (2.54 ERA/2.10 FIP, 53 K, 6 BB) and scoreless in 7 September appearances, so I'd say he's the favorite at the moment. Daley is primarily a fastball/curveball pitcher but he'll mix some 2-seamers in every now and then just to keep hitters honest. Command used to be a slight issue for him with the Rockies, but it's been very good since he fully came back from his missed season in 2012. The combination of experience and command should serve him well throughout ST as long as he can stay healthy, kind of how it worked for Cory Wade a few years ago.
Dellin Betances- Has the benefit of a much higher ceiling than Daley, but needs to show that his excellent performance post-bullpen conversion last season wasn't a 1-time deal. The spotty mechanics that always hindered Betances' ability to be a consistently good starter should not be nearly as big an issue working out of the 'pen, and working in short outings allows him to max out his fastball, which is still capable of reaching the upper 90s. He looked very good in his debut this week (2 IP, 0 R, 0 BB, 2 K) and secretly I think the Yankee decision makers are rooting for him to have a good spring so they can bring him along. He's got the kind of stuff that could make him an elite closer if he's overcome his command issues.
Cesar Cabral- I've been calling Cabral a sneaky candidate to land a bullpen job for a long time now, and if he didn't fracture his elbow before last season he could have already had the LOOGY job locked up and sent Matt Thornton looking somewhere else for a contract. There's no doubt that Cabral has legit swing-and-miss stuff from the left side and he just turned 25 a little over 2 weeks ago, so he's still projectable as a legit stopper LOOGY. What will boost his chances of landing an Opening Day job is how he handles right-handed hitters. The Yankees already have 1 lefty whose exposure to righties they're trying to limit. They don't have room in the 'pen for another. They would have room for a second lefty if he could perform well against righties though, and that will be the test for Cabral.
Jose Ramirez- He was a trendy pick to steal a spot before camp opened based on his eye-opening ST results in 2013 and the feeling that his time for being converted to a reliever was quickly approaching. Getting scratched from his first ST appearances on Wednesday for potential back/oblique issues has put everything on hold for now and he may not even be ready for the start of the season. If the MRI results come back good and he can get back on a mound and into some games this spring, there's still a slight chance for him. If not, he'll be thrown into the mix for a mid-season call up.
My Take- If Betances didn't still have that 1 MiL option remaining, I would have said he gets the nod over Daley by a hair. Because he does, I think Daley will get the call to start the season if there is only 1 spot available. That's assuming that David Phelps and Adam Warren will both be carried in the 'pen if they don't beat out Pineda for the 5th starter job, and I think that's a mortal lock assumption. Anything different than that outcome that opens up a second spot in the 'pen and I think we'll see both Daley and Betances in there on Opening Day.