It may not seem like it at first blush, but that’s a pretty big tumble when you think about the difference between a team’s sixth and seventh starters. The sixth starter is the first guy in line for a spot in the, usually inevitable, case that one of the top five starters gets hurt or is ineffective, but the seventh starter needs two guys ahead of him to falter in some way to get a shot, and usually doesn’t get called upon for much more than a handful of spot starts, if that, over the course of the season. In fact, the seventh starter generally spends most of his time in the minor leagues, as there typically isn’t a lot of use for him at the big league level. Falling to seventh on the depth chart also means that, even in the event Garcia does get the chance to fill a rotation spot in the first month of the season, he’ll almost certainly lose that job again once Pettitte is ready to join the major league team, no matter how well he’s pitching (within reason, anyway).
For his part, Garcia seems to have realized this, and is said to be less than enthusiastic about Pettitte’s return to the team. Given that, and the simple reality of where the Yankees now sit with a 35 year old pitcher signed for just one year, trading Garcia probably makes the most sense now. Of course, since Garcia filed for free agency this past offseason, he can’t be traded without his approval until June 15th, but I have a hard time thinking that Garcia would prefer to toil as a spare part and maybe a spot starter or, more likely, the mop-up man with the Yankees if he was instead given the opportunity to start somewhere else. The problem, ironically, is finding a deal that makes sense for the Yankees. Garcia isn’t making much money, so a straight salary dump in the mold of the A.J. Burnett trade is unlikely, and they probably aren’t going to get any legitimate prospects in return for him. That leaves acquiring an upgrade to the big league roster but, frankly, there aren’t a lot of obvious holes on this team, or at least not holes large enough that you can imagine easily filling them at this point in the spring.
The glaring exception to that is Raul Ibanez. I’ve made my lack of enthusiasm for Ibanez pretty well known, so I won’t go into that all over again, but suffice it to say I don’t expect very much production from him this year, and he’s looked downright old so far this spring. Trading Garcia for an upgrade to Ibanez’s end of the team’s DH platoon would be the most obvious way to improve the team at the margins right now, and there may even be an obvious win-win opportunity available right now; bringing back Bobby Abreu.
In some ways, a hypotheticAl Garcia-for-Abreu swap is one of those things that makes you feel like it makes too much sense to actually happen. The Angels have no room for Abreu in their lineup, and have been looking to acquire a new fifth starter to follow the quartet of quality arms they currently have in their rotation. In fact, there were reports last month that the Yankees had actually reached an agreement to acquire Abreu before A.J. Burnett declined to waive his no-trade clause to go to Orange County. Nothing has really changed for the two clubs between then and now, and since Garcia is owed substantially less money than Burnett was, the financial end of the deal should be much less difficult this time around.
The Yankees could, and probably will, keep Garcia around for insurance purposes. That’s the safe thing to do, and Garcia’s salary certainly doesn’t make that a cost prohibitive course to take. I do, however, think they’d be better served to take the more aggressive course of action and try to leverage Garcia into an upgrade at the one position that looks like a potential hole in the lineup, on paper. Even if you think Garcia makes for a nice Plan B for the pitching staff, the left-handed end of the DH platoon figures to get some 250-400 plate appearances over the course of the season, so any sort of meaningful upgrade there is likely to return much more marginal value than a seventh starter can, even in the best (or worst?) case scenario.