With the recent acquisitions of Michael Pineda and Hiroki Kuroda, the Yankees have gone from having not enough starting pitchers to having one too many starting pitchers. Now that Pineda and Kuroda will slot into the second and third starting spots, with Ivan Nova going fourth, one of A.J. Burnett, Freddy Garcia, or Phil Hughes doesn’t fit. So, what’s to be done? Click through to find out what the TYA authors think the Yankees should do?
Matt Imbrogno: It’s clear at this point that Ivan Nova deserves a starting spot. He may not have super potential, but he’s in a position to give solid innings and his use of the slider during the second half shows that there is room for growth. He’s a ground ball pitcher who’s proved durable. At this point, Phil Hughes hasn’t proved the durability or the performance consistently and A.J. Burnett has been downright awful for the last two seasons, despite providing a lot of innings. Freddy Garcia had a solid 2011, but I think some of us were waiting for the shoe to drop. But for a fifth starter, is it really that bad? Probably not. If I’m in charge, I think I go for Garcia in the last starting spot. For Burnett and Hughes, there are some choices. If Phil Hughes has options left, he could be put back in Scranton to be starting pitching depth, but I’m not sure that’s great considering he’s proved a worthwhile bullpen option. However, in the bullpen, his role would be rather reduced. He obviously wouldn’t be the closer or the set up guy or the fireman as those roles belong to Mariano Rivera, Rafael Soriano, and David Robertson. Basically, Hughes would be the fourth best bullpen pitcher. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but is there a chance he’s worth more to the Yankees in a trade? It’s an option that should certainly be explored. Burnett is in the same boat. His stuff would most definitely play up in the bullpen as his two-pitch fastball/curveball combination would be better when not having to navigate a lineup multiple times. Again, though, he’d be the fourth option out of the bullpen, and an expensive one at that. But, his trade value is probably negative at this point. But if Derek Lowe and Carlos Zambrano were traded, maybe A.J. Burnett could be traded, too. So, my “choice”? Give the fifth starter’s spot to Freddy Garcia, then see what you can get for Burnett or Hughes and pull the trigger.
William J: Over the last two years, Phil Hughes has been given plenty of rope, and, lately, he has mostly hung himself with it. However, it would be shortsighted for the Yankees to give up on a pitcher who is only two years older than Michael Pineda, and, at one, point was even more highly touted. It’s also worth pointing out that in 2010 Hughes had the exact same ERA+ as Pineda did in 2011 as well as a similar WAR. With Freddy Garcia in the wings, the Yankees already have a plan B in case Hughes continues to flop. However, if A.J. is given the final rotation slot, both Hughes and Garcia could wither on the vine. Unless Cashman can dump Burnett, he’ll likely start the year in the rotation, but I am more optimistic the Yankees will find away to trade him. If not, his leash should be very short. This year, there will be no excuse for allowing Burnett to have another awful season.
Alex Geshwind: Ideally? Go young, young, young. That would mean Ivan Nova and Phil Hughes taking the final spots in the rotation and Freddy Garcia sticking as a long man/spot starter. Freddy’s great, but his development means nothing to this organization in the long-run and I’d rather Hughes get another shot. Realistically, though, I think Girardi trusts and likes Garcia and that Garcia will claim one of those rotation spots. This would leave either Hughes or Nova on the outside looking in, and Nova obviously has the upper-hand. Ultimately I think the Yankees are willing to move on. They have the talent in the high minors (and now at the big league level) such that trading Hughes for a good young bat would not be crippling. Sabathia, Pineda, Nova, Banuelos, and Betances is a rotation of the future and there’s plenty more were that came from. So if the right deal presents itself I would not be opposed to moving Hughes, even though I’d like him to get another shot. AJ Burnett has to go. There is simply no role for him on this team. He’s not going to claim a spot over Freddy Garcia, nor should he get preference over more promising young players. I know others have suggested a bad contract for bad contract swap but I’d rather dump as much of his salary as possible and run. The 2012-2013 free agent class will be loaded and let’s not forget Yoenis Cespedes, who might just be that young offensive monster we’re all looking for. Payroll flexibility is valuable. Let’s go get some.
Domenic Lanza: I cannot fathom a scenario in which Burnett is a Yankee come the spring … a palpable scenario, at least. Derek Lowe was moved for a fringe prospect and roughly $5 MM in savings. Carlos Zambrano was moved for a solid back of the rotation type and a bit of salary relief. This, at the very last, tells us that Burnett is movable – and not necessarily at the rate of a true sunk cost.
The real issue should be the roles of Garcia and Hughes. At this juncture, I’d prefer to see Garcia starting. While his upside is certainly limited, I believe a reasonable baseline would see him as a fine fifth starter. I don’t see much of a deviation, either, barring injury.
What of Hughes, then? I would like to see him building up arm strength in the minors. He has certainly had success at every level, but it’s worth noting that he has very few innings in the upper minutes. It’s a good venue for him to refine his curve and command, and it would allow him to step into the rotation in the event of an injury or ineffectiveness.
Brad Vietrogoski: The additions of Pineda and Kuroda should signal the end of A.J.’s time in pinstripes and I think they will. With the trades that have already been made for Derek Lowe and Carlos Zambrano, there’s clearly a market for A.J. if the Yankees are willing to eat more than the $8 million they previously said they would. And their incentive to do so is increased now that whatever they lose by not having A.J. in the rotation is made up for and then some by the innings and almost certainly better results that Pineda and Kuroda will produce. With his inability to repeat his mechanics and inconsistency of his stuff, A.J. doesn’t strike me as a viable relief option, so at this point the most value he can bring to the team is in the little bit of salary relief that comes with not having the pay the full remainder of his contract if the Yankees move him. It’s not like they haven’t already shown that they don’t have any faith in him anymore by dangling him in the Winter Meetings. Best to just cut their losses and move on.
