Mailbag: How is the 'pen setting up?

Mailbag: How is the 'pen setting up?

All of the talk has been about the starting rotation lately, but not many people are talking about the Yankees' bullpen. Who will we have in relief this season setting up for Mariano Rivera?
-- Charlie T., Poughkeepsie, N.Y.

The Yankees have been so free to target starting pitching because, for the most part, their bullpen appears settled on paper. After one of the best years of his career, Rivera is expected to come back without complications from arthroscopic surgery on his right shoulder, and the Yankees have done a nice job of compiling candidates from various sources to compete for important roles.

Re-signing Damaso Marte to a three-year contract was really the only major move the Yankees had to make in tweaking their bullpen, giving them a legit left-hander who could also be a setup man and retaining an arm they think will pay dividends. Brian Bruney, Edwar Ramirez and Jose Veras figure to be in the mix as right-handed setup men, and lefty Phil Coke could find a role after his impressive September.

The Yankees will take a look at a few other faces in Spring Training, some of whom spent time with the big club in 2008. Humberto Sanchez and Jonathan Albaladejo are both pitching in Winter Ball, and David Robertson pitched 25 games for New York.

The long-relief role could be filled by Alfredo Aceves or Dan Giese -- part of the reason why Darrell Rasner was open to the idea of going to Japan -- and Mark Melancon leads a crop of pitchers down on the farm who have started knocking on the door. As always, the Yankees have assembled no shortage of bullpen options, but you could always see a spring surprise work his way in.

How strongly do you feel that CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett and Derek Lowe will sign with the Yankees? And, if the Yankees get them all, what are the chances of seeing Joba Chamberlain setting up Rivera again?
-- Ron L., Yorba Linda, Calif.

A clean sweep of their top three starting pitching choices might be a little much to ask, but I could see the Yankees coming away with two of the three. They have the money to throw around, with the new ballpark and New York as selling points. Mix and match them however you like -- if you put two of those names in the Yankees rotation for 2009, that's a formidable five.

Then again, they could strike out on all of them and have to find other choices. The thing about free agency, as general manager Brian Cashman says, is that you can show a lot of love, but you need to get some back as well. As far as Chamberlain is concerned, the Yankees' plan is to develop him as a starting pitcher. You never want to say never, but right now it looks as though his relieving days are done.

With Nick Swisher onboard and able to play all three outfield positions, as well as first base, will there be any play for Manny Ramirez at all now? And what's the situation with Bobby Abreu?
-- Eliot B., Chesapeake, Va.

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The Yankees aren't pushing to the front of the pack on Ramirez, but that's not surprising. They never intended to spend most of their money on a bat, and the way they set the tone by moving their chips in front of Sabathia as soon as possible only reinforced that.

Though Cashman keeps informed about both Ramirez and Mark Teixeira, a situation in which the Yankees sign both the top pitcher and the top hitter on the free-agent market seems far-fetched.

As for Abreu, the Yankees know that he would like to return, but they're also aware that he is interested in a multi-year contract -- and for good reason. It doesn't seem as though they will offer that, so unless Abreu accepts arbitration from the Yankees, he will likely be playing elsewhere.

If Jorge Posada remains ineffective in throwing out baserunners, what do you think the options are?
-- Coy G., Albany, N.Y.

The funny thing is that Posada's greatest value to the Yankees was never his defense. What set him apart from other catchers is the plus performance he gave as a power-hitter and switch-hitter, so no one is expecting Posada to throw out the world. If he can be adequate defensively and wield that big bat, the Yankees would be thrilled.

Of course, that wasn't the case last year. Posada is scheduled to begin his throwing program today, and if there's some sort of setback, Jose Molina would be the tentative Opening Day starter. Francisco Cervelli, who had a September cup of coffee in New York, is the Yankees' most Major League-ready catching prospect.

A lot of fans are down on Robinson Cano. I have always liked him. Do you think the Yankees would try to trade him?
-- Richard G., Canaan, Conn.

Cano makes for an appealing trade chip if the Yankees need to go that route, but as of right now, it sounds as though they are committed to him being their second baseman in 2009. They have to bet that his underwhelming 2008 was an aberration and, with more focus and a renewed fitness regimen, he'll perform more like he did the previous two years, when he hit a combined .322. Hitting coach Kevin Long is already excited and talking about Cano possibly hitting third or fifth in the lineup.

Are the Yankees planning to trade Ian Kennedy and/or Kei Igawa?
-- Bernadette C., New York

Cashman isn't in any hurry to move either, but the sense is that Kennedy is less untouchable than he had been. In the right move, the Yankees could part with him, but he's likely to begin the year at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Cashman bluntly said recently that there has been absolutely no interest in Igawa from other organizations. No longer on the 40-man roster, he also would begin the year at Triple-A.

Bryan Hoch is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.