In one fell swoop last weekend the Yankees went from having a rotation littered with question marks to one that is locked down, in some order, one-through four. Over night the team’s biggest problem went from figuring out how to make it rain every four days in between CC Sabathia‘s starts to deciding how best to use the DH position and what to do with all their extra starters. The team with the weak rotation is now spoiled for choice with up to six different viable starters and A.J. Burnett. CC Sabathia, Michael Pineda, Hiroki Kuroda and Ivan Nova will be the heart of the rotation. The only question is the order in which they’ll follow the Big Stoppa. The fifth starter, however, is a question mark. For fun, I wanted to share my thoughts on the three guys who are competing for the only opening in the Yankee rotation. (The rest of the TYA staff already did this last weekend, but I wasn’t able to participate at the time, and didn’t want to miss out on the fun entirely.)
If not for his solid contributions to the 2009 championship team, A.J.’s time in pinstripes would have been an unmitigated disaster. Fans and team officials alike have now had to endure two consecutive seasons of awful A.J., not bad A.J., but awful A.J. For that reason, count me among the many who suspect that A.J. has seen his last days as a regular in the Yankee rotation. The team no longer needs him. The only remaining question is how loyal they will be to the roughly $33 million they owe Burnett. Let’s hope they realize lighting the money on fire in the parking lot would be just as good a use for it at this point because the only reason Burnett could take the mound as a regular starter for the Yankees is if the team feels a twisted obligation to pretend as though it’s getting value from so overpaid a player.
My prediction is that the Yankees will not successfully trade Burnett, but they will also not give him a spot in the rotation leaving real question marks about his role on the team and leading Burnett to say stupid things to the media. Stay tuned.
Freddy Garcia’s signing serves as evidence that GM’s probably don’t have master plans they’re trying to execute. Instead, they make moves as the market develops and try to pick up the pieces as they go along. Before the Pineda-Kuroda moves it made perfect sense for the Yankees to bring back Garcia (well, except for the fact that Bartolo Colon was better, but let’s move on). He gave the Yankees a cheap but somewhat effective back end starter in 2011. Given the team’s needs heading into 2012 there was no reason not to throw him a cheap one year deal and see what he had left.
Now that the team is awash in arms, however, Garcia is taking up space the team may not have. Any number of internal, younger options could also vie for that fifth starter’s role, but if Garcia is even halfway decent in the job himself the Yankees may delay giving the youngsters a shot, something that harms the team in the long run. Complicating matters further, the Yankees traded away Hector Noesi, a decent option for the fifth starter’s job himself and the team’s 2011 long man. Its hard to imagine Garcia’s off speed arsenal playing well out of the bullpen, effectively leaving the team with two openings but only one of which Freddy can fill.
My prediction is that Garcia starts the season as the sixth starter in waiting. The team doesn’t get much if Freddy repeats his 2011 performance this season, not much more than an adequate stop-loss option in the rotation with never ending questions about durability. That’s a fine asset to have in waiting, but on a team with too many pitchers (odd, right, to say that about the Yankees) it doesn’t make sense to jump to use that asset.
The world has come crashing down around Phil Franchise in many ways. Once heralded as the no-doubt Ace of the future, Phil was plain awful in 2011, battled his ever growing list of injuries and ultimately endured questions about his work ethic. Fortunately the big righty has two things going for him. First, while it may seem like Hughes has been around forever, he’ll only turn 26 this year, in June. He’s young enough that it is still too soon to write him off as a starter, even if he no longer projects to be a front of the rotation guy. Second, small samples aside, Hughes was devastating out of the bullpen in the 2011 ALDS. He gave up zero runs over 2.1 innings of work with a WHIP of just 0.857. Phil may not have many options left as a starter after this season, but he seems to have a role on the team into the future as a reliever, at least for the time being.
My prediction is that unless Phil is truly and utterly awful in spring training, the Yankees will declare him the fifth starter. There’s little downside and nothing but upside to doing so. If Hughes doesn’t work out the team at least will have auditioned a longer term solution for the role than Garcia, whose only good for 150 innings this season anyway. Furthermore, if it doesn’t work out the Yankees can plop Hughes back in the bullpen and retain some of his value. If it does work out — and by this I mean an ERA of 4.20 or less — then the Yankees will have three young arms in the rotation in 2012 with two more coming. That’s an enviable position to be in, and one that would augur well for a team with as many aging stars as the Yankees.