The New York Yankees should follow the Dodgers and Rays’ blueprint when it comes to building a bullpen

Andres Chavez
New York Yankees
Oct 16, 2017; Bronx, NY, USA; An view of the a field logo before game three of the 2017 ALCS playoff baseball series between the New York Yankees and the Houston Astros at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

What was once considered a strength, it is now a liability. The New York Yankees used to boast super bullpens as recently as 2019, but now, thanks to injuries, ineffectiveness and a couple of unexpected twists, the group as a whole was very disappointing in the condensed 2020 season.

The situation was so bad in the American League Division Series against the Tampa Bay Rays that the Yankees had only three trustworthy relievers. In a series with no rest days, that can represent a problem, since manager Aaron Boone needed to get the most out of Aroldis Chapman, Zach Britton and Chad Green.

Yes, the New York Yankees invested a lot in Adam Ottavino, but with a 5.89 ERA in 18.1 frames (albeit with a decent 3.52 FIP) he didn’t inspire much confidence. They also have Luis Cessa and Jonathan Holder, but you probably don’t want to trust high leverage innings to them. The Tommy Kahnle injury was very, very hard to overcome.

That’s why the New York Yankees need their player development staff to, well, develop more useful relievers. The Rays and the Los Angeles Dodgers have done in the recent past, and both of them have deep units and are currently playing for the right to be crowned World Champions.

The Yankees need a change

Not only that, but the Yankees also need to be more active in the relief pitcher trading market. The Kahnle addition was extremely useful, why not target a similar reliever via trade? The Rays brought Nick Anderson, Peter Fairbanks via trades and, thanks to their player development staff, turned them in what they are today. They also scooped up John Curtiss as a free agent and developed Diego Castillo, Josh Fleming and Jose Alvarado.

The Dodgers are even better at developing starters: Clayton Kershaw, Walker Buehler, Tony Gonsolin, Dustin May and Julio Urias are all “from the house.”

Kenley Jansen (a long time ago, but still) and Victor Gonzalez were nurtured as homegrown pitchers, and Dylan Floro was picked up in a trade with the Reds. Joe Kelly and Blake Treinen were savvy, non-expensive additions that were “rescued” with hard work and a strong analytics team. Pedro Baez, Brusdar Graterol, Jake McGee, Adam Kolarek… none of them makes more than a million and a half per season.

See? It is possible for the Yankees to put together a strong bullpen without having to chase every free agent available. They do have some interesting internal starters that could be turned into full-time relievers, like Michael King, Nick Nelson, and even Domingo German. Let’s see if they shore up their analytics department and what is the end result of the 2020-2021 offseason.