As we count down to Opening Day, Wallace Matthews and Andrew Marchand will answer 14 for '14 -- the top 14 questions facing the 2014 New York Yankees. The series will run until the eve of the first pitch between the Yankees and Astros on Tuesday, April 1, and will end with both Matthews and Marchand making their predictions for the season.
Question: How will the Yankees replace David Robertson in the eighth inning?
Andrew Marchand: Who will replace Robertson in the eighth inning is a bigger issue than whether Robertson can succeed Mariano Rivera as the closer in 2014. The Yankees do not have an obvious candidate to fill in for Robertson. Out of the gate, Joe Girardi will probably go by committee with Shawn Kelley receiving the first shot, but with anyone in the pen eligible to take the role.
Kelley was acquired from Seattle (is it me or do the Yankees make all their trades with the M's?) last spring. He went 4-2 with a 4.39 ERA and made a career-best 57 appearances. He is a strikeout specialist; his 71 ranked him eighth among AL relievers. But at 29, he is still unproven.
Lefty Matt Thornton could get some run here since he is good against righties and lefties. The wild card is someone like Dellin Betances, whose slurve looked great during the spring. To go along with a 95 mph fastball, the New York-bred Betances is an intimidating and intriguing possibility.
Wallace Matthews: This is the great overlooked question of 2014, because losing Mo not only cost the Yankees the greatest closer in history, but also one of baseball's best setup men.
Kelley is the obvious choice because he's a strikeout pitcher and can retire both lefties and righties, and I think he will get the first crack at it. But Betances certainly opened some eyes this spring, and in fact some in the Yankees organization see the 6-foot-8 righty with the 97 mph fastball as future closer material. I happen to agree with them, and what better way to groom a closer than by making him a setup man first? It worked for Mo and Robertson, and I think it will work for Betances. By the All-Star break, I'm guessing Betances will get the bulk of the eighth-inning work.