If you were going to project the biggest strength on the New York Yankees, the easiest area to point to is the bullpen. It starts with the irrepressible Mariano Rivera. But it has expanded because while the Yankees struck out on Cliff Lee this offseason, their two biggest additions were in relief.
Only the Yankees could have the greatest closer of all time and add the man who led the American League in saves to be their setup man. With Rafael Soriano, plus Pedro Feliciano, the Yankees probably have the best bullpen in baseball.
That is on paper, or pixel in this case, so we have consulted some scouts and our gut to tell you how we think the bullpen will fare. Plus, ESPN Insider's Dan Szymborski's ZiPS computerized projections for each Yankee. (He goes through every team in this month's ESPN The Magazine.)
So let's once again go all ESPN on ESPNNewYork.com and tell you how the Yankees games are going to finish before they even start.
Last Year: 3-3, 1.80 ERA, 33 saves
Pro: Did you get a chance to see any of spring training? As usual, Rivera got a later start than anyone and then was way ahead of them all. In his first outing, he fired 12 pitches, nine of which were strikes, and left his new catcher, Russell Martin, talking about Picasso. Until proven otherwise, he is the best reliever in baseball.
"He is still the same," a scout said.
Con: He is 41. He is 41. He is 41. This is the only mark against Rivera. Usually, closers go downhill at 40. The closest comparable player is Dennis Eckersley, and he said that he was faking it his final three years. He retired at 43. Even Eckersley readily admits he was no Rivera.
ESPN New York Projection: 4-3, 2.12 ERA, 29 saves
ZiPS Projection: 3-1, 3.28 ERA, 37 saves
Final Take: We are done saying at some point Rivera isn't going to be Rivera. Besides his birthday approaching his uniform number, there is no real evidence he is aging. He doesn't throw as hard as he once did, but it doesn't seem to matter.
Last Year: 3-2, 1.73 ERA, 45 saves
Pro: A scout says, "He's a really good closer, but he is the perfect setup man." The scout went on to say he knows how to pitch and has excellent control, which is a devastating combination.
Con: Will he accept the eighth-inning role? He has said all the right things, but he had to -- and he has to. When we spoke to him during spring he said he is misunderstood. Soriano said he is a much happier person than others think he is. So, no worries, except reputations are often earned. His unhappiness, along with injury, could lead to failure.
ESPN New York Projection: 7-4, 2.10 ERA, 18 saves
ZiPS Projection: 3-1, 3.29 ERA, 30 saves
Final Take: If Soriano accepts his job and stays healthy, the Yankees turn games into seven-inning contests.
Last Year: 3-4, 4.40 ERA, 3 saves,
Pro: His weight was up, but so was his velocity during spring training. He is going to have a reduced role unless there are injuries, so the pressure is off. He is still only 25.
Cons: A scout said that he thinks Chamberlain needs to go somewhere else to ever reach his potential. The thought being that too much has happened for Chamberlain ever to really be a big impact player in New York. It will be interesting to see how Chamberlain reacts to being an even less important member of the team. It has become a disturbing trend over Chamberlain's Yankees career.
ESPN New York Projection: 5-3, 3.93 ERA, 3 saves
ZiPS Projection: 5-3, 3.71 ERA, 3 saves
Final Take: Joba will be Joba -- consistently inconsistent. It will be interesting how everything ends with the Yankees.
Last Year: 4-5, 3.82 ERA, 1 save
Pro: He is always the forgotten guy, but in the sixth and seventh inning a team could do a lot worse.
Con: Like anyone destined to pitch the sixth or seventh inning, he can be inconsistent.
ESPN New York Projection: 5-4, 3.62 ERA
ZiPS Projection: 4-3, 3.49 ERA, 1 save
Final Take: Robertson will be his usual serviceable self. He can match up with most sixth and seventh inning guys in baseball.
Last Year: 3-3, 3.30 ERA
Con: He was nearly an everyday player last year, making 92 appearances with the Mets, and he is already headed to the DL. Uh-oh.
ESPN New York Projection: 3-5, 3.76 ERA
ZiPS Projection: 5-3, 4.07 ERA, 2 saves
Final Take: Joe Girardi will use Feliciano better than Jerry Manuel did, so that should allow Felicano to stay effective, if he is healthy.
Last Year: 2-0, 2.93 ERA
Pro: He was vital last year, which should help his confidence. More importantly, he showed great control in 2010.
Con: A scout says his command is erratic. It wouldn't be shocking if he reverted to old form. Relievers like Logan are often inconsistent.
ESPN New York Projection: 1-5, 4.95 ERA
ZiPS Projection: 3-2, 4.47 ERA
Final Take: Logan is the most obvious bullpen member who could go backward. Though, he is such a specialist, it might be hard to tell.
Last Year: Didn't pitch
Pro: He threw 90-plus during spring training. His endurance might be only three or four innings, so the long-man role could be ideal for him.
Con: He didn't pitch last year. He admits he came into camp 25 pounds overweight.
ESPN New York Projection: 6-5, 4.40 ERA
ZiPS Projection: 2-3, 5.26 ERA
Final Take: Colon could be the story of the year, but more likely he will be the story of the spring. Right now, he is like a backup quarterback -- he will be very popular if Freddy Garcia, Ivan Nova or any of the other starters falter. The Yankees don't want him to be Jeff Hostetler. They would settle for Alfredo Aceves.