John Harper, SNY.tv | Twitter |
Maybe Alex Cora was simply playing to the crowd at the Boston baseball writers' dinner Thursday night. But suffice it to say he didn't seem concerned that the Yankees had just added another weapon, Adam Ottavino, to the best bullpen in baseball.
"Somebody might write this, I don't care," Cora said upon receiving his AL Manager of the Year award. "If you guys thought last year was special, wait 'til this year."
Man, Cora likes to wave the flag, doesn't he? He's just cocky enough to add some spice to the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry, as we saw last year, and suffice to say that winning it all in his first season on the job is only going to make him bolder.
Indeed, if the Yankees were still waiting for a reason to jump in on Manny Machado, well, that's just the kind of comment that once would have pushed them over the top. But as we know by now, Hal Steinbrenner doesn't seem to react emotionally to such things, so Cora's bold talk isn't likely to influence their stance on Machado -- or Bryce Harper, for that matter.
As it is, the onus has been on the Yankees this off-season to respond after finishing eight games behind the Red Sox in the AL East and then losing to them in the ALDS as well, yet they've resisted the temptation to go buy a superstar.
Nevertheless, GM Brian Cashman has done a lot more to improve his roster this off-season than his counterpart, Dave Dombrowski, to the point where I'd at least make the Yankees co-favorites to win the division in 2019, depending whether the Sox still find a way to re-sign Craig Kimbrel.
Eight games in the standings is a lot to make up, obviously, but it's worth remembering that gap opened only after Aaron Judge went down with a fracture in his wrist.
And while the Sox have the more well-rounded offense, which proved decisive in the post-season thanks to so many clutch, two-out hits, any sort of return to form by Gary Sanchez will ensure that the Yankees again bludgeon teams on their way to another 100-win season.
Which brings us to back to the bullpens. The Yankees have had various forms of super pens going back to 2016, when they teamed Aroldis Chapman with Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances, but they've never had one as deep, dominant, and diversified as the one they've now built for 2019.
Some teams had reservations about committing big bucks to Ottavino as a closer or even the primary set-up man, fearing that as brilliant as he pitched last season, he has been inconsistent throughout his career, and at age 33 could be prone to more volatility.
The Yankees could take that risk at least partly because he basically ranks fourth on their bullpen depth chart, and maybe lower if Chad Green returns to his 2017 level of dominance.
Meaning that Ottavino could be pitching a lot in the sixth and seventh innings, which is quite a luxury for any team if indeed that wicked slider behaves for him as it did last year.
"He could be the best low-leverage reliever in history," joked one National League scout on Friday. "I'm sure he'll wind up pitching the eighth inning on days when their other guys are overworked, but that's the beauty of that bullpen: they'll always have fresh arms, which is the real challenge now because teams use the pen more than ever. That's a huge advantage."
It's certainly an advantage over the Red Sox, whose bullpen at the moment is largely an unproven collection of the arms that, when push came to shove in the post-season last October, were passed over as Cora used his starters in key late-inning spots to get the game to Kimbrel.
Top set-up man Joe Kelly is a Dodger now, and with virtually all of the other big-name free-agent relievers off the board, Kimbrel would seem to be a must-sign for Sox.
Yet only hours after the Yankees added Ottavino on Thursday, Dombrowski did his best to make it sound as if that's not happening.
"I still don't expect us to have a high expenditure in our closer situation," he told reporters at the Boston writers' dinner.
Then there was Cora's take.
"Actually, today we had a meeting, very eye-opening with our analytical department. A lot of stuff we're going to implement next year. We do feel that there are guys who can get outs in the ninth inning, and guys who can get outs in the seventh and eighth.
"People get caught up obviously in what New York is doing. We knew that they were going to make moves. They have a great bullpen, obviously. But we have a great rotation. It balances out."
It more than balanced out in the ALDS last October. However, that equation changes over 162 games, which is why it's hard to believe Dombrowksi isn't bluffing, waiting for Kimbrel's price to drop.
Otherwise, with the Yankees primed to own the late innings, Cora's bold prediction could ring awfully hollow.