Everything has been going right for the Yankee bullpen since June 1, and the formally much-maligned group has produced nothing but key outs in the biggest of spots.
In fact, the Yankee bullpen leads all of MLB in strikeouts, batting average against, saves, and WHIP since that date.
The old adage warns that “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” but GM Brian Cashman and manager Joe Girardi seem reluctant to heed that caveat.
Damaso Marte is set to return from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre any day now, and it is possible he could be pitching during the Boston series in Fenway (*gulp*).
As hard as the Yankee “pig ‘pen” has worked to build a weakness into a reliable foundation, it appears Marte and the Yankee brass will attempt to “blow their house down.”
The Yankees and their fans better hope that Phil Hughes and Mariano Rivera have built their house out of brick as opposed to straw and sticks, because no one with a pulse wants Marte inside.
It is not simply a matter of performance and replacing a weak link with a once dependable commodity. It is not about a glaring need for another lefty in the ‘pen, or that they have been hurt time and time again by hard-hitting left-handed hitters.
This, my friends, is solely about money. The irresponsible three-year contract they re-signed Marte to in the offseason is valued at $12 million.
They cannot allow their second highest paid reliever to waste away in the minors—though I’m sure Kei Igawa felt like he wasn’t alone for the first time.
No, the Yankees have to give him a chance. The same chance they continually extended to Cody Ransom when young players had already proved their ability to outperform him.
Unfortunately, this is not a matter of “if” New York makes a move. It is going to happen, and David Robertson is going to be the most undeserving of demotions.
Robertson is currently pitching to a 3.06 ERA and 1.36 WHIP in 35.1 IP. He has allowed just 27 hits while collecting a remarkable 52 strikeouts—leading all relievers in MLB with a 13.33 K/9 ratio.
To make matters “worse,” the young man’s confidence is about to reach a new apex. His August ERA is 0.00 in eight appearances, and he has struck out 13 hitters over that span. This includes a Houdini-like escape of a bases-loaded, one out jam to preserve an important Yankee victory.
Some readers may be asking, “Why on Earth would the Yankees ever send him down? Won’t they choose someone less productive?”
Welcome to the harsh world of “minor league options.”
Due to the presence of Sergio Mitre and Chad Gaudin to offset the necessary extra days of rest in the “Joba Rules,” the Yankees are essentially one man short in the bullpen. Both will need to make starts over the next month, which makes it impossible to release either of them.
It’s safe to say that Phil Coke, Phil Hughes, Mariano Rivera, and Alfredo Aceves are going nowhere. If you’re not counting in your head, then Marte, Gaudin, and these four add up to six Yankee relievers.
Most teams, including the Yankees, implement a 12-man pitching staff with five starters and seven relievers. This allows for more bench flexibility for a manager to have at his disposal—especially with Alex Rodriguez’s rest schedule and Hideki Matsui’s balky knees.
This leaves the final battle between Brian Bruney and Robertson. Again, welcome to the harsh reality of minor league options.
Although Robertson has been vital to the bullpen’s success and has vastly outperformed Bruney, his ability to be sent down to Triple-A without first having to clear waivers makes him the odd man out.
To his credit, Bruney has performed much better of late. The problem is, Robertson is better than him, and Marte couldn’t carry Robertson’s jockstrap.
If you remember, it was the combination of Marte and Bruney that got the Yankees into this bullpen mess in the first place—forcing inexperienced youngsters like Robertson to blossom into trusted weaponry.
The days of Marte, Jose Veras, Edwar Ramirez, and Jonathan Albaladejo seem like centuries ago. The Yankee bullpen puzzle is now complete, and it is firing on all cylinders.
The Yankees, nevertheless, are about to try to force Marte’s square peg into the gaping round hole that Robertson’s impact will be leaving behind.
Robertson will be back in pinstripes on September 1, as the 25-man rosters quickly expand to 40.
As the Yankees proved in turning a 3.5 game deficit into a 7 game lead, however, a lot can happen in a few weeks.