Around the Horn: Yanks boast strong 'pen

Impressive group of relievers set for camp with Chapman back in fold

Around the Horn: Yanks boast strong 'pen

With the start of Spring Training approaching, anticipation is building for the 2017 season. MLB.com is going around the horn to break down each area of the Yankees' roster, concluding this week with the bullpen.

It was one of the worst-kept secrets in baseball, as the Yankees never really attempted to hide their intentions. They wanted Aroldis Chapman back, and they were willing to spend big bucks to make it happen.

It culminated in December as Chapman -- just weeks after celebrating a World Series victory with the Cubs -- returned to New York by agreeing to the richest contract ever issued to a reliever, a five-year, $86 million pact that includes an opt-out following the 2019 season.

Beginning his season in May due to a suspension for violating Major League Baseball's domestic violence policy, Chapman posted 20 saves in 21 chances, a 2.01 ERA and 44 strikeouts in 31 appearances for the Yanks, producing 12.64 strikeouts per nine innings. He said that New York quickly felt like a place where he could flourish.

"I think the main thing was the way they welcomed me," Chapman said through an interpreter. "I was coming to this team with a problem. And the way they treated me, the way they welcomed me, the way they helped me, starting from the manager, the staff, my teammates -- they made me feel at home. That kind of support is something that you need in a moment like that."

Chapman's return to the ninth inning pushed Dellin Betances back into a setup role, as the righty looks for a fourth consecutive season with 100 or more strikeouts. Betances was 3-6 with 12 saves in 17 chances and a 3.08 ERA in 73 appearances last season, leading all Major League relievers with 126 strikeouts and a 15.53 K/9.0 IP ratio.

Betances garners 12th save

"I know Dellin is looking forward to being on the best team he can possibly be on," Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said. "If that means pitching before the ninth, I don't think that would be an issue for him in any way, shape or form. He's done that most of his career."

Tyler Clippard, who joined the Yanks last July 31 and was 2-3 with two saves and a 2.49 ERA in 29 appearances for New York, gives manager Joe Girardi a solid option to set up. A two-time All-Star, Clippard retired 16 straight batters through one six appearance stretch in August.

Clippard notches save

Though the Yankees had interest in further supplementing their bullpen, the signings of Chapman and designated hitter Matt Holliday (one year, $13 million) absorbed most of their available funds, especially given the luxury tax implications of adding more salary.

Cashman believes they have a good fit for a situational lefty in Tommy Layne, who joined the team in August and was 2-0 with one save and a 3.38 ERA with New York, holding opponents scoreless in 25 of 29 appearances.

"Layne is a pro, he can get lefties out, and Clippard knows what he's doing," Cashman said. "They cushioned the blow of losing [Andrew] Miller and Chapman. With the uncertainty of the rotation, it's important to have the 'pen as strong as possible."

Layne fans Bradley Jr.

Some of the contenders for the rotation will instead begin the year in relief roles, with Luis Cessa, Chad Green, Bryan Mitchell, Luis Severino and Adam Warren all trying to fit into two spots.

Warren is considered a viable Major League starter but the Yanks may be influenced by success in the bullpen. He was 4-2 with a 3.26 ERA in 29 appearances after rejoining New York in the Chapman deal and did not allow a run in his first nine appearances, retiring 32 of 39 batters over that stretch.

Warren strikes out Leon

"Coming back here, I was coming back to a pitching coach [Larry Rothschild] that knew me, a team that knew me, a manager and really just kind of sliding back into a role I was comfortable with," Warren said. "I knew what situation I was going to pitch in and get regular work."

Girardi's deep lineup card will provide plenty of time to evaluate other options in the spring, including Johnny Barbato, Richard Bleier, Dietrich Enns, Domingo German, Ben Heller, Jonathan Holder and Chasen Shreve, with Cashman saying that the sum may be the most talented group of young arms the Yankees have had in recent seasons.

Bryan Hoch has covered the Yankees for MLB.com since 2007. Follow him on Twitter @bryanhoch and on Facebook. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.