What was once considered the New York Yankees' greatest strength in 2011, their bullpen, is suddenly an unmitigated disaster, ravaged by an unforeseen injury plague.
Prior to the season, observers watched in awe as the Yankees signed one of the league's premier closers, Rafael Soriano, to a massive contract in order to serve as the setup man for incumbent save artist Mariano Rivera.
Yes, the Yankees vastly overpaid for the services of Soriano, but his talents were undisputed, and it was seen as a major step toward solidifying an occasionally unstable bridge to the greatest closer of all time.
Who but the Yankees could tempt a certifiable, top-notch closer to take a demotion by giving him a three-year, $35 million contract? Though Soriano's desire was to remain a closer, sometimes money talks, and this time, it was shouting so loudly that the reliever simply couldn't ignore it.
Not only had the Yankees completed a major coup by signing the in-demand Soriano, but they also acquired a talented lefty specialist in Pedro Feliciano, another move that significantly strengthened the relief corps.
Feliciano, inked to a two-year, $8 million contract, was a bullpen stalwart for the crosstown Mets, pitching eight seasons in Queens. Over the last five seasons, four of his campaigns had been excellent, and he was widely viewed as one of the more reliable and effective left-handed relievers in baseball.
Combining the incoming veterans with the incomparable Mariano Rivera, strikeout specialist David Robertson and the talented, if unpredictable, Joba Chamberlain, the Yankees had apparently built an impressive collection of arms capable of matching up with any bullpen in the game.
However, two months into the 2011 schedule, the Yankees' dream bullpen has morphed into a hideous nightmare right before our very eyes.
First, the news came that Feliciano had a dead arm before ever throwing a meaningful pitch for the Yankees. The dead arm was soon diagnosed as a capsule tear in his throwing shoulder, and the lefty was slated for surgery that could potentially sideline him for the entire year.
Reports have varied on the reliever, some saying that his year is finished, others stating that by opting for rest instead of surgery, he could return sometime in July.
The early returns on Soriano were dreadful, as the hard-throwing right-hander was suddenly struggling to find both his velocity and his command, giving up a hit an inning and walking 6.6 batters per nine innings. Certainly not what the Yankees expected after watching him dominate the AL as the closer for the Tampa Bay Rays in 2010.
Soriano struggled mightily and further exacerbated his woes by making questionable comments to the media, seemingly blaming his teammates for the team's struggles and downplaying his own role. This led to fans and media alike wondering whether the Yankees had made a mistake by bringing the always-mercurial pitcher to the pressure cooker in the Bronx.
Not only did he struggle in his early-season outings with the Yankees, but he also exhibited poor judgment with his commentary, and then he was shut down with elbow inflammation. That's never a good sign from a pitcher who has already had two elbow surgeries in his career.
After a visit to renowned surgeon Dr. James Andrews, Soriano was placed on the DL and given a timetable of being six to eight weeks away from pitching.
Thankfully, Joba Chamberlain, 2007's wunderkind, the flame-throwing, chest-thumping Nebraskan, was experiencing a long-awaited return to form, exhibiting the dominance that he had tantalized with early in his Yankee career. He had rediscovered his velocity after it had been M.I.A. for two seasons, and his filthy slider was once again making hitters look foolish as it disappeared into the dirt as they flailed hopelessly before walking slowly back to the dugout in shame.
As if too good to be true, Joba began experiencing elbow discomfort as well, and the Yankees shut him down to relieve the issue. Shortly thereafter, the dreaded news arrived, as doctors discovered that Joba had a torn ligament in his elbow and would likely require Tommy John surgery in order to pitch again.
Suddenly, the once promising return to form of the 25-year-old Yankee hurler was over.
This trio of devastating injuries has left the Yankees in a dire predicament. Once considered the class of the AL, the New York bullpen was suddenly a collection of no-names, veteran castoffs and a man named Mo. Only David Robertson could be viewed as a pitcher with an upside.
With this dramatic turn of events, the Yankees are now fully engaged in a search for reliable relief help that can help ease the pain of losing three of their top relievers in a span of three months.
While Brian Cashman and co. scour the baseball world for replacements, let's take a look at a few options the Yankees may be able to pry away from their current teams.
All statistical and salary information from: