SSTN Mailbag: Filling the Bullpen and Off-Season Pitching Decisions!
I really shouldn't complain. The Yankees have come through the toughest part of their first half schedule not just relatively unscathed, but in rather excellent shape. The Yankees are the cream of the MLB crop even as they deal with a short bullpen and possibly tiring starters. That doesn't mean that everything is perfect. On paper, the Astros took 3-of-5 from the Yankees in the last week. That includes a random game yesterday that was played to make up for the games lost early in the year to the owner-imposed lockout. I do understand the difficulty that MLB schedulers faced in trying to make those games up in the midst of the existing schedule. However, I can't say that makes the random single games like yesterday's any better. Not only did both the Yankees and Astros lose a much-needed off-day, but the two best teams in the American League, who had just split a fantastic 4-game set with October vibes, returned to face each other just a few days later to play an anti-climatic single game that worked very much against the standard rhythms of a baseball season. This concept of rhythm and routine is very much ingrained in the game of baseball, and it's unfair to both teams to work against those paradigms. It is part of why I was always so against the one-game sudden death Wild Card playoff game. Look, these single game make-ups are probably a pin-prick on the season, but it still bothers me enough to mention it, as the lockout continues to affect even the best teams in baseball in 2022.
As always, thanks for the great questions and keep them coming to SSTNReadermail@gmail.com. In this week's SSTN Mailbag, we'll take a look at the composition of the Yankee bullpen now and in the near-future, and we'll discuss some off-season pitching decisions. Let's get at it:
Michael asks: What will the Yankee bullpen look like when everyone is healthy? It seems like Chapman, German, and Loaisiga are getting close to returning and it sounds like Britton might be back before the end of the season as well. Who will stay and who will go?
As Michael astutely notes, this decision appears to be coming very soon. Chapman has now pitched in three relatively uneventful rehab outings, and appears days away from returning; German has thrown two 40+ pitch outings with good stuff; and Loaisiga looks closer to beginning a rehab assignment. I'm going to set Britton aside for the time being; returning from Tommy John Surgery is difficult and unpredictable, and I don't think we should have any expectations for either the timetable of Britton's return or his ability to be one of the Yankees' top-8 relief arms when he's ready to return. Let's start by looking at the current bullpen, in descending order from safest to least:
Clay Holmes and Michael King are in a tier unto themselves; they're not going anywhere barring injury. I would place Peralta in his own tier; a guy who doesn't allow a lot of baserunners with an excellent change-up that he locates well and a king of soft contact to boot; I debated bumping Castro down a tier, but I think he's safe as the Yankees appear to love his bowling ball sinker, though it wouldn't shock me if he's the first guy on this list that isn't super safe; then I think Luetge, Marinaccio, and Abreu are on the bubble; and Weber is the first guy who will be jettisoned when another long-guy is available.
So, Weber is gone as soon as either German is ready, or one of Schmidt or Sears gets another call. That leaves us with two more guys that will need to leave when Chapman and Loaisiga are ready. The most interesting case here is Ron Marinaccio. Marinaccio has really come into his own since his last recall on May 22nd, pitching 14.1 innings, allowing no runs, 1 hit, while striking out 17. He has been so dominant that even his overall numbers are good now, with a WHIP below 1.00 overall now. Sadly, of the guys remaining in this tier, Marinaccio is the only one who has an option, and we've seen that the Yankees value maintaining as much pitching depth as they possibly can. If it were up to me, I think I'd hang on to Marinaccio at the big league level, and find a way to make a minor deal for Castro/Luetge, but I suspect the Yankees will send Marinaccio down for the sake of depth. So, Marinaccio goes to the minors, which leaves either Castro, Luetge, or Abreu to get DFA'd/traded.
I get the sense that the Yankees are thrilled to have Abreu back in the fold, and I don't blame them. Abreu's stuff is electric (even if his control is suspect), and he's capable of pitching multiple innings. Luetge is functionally different than any other pitcher in the Yankee bullpen, with a fastball that barely breaks 90 MPH with a deceptive arm slot and breaking stuff that plays. The Yankees acquired Castro before the start of the year and he's pitched some important innings with varying results, but he does have that sinker that the Yankees love. Out of this group, I can't help but think that the Yankees will try to find a small deal for Castro or Luetge, because I have a hunch the Yankees will try to get more out of Abreu before he's discarded.
All bets are off for the playoffs, as I think the Yankees will get the best arms in the 'pen regardless of status.
Fuster asks: the contracts of Chapman and Britton end as well, the contract of Taillon ends. do the Yankees retain Taillon, at what likely salary or do they replace him and is Michael KIng a likely replacement for the starter?
Let's start at the end and work our way back to the beginning. I do not believe that Michael King is a viable choice in the rotation next season or beyond. I think there is potential for him to pitch as many as three innings out of the bullpen, but I think the likely drop in stuff that would occur out of the rotation would make his secondary offerings less effective, enough so that he is more valuable as a fireman with truly electric stuff. If the Yankees lose a starter this offseason, I think the Yankees will have to look elsewhere for starting pitching help to fill out the rotation (either internally or externally).
It is true that Chapman and Britton are coming off the books; it is also true that a very large man who is proving to be very good at baseball while playing center field is going to command a very large sum of money, and I am in the camp that believes that the Yankees should not allow him to leave New York. That is going to take up a chunk of the Yankees' space under the second luxury tax threshold. Beyond that, I think we need to look at Taillon in context.
I stumped pretty hard for Taillon following the 2020 season, and I still like him as a pitcher. For sure, Taillon can be a capable part of a championship rotation, and he's likely someone who is worth 2-4 WAR by most measurements in his good years. However, I still don't have a great feel for who Taillon is as a pitcher, as he has tweaked his repertoire multiple times just in the last season and change. I also worry very much about his long-term future given his very scary injury history. As much as I like Taillon right now, I worry about signing him to a long-term free agent deal given the fact that the Yankees have multiple very capable arms on the precipice of the Majors who can fill out a rotation at a far cheaper rate. Based on what I've seen this season, I fully expect some combination of Schmidt/Sears/Wesneski/Waldichuk/Medina to pitch important rotation innings next season with similar results. Those pitchers will likely approach 2+ WAR for the league minimum.
Right now, I don't have a good feel for what Taillon will get on the open market, but based on performance and injury history, Hyun Jin Ryu's 4-year, $80 million contract and Kevin Gausman's 5-year, $110 million feel like good starting places. I think Taillon is likely a guy that gets $20 million per season, and I'm not sure I'm willing to go there for Taillon.