The Kansas City Royals are the champions of baseball and a barometer of change in the sport.
For decades, the conventional wisdom in baseball has been that you must have very good starting pitching to achieve success through the regular season and in the postseason, and with a handful of exceptions, this has been the most consistent rule of team-building.
The Royals finished 11th in starters' ERA in 2014, when they faced the Giants in the World Series, and then were 22nd in starters' ERA in 2015, before beating the Mets for the title. The Kansas City rotation has been OK, but what has distinguished the Royals has been the dominance of its bullpen, both in terms of quality and depth.
The great Braves clubs of the 1990s and 2000s might be the most acute example of a team investing the bulk of its resources in starting pitching -- whatever was left was spent on the bullpen -- and now there is a shift in that. This has been a good winter for the reliever wage scale, with Tony Sipp getting $18 million over three years and Darren O'Day signing for $31 million over four years. Oakland agreed to a three-year, $22 million deal with Ryan Madson, who had been out of baseball from 2012 to 2014, and the Royals agreed to a three-year, $25 million deal with Joakim Soria. Shawn Kelley got three years and $15 million from the Nationals.
And remember this: Going into the winter, the perception of the industry was that this free-agent class didn't have a high volume of alternatives.
Additionally, contenders scrambled for closers, with Houston giving up a good package of prospects for Ken Giles and the Yankees buying low on Aroldis Chapman.
There is now a greater focus on building great bullpens, and with that in mind, here's Part 2 of our ongoing series of team unit rankings: the top 10 bullpens. (We ranked the top 10 rotations Monday.)
Five hundred and sixty-five players pitched in relief in major league games in 2015 (including a handful of position players), and among those, only three posted 100 or more strikeouts:
Dellin Betances, 131 K's
Aroldis Chapman, 116 K's
Andrew Miller, 100 K's
That's now the back end of the Yankees' bullpen.
In theory, anyway. The Yankees do not know whether Chapman will be suspended for one game in 2016, or 100, or none at all; that was part of the risk of acquiring the left-hander, along with whatever they don't know about Chapman's history.
If and when Chapman is part of their bullpen, no other team will be able to match them in terms of pure stuff.
There will be continuing questions about whether the heavy workload on Betances and Miller could eventually take them down and about whether Yankees manager Joe Girardi will take advantage of Chapman's presence and call on the other two less.
Also, the Yankees will have jobs up for grabs in the spring for roles in the fifth, sixth and seventh innings, and they need to identify someone who can step into the role handled so well by Adam Warren last season. The candidates include Bryan Mitchell, Chasen Shreve, Luis Cessa, Chad Green, Jacob Lindgren, Branden Pinder, James Pazos, Nick Rumbelow and others.
In the least surprising development of the winter, Girardi said Monday that Chapman will be his closer. With Chapman, it's game over, writes Kevin Kernan.