(Syndicated from An A-Blog for A-Rod)
To say the starting rotation is critically important for the Yankees in 2013 is an understatement. The front office willingly took a step back offensively to make filling out the 2013 rotation the priority this past offseason, and so far in camp things are coming together nicely. Ivan Nova has had two strong starts, Hiroki Kuroda looked outstanding yesterday striking out 6 over 4 scoreless IP, David Phelps has been steady and consistent as the 6th starter, and the rest of the projected starting five are scheduled to make their 2013 debuts in the very near future.
The rotation should be the biggest strength of this year's team, but on a parallel path of importance this season will be how this year's results influence the plans for next year's rotation. The Yankees will have a lot more work to do building next year's rotation under the payroll crunch and will be using this season's performances to gauge how and if their current collection of young starters factor into next year's plans.
Right now, the only starter who we know will be in next year's rotation for sure is CC Sabathia. After him there are four open spots and the chances of the Yankees spending big bucks to fill them are very slim. Both Kuroda and Andy Pettitte came back on one-year contracts this year, but the smart money would be on both of them retiring and/or going back to Japan to pitch after this season. Even if both of them were interested in coming back in 2014, I can't see New York having the money to re-sign both and stay under $189 mil and I can't see either Kuroda or Pettitte being willing to take $4 or 5 million to make it work. Cash and Co. have to be assuming that both these guys are goners after 2013.
So that leaves the Yanks with the collection of Phil Hughes, Nova, Phelps, Michael Pineda, and maybe Adam Warren and Brett Marshall if you want to cast the net a little wider. I've discussed Hughes' situation in detail before, as he's pitching for a new contract this season, his first as a true free agent. Hughes is in the process of entering his prime and stands to get at least good offers from a number of teams if/when he hits the open market on that fact alone. The better he pitches this year, the higher his price is going to get and the more difficult it will become for Cash to re-sign him if he's interested in doing so. The lack of no-doubt talent behind Hughes makes him very important to the Yankees' future, but money has been the determining factor in every personnel decision made in the last four months. I wouldn't expect that to change with Hughes.
Phil is just the tip of the uncertainty iceberg when it comes to the rest of this group. Nova has less than half a year of really good starts to his credit and a little over a year's worth of pretty poor starts alongside. He's still under team control for the next few years, but 2013 is going to be the litmus test for what kind of pitcher he's capable of being and how much faith the Yanks can have in him. Same goes for Pineda, albeit on a smaller scale because of his rehab schedule. The Yankees signed him thinking he was going to be the #2 behind CC for the next five years. Now they're just hoping he comes back something close to the pitcher he was pre-surgery. And Phelps, good as he was at times last season, still doesn't have enough of a body of work to make a definitive call on whether he can be counted on for 30+ starts a year.
A commenter correctly pointed out in yesterday's storyline post that the Yankees' ability to stay competitive during this payroll-conscious period was actually a two-year endeavor, and that same logic applies to the rotation. If CC does start to show signs of wearing down this season, the Novas, Pinedas, and Phelpses of the world become even more important. If those guys don't pitch well enough this season to instill confidence in Cash and Joe that they can handle the load next season, the front office might have to re-evaluate its entire plan for next offseason.
Not that anybody ever needs any added pressure pitching in New York, but that's what this young group of pitchers is facing this season. In every start they make, they're being judged not only for 2013 but for 2014 as well, even the guys in Triple-A. Is Phil Hughes worth a multi-year deal? Can Nova become a reliable #3? Is Warren or Marshall capable of being a Major League starter? They've already been facing a lot of these questions in their young careers. Now the questions will get even louder and more frequent. If the Yankees are going to contend in 2013, the rotation is going to carry them. In doing that, they might also be carrying the chances for contention in 2014.
(Photo courtesy of the AP)