The innings aspect is the biggest challenge to all of this. As I said above, I’d rather not hand the job to Noesi. He seems like an emergency starter at best, and I’d rather keep it that way. So we have Brackman, Betances, and Banuelos left for the last spot in the rotation because I refuse to believe Garcia, Colon, or Mitre deserve any time on a major-league roster, and at the very least, no one should expect them to be good enough or healthy enough to contribute. But those innings limits are troublesome, and I imagine that’s a big reason why Cashman took a slight chance on the other three journeymen.
This is why the innings limit is a problem. Say Brackman gets the job, and he’s limited to 175 innings. If he should start 30 games (he’d probably get skipped a couple times), he would average about 5.2 innings a start, and that wouldn’t seem so bad except for one thing—the playoffs. Let’s be honest, Yankees fans expect to make the playoffs. Now, most 5th starters won’t sniff a playoff start, but I’m not convinced Nova or Burnett will be completely fit for playoff duty. In any respect, I think you need to plan for the playoffs and have as many options as possible, and with Brackman’s history, I would refrain from pushing him too much, meaning ~160 innings is a safer goal.
So what do we do? First, hand Brackman the job from the start as long as a) he’s healthy and b) his stuff appears to be fine. DO NOT get wrapped up in Spring Training stats. This is what the scouts are for—see if the stuff/command is there and worry about performance later. Let him pitch the first five months of the season as the fifth starter, and after those five months, he’ll probably be around 140 innings. At this point, move Brackman to the bullpen for the rest of the season/playoffs where his stuff will play-up down the stretch/in the playoffs, but don’t overuse him—you only have 20 innings or so left—which shouldn’t be too difficult given the expanded rosters. Next, bring up Betances or Banuelos for the rest of the season and playoffs.
Let’s back up a minute because neither pitcher should be throwing more than 130-140 innings this season (this is more than the traditional “30 innings” rule, but that shouldn’t be taken as a hard-and-fast rule as I think arms can take 120 innings or so without overdoing it), right? Correct, but here is where the Yankees should be creative. Instead of starting both pitchers immediately in Trention where it’s cold at the beginning of the season, leave them both down in the Florida sun in extended Spring Training. When May rolls around and there is 4 starts-worth of time left, bring both up and put them AA, and then begin to build up their innings—4 IP/S in May, 5 in June, 5-6 in July, and allow 6+ in August. The table below shows how the plan will accumulate innings, assuming 4 starts in May and 5 in the next 4. In order to see if their development is progressing, and to see if they are ready for the majors, bring them up to AAA in July. Only do this if they are performing well (again, stats aren’t the most important things; if the scouts say the stuff and command is there, bring them up—two months of little work won’t allow for the stats to sort themselves out necessarily), and if it’s only one or the other, then only bring one up.
Now, there are obviously some pitfalls with this idea. One, they are just prospects, and it’s not certain that a) Brackman can pitch well enough for 5 months to get to October before needing Betances or Banuelos and b) that Betances or Banuelos will be healthy/productive enough to take the spot. While Brackman may not make it five months, Noesi could step up if needed, and one of Betances or Banuelos could be ready a little sooner (hey, they are top prospects). Two, Banuelos/Betances may not perform well when they are called up. This is certainly possible, but pitchers generally have the upper hand when they first come up due to the lack of knowledge about and experience against them. And the Yankees could have this advantage throughout the playoffs, though they would also be handing a rookie a pressure-filled situation that’s a bit worse in New York.
The plan isn’t perfect, but it’s an idea I think the Yankees should consider, at least as a part of the whole. A mid-season trade is much more likely as the Yankees will look for more certainty when it comes to the stretch and the playoffs. I don’t disagree with that idea as my idea requires taking a significant risk, but I would like to see the Yankees being proactive when it comes to this situation. If the Yankees start Betances and Banuelos with the AA team in April, they’ll move through all of their innings by the end of August, and the Yankees will be limiting their options at the end of the season. If the Yankees don’t need either pitcher come September, then they can get their extra work in the Arizona Fall League to approach 120-130 innings, which may be all they need anyway. I’d just like the Yankees to keep their options open.