Monday, June 29, 2009

Shuffle Up And Deal

Either baseball's version of Texas No-Limit Hold 'Em poker has finally arrived, or Yankees general manager Brian Cashman has been listening to way too much Lady GaGa.*

That's because Cashman is wearing a huge poker face and bluffing with the chutzpah of a riverboat gambler.

Cashman said Monday that the Yankees can fill their bullpen needs from within.

"The bullpen right now has been a real strength," Cashman said. "What's important about that is it lessens the 'I have to do something' prospect that's always looming. When you have to do something, you can overpay."

A real strength, huh? I don't think many people are buying that.

Yes, the Yankees bullpen has been much, much better recently, especially since Brian Bruney has returned. Over the Yankees' last 13 games, the bullpen is 1-1 with a 1.60 ERA in 39-1/3 innings.

Bruney's return has given the Yankees a strong eighth-inning man and is allowing manager Joe Girardi to finally establish some roles.

The addition of Phil Hughes has given relief corps another reliable, versatile, power arm, and Jose Aceves has nicely assumed the role that Ramiro Mendoza once held. Phil Coke, meanwhile, is perfect in the sixth-/seventh-inning/lefty specialist role.

All that is coming from within and giving the Yankees the makings of what can become a pretty good bullpen. A formula is starting to take shape.

"You mix and match, you give guys a taste of it," Cashman said. "Some guys take
advantage of it, some guys don't. After shuffling the furniture a little bit, we've found something that I think when Joe Girardi comes to the mound, our players and fan base feels a lot more confident."

But that bullpen still is an arm short -- and sorry Dave, the solution isn't moving Joba to the 'pen. He's staying in the rotation until he hits his innings limit.

The problem revolves around Bruney. When he's healthy and throwing strikes, he's proven himself to be adept at being the prized bridge to Mariano Rivera.

The thing is that after spending most of last season on the disabled list, he's already been back on the DL twice this season ... and both times the bullpen has imploded.

No one currently on the roster has been able to prove he can handle the eighth inning, though Hughes has shown he might be able to do the job. And if there was someone currently in the organization who could fill that role, something tells me we would already would have seen him by now.

That means the Yankees need a backup plan, someone who can reliably handle the eighth inning in addition to Bruney. They need to add some depth.

Look, Cashman does not have the greatest track record when it comes to finding relievers (see Fransworth, Kyle; Gordon, Tom and Karsay, Steve), but he's also not a total idiot. He knows the Yankees need another bullpen arm.

He also knows that if other teams perceive the Yankees as desperate, they will jack up the price and try to lure the Yankees into a bad deal.

But as long as the bullpen is pitching well, Cashman has leverage to drive down other teams' asking prices.

Right now, the Yankees don't appear to be in a position where they "have to do something." But that doesn't mean the don't want to do something.

Afterall, with a 4.27 ERA that ranks 8th in the AL ,a .748 OPS that ranks 9th and an AL-worst 43 homers allowed, the bullpen still needs some more help.

Cashman is out there searching for another reliever. He'll take advantage of the Yankees' financial superiority and willingness add a bad contract if he can net a reliable reliever.

But what he won't do is strip mine the farm.

Brian Cashman is playin' poker. He's holding a pair of pocket nines.

If that bullpen continues to perform like this until the non-waiver trade deadline on July 31, those nines just might become trips or a full boat on the flop and allow the Yankees to make a reasonable deal.


*Yes, my head is spinning after making that reference. Terrestrial radio truly sucks at when you're driving home a 2 a.m. and there's only so much I can take of whining Mets fans on WFAN. I can't tell you how many times I've arrived home with my ears bleeding.

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