If you really sit back and think about it, a Spring Training battle for any position should mean absolutely nothing. Not only is the sample size absurdly small, but the results obtained are against lineups and/or pitching staffs that are either warming up or severely compromised because of split-squads, guys getting eased into things, etc. But then again, the assumption I just made is based on the idea that Spring Training battles are all about results. Sure, results matter, but those battles are more about process than anything.
Regardless of iffy results and sketchy process, we all enjoy a good Spring Training position/rotation fight. Why? For a few reasons, I guess. First of all, it gives us something to talk about. Let’s face it, as pumped as we get for Spring Training, it can be anti-climactic; it can be dull; it can be a time where there’s just nothing to talk about. While I generally argue against the overuse of narratives (ironic considering my choice of profession, no?), it’s fun to indulge yourself in one every so often and Spring Training gives us a chance to do that. The battles for a bench spot or a rotation spot or the last spot in the bullpen provide us with a story to buy into.
Second of all, it’s nice to have choices. Spring training battles give us choices. You have this guy who does A, B, and C well as opposed to this other guy who does X,Y, and Z well. These manufactured contests also give us a great chance to be surprised: “Wow, I didn’t know he could do that!” “Huh, I’d forgotten about him. Glad I got to take a look.” It looks like we’re gearing up for a competition for the back end of the Yankee rotation.
Assuming CC Sabathia returns after opting out of his contract, he, A.J. Burnett, and Ivan Nova are the only players who will have guaranteed rotation spots. That leaves two open for a bunch of options. If the Yankees sign Yu Darvish or C.J. Wilson or someone else, one of them will get the spot. That would leave one spot open for a bunch of guys (or two if the Yankees don’t add anyone). I should also mention Freddy Garcia and Bartolo Colon. They haven’t pitched all too well of late, but they’ve done well enough that they are at least under consideration for return. However, I think with their recent, relative struggles, the Yankees would rather let them go a year early than a year late.
No matter how many spots are open, the Yankees will have a lot of candidates to vie for that (those) spot(s). Phil Hughes will definitely be one of them, and I assume we’ll also see Hector Noesi competing for that spot. We could also see Manny Banuelos or Dellin Betances turn heads. Adam Warren will make some noise and other guys could emerge as well. Plus, we don’t know if any other trades or free agent signings are going to be made between the end of the season and the start of Spring Training.
A bunch of narratives could be sprung forth from those candidates. Will competition force Hughes to refine tertiary pitch? Can Noesi translate as a starter? Would the Yankees consider letting Banuelos or Betances make the jump to the big leagues? Will some other buy-low option emerge a la Garcia/Colon? This season isn’t over yet, and I’m already excited for next Spring Training.