Since Houston eliminated the Yankees, and really in the days beforehand, much has been made about the Yankees’ reliance on relievers over starters. On this here blog, Steven examined the subject to some extent yesterday. After seeing the Astros and Nationals (congrats to the Nats!) make the World Series behind stalwart starting pitching (and starters in relief!), it’s easy to say that starters are what win in October. That helps of course, but in reality, having both good starters and good relievers goes a long way.
For the Yankees, what’s the easy solution to getting both of those things? Signing Gerrit Cole this winter, obviously. But considering that the league treats the luxury tax like a soft salary cap nowadays, fitting in Cole could get tricky. We’re going to outline how that can be done in our offseason plan soon. But in the process of compiling our plan, it’s clear that prior deals with relievers have made it difficult for the Yankees to improve elsewhere.
If Aroldis Chapman sticks around for 2020, the Yankees will have roughly $45 million committed to relievers (for luxury tax purposes) next season. That amount could be upwards of 20 percent of total payroll. Since Yankees’ ownership has decided to keep payroll relatively flat in recent years, having so much money locked into relievers has come at an opportunity cost. Meaning: no Justin Verlander, Patrick Corbin, or Manny Machado. Again, this is self inflicted, the Yankees could have spent more, but do not.
If the Yankees continue to keep payroll stable, it would be sensible to allocate more salary away from the bullpen. Chapman opting out and leaving in free agency would get the Yankees closer to that ideal.
Granted, spending less on the bullpen will weaken the Yankees relievers, at least to an extent. In the last decade, they’ve done really well at developing bullpen arms in the system. Think Dellin Betances, David Robertson, Chad Green, Tommy Kahnle, and even Gio Gallegos, to name a few. Plus, it seems like someone new is throwing 99 in the minors for them everyday. They could save money trying to build a bullpen within while supplementing it with one or two free agents, not three or four.
If you’re worried about not having a bullpen formula for the postseason, just look at what recent World Series winners have done. Patrick Corbin started and relieved for Washington this year. Nate Eovaldi was a huge piece of Boston’s October bullpen last year. Charlie Morton and Lance McCullers saved the day for Houston in 2017. Those teams did have good relievers, certainly not as good as the Yankees have had. But, by having a deep starting rotation, they were able to shift regular season starters into high leverage relief roles in the playoffs. Perhaps it’s time for the Yankees to shift closer to that model. Or, you know, spend like crazy on both starters and relievers.