Predictions about the fifth starter

Right around the time A.J. busted out that hair it was clear there was no hope for him 2011.

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.)

A.J. Burnett

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

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.

Phil Hughes

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.

27 thoughts on “Predictions about the fifth starter

  1. I’m with you 100% on Phil Hughes. The Yankees have to give him another shot. He has only had one full, uninterrupted season as a starting pitcher. Even though we have been left to hold on to glimpses of his potential, I still have some confidence that he can be a solid No. 3 type.

    • If Mo retires next year, who’s your closer? D-Rob profiles better as a set up man. Soriano? OK, but he gets hurt too much to count on him. Joba’s coming back from TJ.

      Phil could be a very solid choice. His FB plays up there and he won’t need to add that elusive 3rd pitch anymore.

      • Robertson profiles just fine as a closer. He struck 13.5 per 9 last season. Will he maintain that? I don’t know, but he hasn’t been below double-digits in that area since 2007. Besides, that is something that the Yanks can place a little more attention to when the time comes. Hell, for all we know, Mo could sign on for one or two more years.

        • ..and when he walks the bases loaded, who’s backing him up?

          • His ability to miss bats. That’s “who” backs him up.

            You live and die with your closer. Sure, he walks his fair share, but when you’re striking out 10+ per nine innings, there is a little less pressure when a guy reaches base. Again, why are worrying about this now. For all we know, Mo could re-up.

          • Michael P.

            Disagree on living and dying with your closer. I wouldn’t make Robertson the closer not because I think someone else is a better choice, but because I think D Rob is that good. He is more valuable being brought in during a tense moment with bases loaded one out then sending him out to work a clean inning.

            Soriano will hopefully opt out after this year to try and squeeze the Yankees for more money and that move will blow up in his face.

            I have 0 faith in Hughes ability to stick in the rotation. In fact if Hughes is just a 4 or 5 starter, he has more value as a dominant reliever because the Yankees system is stacked with guys who profile there. I would rather have my number 5 slot open for pitching prospects who may surprise you and be awesome than a guy who is a clear cut number 4 or 5.

            If Soriano doesn’t opt out hes the closer by way of contract. Joba or Hughes would be fine too. D Rob is too good to be wasted in such an overrated role.

          • http://www.baseballprospectus.com/compensation/cots/?page_id=146

            Soriano can opt out after either this year or next. He’s obviously staying this year but will have 14M salary or 1.5M buyout if he opts out for next year. That’s a big salary, but if he has multi year offers out there for similar $, he could bolt. But its no slam dunk he leaves with the contract back loaded like it is.

          • …and to quote Brian Cashman “If he stinks or gets hurt, he’ll stay. If he pitches great, he’ll leave.”

          • I see where you’re coming from, but what are the chances of the Yankees deploying Robertson that way? As I was saying to Steve, I think Hughes needs one more season of uninterrupted starting pitching (hopefully he won’t get hurt again). I’m not convinced that he can’t be a decent No. 3 type. If he’s still incapable of doing anything worth while in the rotation in 2012 then the Yanks can do whatever they want with him.

          • Hayley

            What do you mean, what happens “when he walks the bases loaded”… the reason why he’d be so successful in any role is that when he does walk too many batters (which is also something he’ll be working to fix this season) he’s able to get important outs by striking people out. But i don’t think this is an important decision to make right now. If Hughes fails as a starter then they can try him out as a reliever for good, but that’s a decision for another time.

  2. James

    People complain a lot about the Montero trade but that trade has done something I have yet to hear people write about. That trade effectively could make the Yankees have the best rotation in baseball by the start of the 2013 season. Sabathia, Pineda, Nova, Hughes [crossing my fingers], Betances, Banuelos, and one of Hamels/Cain/Greinke all competing for rotation spots. I read a great read up about how the Yankees couldn’t sign Hamels AND resign Granderson. That read assumed that the Yanks would spend upwards of 10m on the bullpen. Why not have a homegrown bullpen so you could sign both and still be under $189m by 2014? Here are some possibles: Tim Norton [assuming he recovers from his injury], Mark Montgomery, Tommy Kahnle, David Phelps, Adam Warren, George Kontos, Graham Stoneburner, D.J. Mitchell, Branden Pinder, and if they sign Hamels/Cain/Greinke, Betances and Hughes will probably move to the bullpen. Add in what the Yanks already have in their bullpen and they would be set.

    • Certainly a nice idea in theory, but there are way too many assumptions here. First and foremost I’m so tired of this assumption that Hamels and/or Cain is going to hit free agency. I know you named Greinke as well who I think has the best chance of the three, but all over the place people keep acting as if Hamels in Yankee pinstripes is a foregone conclusion.

      • James

        Agreed, the Phillies have a ton of money and their payroll has gone up each year for the last few seasons. I’m assuming at least 1 of the three hits the market. Hamels is my favorite of the 3, then Greinke and then Cain.

