Thursday, November 7, 2013

Grant Balfour, David Robertson and Replacing Mo

The Yankees' goals for this offseason aren't too complicated - resign Cano, resign Hiroki Kuroda, improve the rotation, find an adequate bat for right field and replace Mariano Rivera. The Yankees aren't necessarily tied to getting under $189 million in salary this season but it's certainly the desired goal. With the exception of trading for Vernon Wells, everything they have done over the past year or so has been with that in mind and even with the Wells trade, they structured the payment so that they would be paying a lower number in 2014.

All in all, while the Yankees are looking to spend money (how much is dependent on if they have to pay Alex Rodriguez in 2014) they are also trying to save a few bucks. If you ask me, one way to waste a few bucks is to pay a premium for a Proven Closer™ on the free agent market.  The Yankees undoubtedly have to replace Mariano Rivera, and I don't envy the soul who has to do that, but one way to accomplish that task is to replace him in house. Inside the Yankees' house one will find a David Robertson, who has easily been one of the best relievers in the game over the last few years, and really since Robertson starting throwing pitches in the majors. Yes, he has mostly done his work in the eighth inning but with rare exception, everyone who pitches the ninth, started by pitching the eighth. 

For his career, Robertson has a 2.76/2.76/2.95 ERA/FIP/xFIP pitching line in 329 innings. In 2013 Robertson had a 2.04 ERA with 77 strikeouts in 66.1 innings pitched. Among relievers since 2011, Robertson has the fifth best ERA, the seventh best FIP and the third most WAR. When I say he's been one of the best and most valuable relievers, you can see I'm telling the truth. 

The Yankees certainly need to acquire some relievers this offseason as both Rivera and Joba are gone but replacing Mo's role on the team can easily be filled by David Robertson. However, the Yankees might not be leaning towards that decision with Susan Slusser reporting that the Yankees are interested in Grant Balfour. It should be noted that "interest" is an extremely large umbrella and how much, if any, the Yankees have in Balfour is questionable but it certainly seems like they are eyeing a closer to replace their closer.

In 2012 Rivera famously missed most of the 2012 season with a torn ACL. In his place the Yankees initially tried Roberston. On May 8th, Robertson recorded the save but let three runners reach base. On May 9th, Robertson blew the save and lost the game, allowing four runs without finishing the inning. On May 11th, Roberston recorded two outs in a non-save situation in the ninth inning and then found himself on the DL with a strained left oblique. When he returned to the Yankees in June, Rafael Soriano (Proven Closer™) was closing games and would hold that job for the remainder of the year.

I don't know if a few appearances in 2012 have any effect on Robertson having the job in 2014 but the Yankees are still looking for a closer to replace Rivera this offseason, even with Robertson in their back pocket. From the Daily News:
While David Robertson is clearly the top incumbent candidate to replace the retired Mariano Rivera, Yankees GM Brian Cashman isn’t just handing him the job this winter.
“We haven’t anointed anybody the closer, so I don’t know,” Cashman said. “I know Robertson wants it. But we’ll see how the winter shakes out and how the competition in spring training takes place.
“We’re going to look at everybody and anything and see where the winter takes us. The bottom line is, we have to get a collection of talent to bring to spring training. The cream rises to the top, and we have to find as much cream as possible.”
Anthony McCarron continues to state how Robertson is an option in house but he also goes on to mention Joe Nathan and Grant Balfour as potential replacements as well. I understand Cashman playing it safe here but Robertson is better than any reliever on the market. Joe Nathan had a startling 1.39 ERA but his .224 BABIP, 3.0% HR/FB ratio and declining velocity aren't that exciting in a 39 year old pitcher. For what it's worth, the Rangers didn't even give him a qualifying offer and they have worse in house options than David Robertson. Grant Balfour had a very solid 2013 season, earning his first All-Star Game appearance but his 3.42 xFIP screams more middle reliever than closer to me.

We know the Yankees need to find some relievers but if budget is a concern (and it sure seems that way) throwing a few million at Jesse Crain types seems like a more appropriate course of action than paying top dollar for someone who has saved games previously. Before Joe Nathan closed games for the Twins he was a set up man on the Giants. Before Grant Balfour closed games for the A's he set up games for the A's and Rays. Before Mariano Rivera closed games for the Yankees he set up John Wetteland. The Yankees (should) know this process more than anyone and they have one of the best pitchers in baseball to replace Mo, throwing the highest leverage innings.

I don't necessarily think that a couple of questionable performances in the ninth inning in May of  2012 is preventing Robertson from being named closer, but I'm also not entirely sure what the rub is. It's possible the Yankees want to entice a potential free agent the idea that they could be closing games in NY but that would also theoretically drive up their price and have a lesser pitcher at closer.

If the Yankees want to resign Cano and improve the rotation, giving Balfour money for the number under the 'S' column in his baseball card isn't optimal use of their resources. They should name Robertson the closer and bargain shop for relievers to fill out the rest of the bullpen. Koji Uehara didn't save games before signing with Boston and he had one of the best seasons a reliever or closer has ever had. I believe the Yankees know this, I sure hope they know this but let's see what happens. 


  1. no no balfour. love the sign crain idea (if healthy). d-rob should close. can't imagine yanks would shove a no-namer in the "mariano" role but shawn kelley could probably handle it too.

  2. @Steven Glauber - Shawn Kelley was definitely a nice pickup for the Yankees but I'd feel safer without him pitching the later innings. Still, if it's between rolling with Kelly or using valuable $$ for Joe Nathan for $10 million, I'm choosing Kelley.