Andy Martino, SNY.tv | Twitter |
A bullpen loaded with high-end relievers is one of the Yankees' great strengths. But having so many relief aces capable of pitching the eighth or ninth inning can also be awkward.
Traditionally, relievers appreciate two things from a manager: Knowing which inning they will pitch, and having an opportunity to collect saves and holds, the stats that earn money in arbitration and free agency.
With the Yankees, it will be difficult for Aaron Boone to fully provide either, because of the depth that he has, and the flexibility expected of it.
But this will not be as tricky as it seems, for one reason that most fans probably don't consider: Financial security.
As Adam Ottavino notes, most of the Yankees' relievers have already hit their payday, which makes it far easier to be flexible.
"I'll tell you one thing that helps with the buy-in is taking the money out of the equation," Ottavino said last month in Tampa. "Your arb could affect your opinion on some things, because closers get more money. [Setup guys get] holds, things like that. When you're already signed up, like most of us are, that's less of a factor.
Ottavino signed a three-year, $27 million contact last winter. Zack Britton returned on a complicated deal that will guarantee him a minimum of $39 million. Aroldis Chapman is here on a five-year, $86 million deal. When you're done with arbitration, it's easier to accept whatever inning the manager and analytics department suggests.
"We had a guy in Colorado two years ago was our long man, Chris Rusin," Ottavino said. "He had an unbelievable year, he had a [2.65 ERA] in Colorado, which is hard to do. And he was pitching in a multi-inning role.
"By the end of the year he was pitching seventh, eighth inning matchups, doing a little bit of everything. I think on the year, in several metrics he was a top ten relief pitcher. Goes to arb, gets [$1.3] million. It just is what it is. Is it fair? No.
"If he wasn't such a good team guy, I could see him coming in the next year and being like, 'Hey I've earned the eighth inning, or I've earned a closing shot.' Just because of the money situation."
Dellin Betances is the one late-inning Yankee reliever still awaiting his long-term deal, though he and the team have been talking extension, per sources. But even if he goes to free agency, he will probably be valued as a top reliever.
"Dellin is in the last year of arb, and I think everyone out there knows what he's capable of, so that's not his mindset," Ottavino said.
The way Ottavino sees it, the four-year, $35 million agreement in 2014 between the Yankees and Andrew Miller was a watershed moment in bullpen value and usage. Miller was not a closer, but the Yankees decided to value him as a relief ace that he was, no matter what inning he pitched. That paved the way for Britton and Ottavino to receive their big contracts (and the same applies to Jeurys Familia's willingness to sign with the Mets as a setup man).
"I remember that offseason [of Miller's free agency]," Ottavino said. "I remember seeing that and being like, alright, that's the highest deal for a non-closer type. And then you start seeing how guys are valued over the next couple years.
"Credit to him for being open to that, with this team and the Indians. It just felt like there was a little more hope that when you get to free agency, your role would be appreciated."
Because of that precedent, and the Yankees' strategy this offseason to invest heavily in relievers capable of serving elsewhere as closers, Boone's pen should run smoothly.
When the manager summons Ottavino or Britton to bail his team out of a fifth inning jam -- or even asks one of them to serve as an opener -- the pitchers will gladly comply, because the team has already demonstrated how much it values them.