As for the 5th spot in the rotation, I think the spot will go to Hughes. Whether or not he deserves the spot is up for debate, and how he pitches in ST will go a long way towards strengthening or weakening his case, but he’s still just 25 years old and has a higher ceiling than Freddy Garcia. And I don’t think the Yankees would send him out to API in California to get into tip top shape just to make him the 6th Inning Guy in the bullpen. They remember what he did in 2010, when he put up the same 103 OPS+ that Pineda did this past season, and if he can regain his fastball velocity and command it’s not unreasonable to expect him to come close to replicating that in 2012, even with inconsistent secondary stuff. Keep Freddy on board as the longman/6th starter to caddy to Hughes if he struggles, but definitely go with the higher-ceiling guy.
EJ Fagan: Among Burnett, Hughes, and Garcia, Freddy Garcia is clearly the best option for the last starting rotation spot. He was the only one that did anything positive in 2011, and his newly-signed contract isn’t something you can just trade. The only other option with Freddy is placing him in the bullpen, which seems misguided given his age.
Cashman should probably be working to get rid of A.J. Burnett in the least harmful way possible. The Yankees basically have two options: trade for someone else’s expensive trash, or eat a large portion of Burnett’s salary. The recent trades of Derek Lowe and Carlos Zambrano suggest that the latter option is possible, while the former depends on who is available. I think there’s an interesting Carlos Lee-for-Burnett swap possibility out there, which would give the Yankees a solid option at DH against left-handers while getting salary off the books a year early.
I don’t have a strong opinion about what to do with Phil Hughes. History suggests he could be a solid relief pitcher. He won’t be a cheap reliever at around $4 million, so trading him might be a necessity. I wouldn’t be shocked if he brings a decent B prospect in return, or even some kind of platoon DH-type. With the kind of Triple-A depth the Yankees have, I think Hughes has become expendable. Even if Freddy Garcia (or Ivan Nova) doesn’t have a lot of success in 2012, the Yankees have plenty of insurance to tap even without Hughes.
Eric Schultz: I think the Yankees need to see what they have in Hughes, and whether he can make the adjustments necessary to be a useful rotation option not just next season, but over the next few years. This may be Phil’s last chance. I don’t just want to hand him the rotation spot though, so I would be all for a competition between him and Freddy Garcia for the #5 spot, with the loser going to the bullpen as a swingman a la Noesi last season. I would look to flip Burnett to another team (if possible) while eating a bunch of salary, or perhaps taking back a bad contract that could fill the DH hole (Adam Dunn comes to mind).
Michael Eder: It looks like AJ Burnett has thrown his last pie as a Yankee. Out of the three pitchers competing for a rotation spot, he is clearly the weakest, and I expect a trade sending him to an NL West or Central team. I’ve heard suggestions about trading him for a Carlos Lee type player, one with a bad contract, but the Yankees are on a streak of acquiring young impact players. Eating a majority of AJ’s contract and placing some of their young pitchers on the trade block could give them a chance at a third baseman like Chase Headley.
Unless the Yankees draws a team with huge interest in Hughes, they will have him and Garcia compete for the fifth rotation spot in spring training, with the loser heading to the bullpen. When in shape, Hughes has shown glimpses of top of the rotation pitching and the team should look forward to seeing how his extensive training has payed off this offseason. If he fails, he’ll be a valuable piece of the bullpen and could be an interesting trade cheap. With all the potential that Hughes offers, Garcia probably draws the short stick here, and he’ll be slated in as the long reliever until one of the 5 starters is inevitably injured or loses favor. Its hard to predict how anybody will pitch in Spring Training, but I’m optimistic about Hughes as the #5 starter.
Steve S.: Obviously, the first and most preferable option is to explore trade options for Burnett. I’m as down as anyone on Phil Hughes, but I’d rather roll the dice with him as my #5 than watch another year of AJ’s pouting, declining fastball and maddening ineffectiveness. I’ve been optimistic the entire off season that a deal can be done, and the Lowe and Zambrano trades have further reinforced my position. You may be taking back a bad contract, but I’m willing to bet an NL team that’s desperate for a starter will be willing to give him a chance. It could happen soon, with teams digging through the dregs of a weak FA class. Or it may happen in Spring Training if someone loses a starter to injury. If Burnett is traded, I look for Hughes to be the #5 and Garcia to bide his time as the long man, ready if someone hits the DL.
Barring a Burnett trade, I think Hughes winds up back in the bullpen where his fastball plays up and his lack of a 3rd pitch isn’t an issue. Freddy Garcia plays the long man role for the first few months while they run AJ out there in the hope he pitches well and some team with a need bites. That’s not unreasonable, April has been AJs best month the past two years. Garcia won’t be happy about this, he’s singing for his supper at this point of his career and needs to log innings to get paid again next year. If AJ performs and nobody gets injured, I’d expect Garcia to get traded in May or June for a nominal return. But that’s the worst case scenario, I remain optimistic that Cashman will move Heaven and Earth to deal Burnett before they break camp. I would imagine he was sending out feelers before he moved forward on Pineda and Kuroda, so the ninja already knows where to strike.