        • I’d rank them the same way.

          It would definitely be nice if the Yankees were able to create some financial flexibility by rolling with a fully homegrown ‘pen by 2014.

          • James

            Word, I have heard speculation about Romine taking over at catcher for Martin as well. Martin is much better but will cost over 10m more when he hits FA

          • Hayley

            when you think about it most of our bullpen from last year, with the exception of Mo, was either homegrown or really cheap (I don’t consider Soriano a legitimate member of the bullpen last year because of how few innings he pitched). For example, Robertson, Logan, Ayala and Wade all made under 2 million dollars each. So once Mariano (sadly) retires, and the yankees don’t resign soriano, they will be given a blank slate to change the style in which they choose their relievers.

  3. smurfy

    I agree with everything, Mike, except the idea of stacking 33 million dollars in the parking lot and setting it afire, at least without me and my shopping cart getting a crack.

    And, hell, talk to AJ, assure him that he is going to get $33 million, unburnt, but that he should try to resurrect his dreams by pitching… in a relief role. Teach him a split: his elbow has been doing fine, and it’s maybe not harmful, like they used to think.

    And Freddie would make a spectacular long man, that is, someone who comes in when the starter gets bombed and the game looks lost. He probably would impress, among the low leverage innings that he really CAN pitch, and the quislings who cry now for a “dump for a DH” would be crying that he deserves to start over that lousy …

    And -if the AJ talk doesn’t work- and he gives it the college try, then Phil can warm his arm and approach in the bullpen, since he should probably be babied yet, that is, stretched out, gently.

    I do disagree about one point, though: that Phil won’t be ace, say next year.

  4. James

    I know this is going to be very controversial but from a Moneyball and sabermetric point of view these are the best DH candidates: Manny Ramirez, Wilson Betemit, Russell Branyan. I would say Johnny Damon but he will get more playing time and money taking V-Mart’s place in Detroit.

    • T.O. Chris

      I’m not sure how Manny Ramirez can be considered one of the best choices when he will miss the first 50 games of the year, and only had 17 ABs last year. He’s going to be extremely rusty not having faced major league pitching in that long, it may take him another month when he does come back to even get into a hitting groove. That’s just ignoring the fact that he’s a clubhouse cancer and 2 time steroid test failure.

      • James

        True he has a very bad rep but him and A-Rod [reportedly] are best friends so I don’t think he would be as bad a clubhouse cancer as he came off as. Plus even if he isn’t as talented as he was before all he would cost would be a minor league deal. Its worth a shot at least to just see what he has left. If he has any semblance of talent left in him he will be a bargain at that price.

        • T.O. Chris

          I think best friends probably goes too far. They always seem to be very friendly with each other, but that doesn’t mean they are arranging sleep overs. Plus Him and Ortiz were very good friends and that didn’t stop him from being an awful clubhouse presence in Boston.

          I’d consider it if he wasn’t being suspended the first 50 games, but all his baggage plus that just doesn’t seem worth it.

          • James

            The other reason I consider him is if he is out the first 50 games then that allows you to give the kids some at-bats without having the holes in their swing reviled. Jorge Vazquez might do good for a week, Brandon Laird as well, Nunez too.

          • T.O. Chris

            I think I’d just rather go with Raul Ibanez and hope for a bounce back. With as ineffective as Manny was last time he played, combined with the amount of time it would have been since he last saw MLB pitching after the 50 game suspension it would be asking for a lot for much production. Even if he eventually rounded into shape it could until around game 100 of the season before that happens.

            If the Yankees offered him a minor league deal I wouldn’t be mad, but I’d probably still like to go with Ibanez as well on a major league deal for 1.5-2 million.

          • James

            Word, including “the manny option” the best option might be a Branyan/Jones vs. Rightys vs. Leftys platoon . Check their splits, the combo could generate 30+35HRs .280+Avg. and an OBP over .370. Best part is Branyan can play first and third as well. As a note from the fan in me, It would be awesome seeing the length of Joneyan’s HRs over a full season

          • bottom line

            Ibanez would be a good choice.
            The fact that Cash isn’t rushing to sign anyone, though, makes me wonder if he doesn’t have a deal lined up.

  5. James

    Other moves: Given the fact that Maxwell and Dickerson are out of options, trade them and David Phelps for Kyle Blanks. He has no place in San Diego and could be a above average everyday player in a ballpark like YS3. He could be had at the league minimum and could take over for Swisher in 2013 allowing the Yanks to spend on pitching. Dickerson and Maxwell are more like 4th outfielders so the Padres could retain the depth lost and still get a solid low cost starter.

  6. RYan

    AJ’s 35, gave up 31 bombs, pitched to over a 5 ERA for 2 straight years and doesn’t even pitch well against Boston anymore. Cash work your magic and find a trade .

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