Does Hughes hold the keys to Garcia’s future?

At one point, it would have been easy to assume that, for the sake of depth, David Phelps would have to be optioned to the Empire State rotation, while the odd man out of the rotation would go to the bullpen in some capacity. That scenario has changed, however, as Phelps will now get at least one chance to show what he’s capable of doing as a starting pitcher before Pettite returns. He could still certainly be the odd man out when it comes time to make a decision, but if he does well Thursday night in Kansas City, you’d have to think he’ll make a compelling case to stay in the big leagues given the lack of production the Yankees have gotten out of their starting rotation so far.

Which brings us to the other man on the rotation bubble: Phil Hughes. Though arguably better than Garcia this month, Hughes has been pretty bad in his own right, and the last time we saw him Joe Girardi was calling on Clay Rapada to get the final out of the third inning in Texas rather than let Hughes continue to implode in the inning. In retrospect, it was a fairly jarring move by Girardi considering how effective Hughes had been in the game’s first inning, and suggested that Girardi either didn’t have very much faith in Hughes, or at least had more faith in Rapada and Phelps, who came in to start the fourth inning.

Hughes will have two scheduled starts before next Wednesday; tomorrow night at home against the Orioles, and Sunday afternoon against the Royals. If he continues to fail to do a satisfactory job in this outings, he may force the Yankees to pull the plug on their long running attempt to keep him in the team’s starting rotation, especially if Phelps has a good showing Thursday. If that’s the case, the only three realistic choices to leave the active roster are Hughes, Garcia, and Cory Wade, who could be optioned to the minor leagues and thus remain in the organization. However, Wade has been a pretty big part of the bullpen’s Herculean effort to keep the Yankees’ pitching staff afloat and has been shown to have the faith of Girardi to do his job well, so my guess is that he’s probably safe.

That leaves Hughes and Garcia, and that’s probably not a competition Freddy can win. Yes, Hughes has an option left, so he too could be sent to the minor leagues but, while I would endorse such a move, I don’t see the Yankees actually making it. Rather, given Hughes’ contract status and past history as a reliever, Hughes would probably be sent to the bullpen to see if there was any chance of making him into a useful weapon there (and perhaps giving the Yankees some additional trade options in the summer/offseason), which would leave no choice but to designate Garcia for assignment.

Hughes has certainly had his chances with the organization over the past four years or so, but these next two starts may be his most important yet. Not just for Hughes’ future role with the team, but for Freddy Garcia‘s job.