A few weeks ago, when the debate over whether the Yankees needed to re-sign David Robertson began, the opinion of this corner was it would not be a crisis if he went elsewhere.
The deal is done, Robertson bolts the Yankees for the retooling Chicago White Sox for a reported 4-year, $46 million arrangement, a bit below the “Papelbon Level” of 4/50 it was mentioned he was seeking. The Yankees could have re-signed him. Did they need to? With Andrew Miller on board, the priority became even less.
The tough part for fans is they become attached to players. The key is to look at why the Yankees bullpen is still a strength and will be even stronger in the future. There is elite talent. There will be more elite talent.
Obviously the performance of right-hander Dellin Betances has something to do with this decision. In 2014, the 6-foot-8 former star at Grand Street Campus High in Brooklyn, taken in the eighth round of the 2006 draft, put up video-game numbers. He was 5-0, 1.40 in 70 games and 90 innings, allowed just 46 hits and a ridiculous strikeout/walk ratio of 135-24.
Some worry about his control. As a starter, he walked too many they say. Betances was inconsistent in the minors, but a pattern of why was noticed when the Yankees decided to make him a bullpen force. It was a simple correction, one that was actually more mental than mechanical.
Betances, as a starter, would cruise through lineups when there were no runners on the bases. The minute there were runners, leading off first and third, especially, disrupting his focus and concentration, his game, even after five sparkling innings, would collapse like a pile of toothpicks. It often wasn’t pretty, especially during his time in Trenton.
So what was proposed to Betances? Certainly there will be base runners in games you pitch, whether as a starter or reliever. Certainly they will try to distract you. So how do you solve this problem? You don’t worry about them. Ignore the fact they are there. Just trust your exceptional stuff and challenge the batter.
It took a while, but that is how Betances operates right now. He knows he has eight other teammates out there and his one job is to limit how many batters get in base. His fielders are there to help him take care of them.
Can Betances close, himself or in tandem with 6-foot-7 lefty Andrew Miller? Absolutely. He has the stuff. One question here. After 1996, when John Wetteland left the Yankees to sign with Texas, had Twitter been like it is today, what would the reaction have been with Mariano Rivera, the best-ever with one pitch, who had never closed? Think about that for a second.
If the Yankees feel they need a closer type, an option such as right-hander Jason Grilli, the former Seton Hall University star who anchored a good Pittsburgh bullpen for a few years, is available.
In addition to Betances and Miller, the Yankees bullpen has recently acquired lefty Justin Wilson, who can hit 100 mph and, while his work against lefties suffered a bit with the Pirates in 2014, he hammers right-handed batters. With a healthy Shawn Kelley working from the right side, it seems opening the season with Kelley, Wilson, Miller and Betances in important innings ought to work quite well.
Now let’s get to the getting stronger part as far as the bullpen is concerned. There is a legitimate chance lefty Jacob Lindgren could arrive mid-2015, bringing his 94-mph sinking fastball and tight 80-mph slider to the bullpen. After him, there are righty Nick Rumbelow and lefty Tyler Webb with solid stuff. Another lefty named James Pazos started coming on strong at Trenton in 2014, holding Double-A Eastern League hitters to a .167 average. And righty Branden Pinder, who can hit the upper 90s, is still in the picture.
Certainly it would have been nice to bring back Robertson, a great guy who has done plenty of charity work. But the Yankees, knowing what other bullpen arms are available now and in the future, rolled the dice.
This corner feels it was a good gamble.