This is what I predicted would happen before yesterday's 40-man roster set deadline: "My prediction for today is only Austin and Williams getting added, maybe one of the Triple-A arms if the Yankees make a move somewhere else today to open another spot."
Almost nailed it. Almost. The one thing I didn't anticipate was the Yankees protecting 2 of the eligible bullpen arms. Not with 40-man spots being needed for future FA signings, not with D-Rob being one of those FA priorities, not with a solid middle relief corps already in place, and not with other non-40-man guys like Nick Rumbelow, Jacob Lindgren, Tyler Webb, and Nick Goody waiting in the wings as well.
But the Yankees know their players better than I do, and they clearly like both Dan Burawa and Branden Pinder enough to want them around for depth. They didn't protect a similar pitcher in Tommy Kahnle last year and he ended up going to Colorado and having a nice 2014 season with the Rockies. But where, exactly, do Burawa and Pinder fit into that depth plan for 2015? As of this moment, here's what the Yankee bullpen pecking order looks like for next year:
I think it's a safe assumption that the Yankees will bring back D-Rob or replace him with another top-tier reliever (Andrew Miller?). The setup/fireman job is set with Betances, the middle relief bridge is sturdy with the next 3, and I think Phelps has now become the official longman/swingman and less of a real competitor for a rotation spot out of camp. That means 6 of next year's 7 bullpen spots are accounted for already, and that's before you get to guys like Preston Claiborne, Jose Ramirez, Jose De Paula, and Chase Whitley as the first wave of candidates for that last spot.
That leaves Pinder and Burawa firmly entrenched in that next level of "first guys up from the Minors" and for the time being that's just fine. They'll get a long look in spring camp and could very easily pitch well enough to earn that last open spot on the Major League roster. But this move strikes me as one more geared towards 2016 and beyond than 2015. Pinder and Burawa could both use some polish to their games and a mid-season taste of MLB life in 2015 would be a nice way to apply that polish. If they follow the path up from that second level of organizational relief depth like Claiborne and Ramirez have done over the last few years, they could become viable full-time 'pen options in 2016.
No matter the case with them, the Yankees still have plenty of organizational relief depth and that's important. When they fortify the back end for next year by re-signing Robertson or through other means, they should be looking at an improved relief group next season.