With the Yankees moving forward from their first season without a playoff berth since the strike shortened season in 1994, the Yankees have completely revamped their lineup and starting pitching with the additions of CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett and Mark Teixiera. One area that may be just as successful, but with mainly homegrown talent, is the Yankees' bullpen.
Like clockwork, Mariano Rivera will once again be closing out games. Coming off the best statistical season of his career including just one blown save, Mariano is looking to show the minor arthroscopic surgery to remove calcification from his throwing shoulder will have no impact on his performance. Along with Mariano, the Yankees will be heavily relying on both Brian Bruney and Edwar Ramirez to take a chunk of the bullpen innings.
Last year was supposed to be Bruney's breakout season. He had lost close to 25 pounds during the 2007 off-season and was in the best shape of his professional career. Unfortunately he quickly wound up on the disabled list and most of his season was lost. Now, at 27 Bruney has lost nearly 40 pounds in the last two years and is ready to take the helm as the Yankees' setup man for Mariano.
Edwar Ramirez, one of the more soft spoken players in baseball, is also ready to let his strikeout totals speak for him. A former 2007 Minor League Baseball Reliever of the Year, Edwar has established himself as a legitimate big league relief pitcher. Last season, Edwar finished with 63 strikeouts and a 3.90 E.R.A. in 55.1 innings of work. Look for Edwar to be a strong component of the Big Three along with Bruney and Mariano.
Relievers with more questions include Damaso Marte, Jose Veras, and Dan Giese. Dan Giese was the Yankees' long reliever last season, and while he had a solid season, he was injured late in the season from the workload. How he performs in April will be a strong indicator of how much the team will depend on him throughout the season.
Expect Jose Veras to be erratic this season. He throws a heavy fastball in the mid 90s and a solid slider around 80. He spent much of last season under the teachings of Mariano Rivera, and that should help him, but he is not a finished product yet. The Yankees will treat strong pitching from Veras more as a bonus than a necessity.
Damaso Marte came in a mid-season trade along with Xavier Nady in exchange for Ross Ohlendorf, Jose Tabata, Jeff Karstens, and Dan McCutchen. While the Yankees were not looking for a lights out performance, it is safe to say Marte did not perform as they expected and there is no reason to think that will change this season.
Looking at the rest of the AL East, the Boston Red Sox are the only team with a stronger bullpen. A relief featuring Johnathon Papelbon, Hideki Okajima, Justin Masterson, Takashi Saito, Manny Delcarmen, and Javier Lopez, the Red Sox bullpen is still the force to be reckoned with in the AL East.
Overall, the Yankee bullpen should perform better than it did last season, both because younger pitchers are honing their skills and the starting pitching is much stronger. With CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, and Chien Ming Wang in the top three slots, the bullpen should get a lot of rest after taking care of Joba Chamberlain and Andy Pettitte's shorter starts.
Also, look for the Yankees to begin grooming either Edwar Ramirez or Brian Bruney as possible successors to Mariano's throne.