In a perfect world, tha Yankees’ 2013 rotation is all but set. In a perfect world, Hiroki Kuroda and Andy Pettitte both return for another season on one year deals to form a formidable top of the rotation while Phil Hughes, Ivan Nova, and David Phelps compete to round out the back end of what should be a point of strength for the team. This plan is far from set in stone, however, and a good chunk of it is outside of Brian Cashman’s control. It certainly doesn’t take much to imagine Andy Pettitte deciding to return to the land of retirement and/or another team coming along to offer Hiroki Kuroda a contract that the austere Yankees are unwilling to match. So let’s assume that that’s exactly what happens, and try to figure out where the Yankees go from there. We can assume that Sabathia, Hughes, Nova, and Phelps all get rotation spots, but that still leaves us one starter short of a full five man rotation. So where might the Yankees go to fill this hole?
Thanks to a pretty disastrous 2012, the Yankees’ own cupboard is remarkably barren for answers. It’s almost difficult to imagine it now, but at the start of the 2012 season there was a lot of excitement surrounding the Triple-A Yankees’ prospect laden rotation, but that’s pretty much non-existent now. David Phelps is already in our hypothetical rotation, and D.J. Mitchell is gone entirely, having been sent to Seattle for Ichiro Suzuki. On the more heralded prospect front, Manny Banuelos will miss the whole season following Tommy John surgery, and Dellin Betances is a total non-factor, as he’s more preoccupied with fighting to salvage his career at the moment. That leaves Adam Warren as the only viable arm in this category, but his Triple-A performance has underwhelmed, and he didn’t make a ton of progress last season. Michael Pineda could eventually help if and when he returns from his labrum injury, but you can’t count on that happening, and he wouldn’t be a factor until midseason even in the best case scenario.
Most of the time, you would assume that the answer to this question is simply that the Yankees would go out and sign someone else to fill the hole, and there could be some attractive options on the market for that purpose. However, the Yankees’ aversion to big, multi-year contracts basically leaves them out on anyone who would take more than a one year contract, and those options are rarely good. Considering how in demand pitching is, guys who can be had on one year deals almost always come with some combination of concerns related to age, health, and performance. Looking at the list of available starters, you’re basically talking about Erik Bedard, Francisco Liriano (who’s not a slam dunk to not get amulti-year offer from someone), Carlos Zambrano, and Joe Saunder in this group, as well as the usual array of minor league contract candidates. The one potentially interesting possibility here is Edwin Jackson, but I think he’ll likely accept a multi-year offering at mid-rotation starter money after pitching to basically his career norm after accepting a “pillow contract” with Washington last year.
Finally, there’s always the possibility that Cashman can pry a starter away from another team, but given the Yankees’ dearth of high upside, MLB ready young players you’re probably talking about a cheap buy on an older/back end innings eater type. I don’t have any idea who this would be specifically, but it is a possibility, though probably an unlikely one.
On the whole, my guess is that the Yankees would respond to this worst case scenario by hitting the scrap heap and stock piling older starters you’ve heard of on minor league contracts a la the 2010-11 offseason, when Pettitte first retired and Cliff Lee spurned their advances. That team went on to post the best record in the American League while getting great production out of Freddy Garcia and Bartolo Colon, so it’s possible to strike gold here, but I have a feeling that everyone would prefer to see Kuroda and/or Pettitte back in pinstripes next spring.