Looking Ahead: The Yankees 2013 Starting Rotation
As a Yankee tradition, in recent years, the starting rotation will need to be reworked. For once the reworking will be minimal, at least. CC Sabathia, Ivan Nova and Phil Hughes are all set to return next year. That leaves two rotation spots that need filling and there are a lot of choices in which to fill them.
The forgotten, but not gone Michael Pineda should be the first candidate to fill one of the empty rotation spots. The former Mariner and Felix Hernandez second fiddler was brought over in the surpringly uneventful Jesus Montero trade that rocked the baseball world in January in order to serve as the Yankees mythological #2 starter. Unfortunately, Michael Pineda never threw a pitch for his new team; tearing his shoulder in spring training. As it turned out, the injury was not as devastating as originally thought, and Pineda could make a full recovery when everything is all said and done. He is projected to pitch again in 2013, but what if he’s not ready to start the season, or what if he’s uneffective? He could be the Michael Pineda that finished top five in Rookie of the Year voting and was an All-Star, but he could also be terrible instead and the Yankees need to be prepared for either eventuality.
This brings us to the Yankee farm system for a look at their internal options. Over the last few years the farm has produced several promising back end of the rotation starters. The Yankees have traded most of those guys away (Hector Noesi in the Jesus Montero trade and D.J. Mitchell in the Ichiro trade), but the ones the team still haven’t traded could be useful if they need a cheap option to fill a spot.
David Phelps has been a decent swing-man in 2012 and could look to capture a more permanent spot in the Yankee rotation. In his rookie campaign, Phelps has managed a 3.39 ERA and a 4.36 FIP. The problem with this option becomes apparent when his numbers as a starter are split from his numbers as a reliever. He has a 2.50 ERA with a 3.73 FIP in the bullpen, but has a 4.17 ERA and a 4.91 FIP as a starter. It seems Phelps might be better suited as the longman out of the pen instead. There is also Adam Warren, who made a pot start this season. If you don’t remember that one game, you didn’t miss much. Adam Warren probably doesn’t even remember it. His one start amounted to 2.1 innings, 8 hits, 6 runs, 2 walks and 2 home runs, but that doesn’t mean he’s doomed forever. He has had a decent year in Triple A with a 3.71 ERA and a 3.72 FIP. While his strike out rate has gone down slightly, he has also improved his walk rate and home run rate. Like Phelps, Warren is not really a prospect anymore, so it’s time for him to get a chance with the big league club. He could serve as a decent back end starter, but the Yankees don’t seem to trust him.
Top prospect Manny Banuelos and “top prospect” Dellin Betances are both nearing the top of the Yankee farm system. Banuelos is the #1 pitching prospect in the organization and he seemed set up for a chance in the Bronx in 2013. He hit a speed bump just as he seemed to be finally figuring out his control issues. A bone bruise in his pitching elbow ended his season in May. Without a full year to work on his control, ManBan seems to be out of the running for a rotation spot. Dellin Betances, on the other hand, has put himself out of the running for even a roster spot. After nothing but high hopes for the #2 pitching prospect in the system, Betances has steadily, and then rapidly, declined into near oblivion. He was never any good at not walking people, but he’s been especially bad at it since 2011. In 2011 he posted a 4.70 BB/9 at Double A, then 8.32 BB/9 at Triple A in 2012 before finally being sent back down. Since the move back to Trenton, he’s been even worse. Dellin Betances is a complete mess and is closer to being released than being called up to serve any purpose. At 24, Betances has run out of time to work on his mechanics and looks like a lost cause at this point in time.
This leaves us to look at the possible free agent acquisitions that Brian Cashman could make. Three pitchers are leaving after this season: Andy Pettitte, Freddy Garcia and Hiroki Kuroda. After getting off to a great start in his return to Major League Baseball, Andy Pettitte, now at a sparkling 40 years of age, lost most of his return season to a freak injury. It has been reported that Pettitte is now considering yet another return to baseball in 2013. No one knows what he would have provided if he remained healthy all year, but his 2.08 FIP in June might be enough to let peoples’ imaginations run wild. Let’s not forget he is a 40 year old pitcher who has had trouble staying on the field in recent years (broken ankle or not). It would be foolish to think he could maintain that level of success over a whole season, but if the price is right, Andy Pettitte is a nice insurance policy to have. Brian Cashman offered Andy a ridiculous $10M to return over the offseason, and if he makes his mind up early enough, could be offered something in that neighborhood again.
It’s time to say goodbye to Freddy Garcia. 2011 was a miracle season for a pitcher past his prime and struggling to stay healthy. Garcia gave the Yankees a 2.1 WAR season, far exceeding what was expect of him and the Yankees should have moved on. Instead Garcia was allowed an encore and in return delivered a 5.66 FIP April and a 4.60 FIP May before being moved to the bullpen. Since returning to the rotation, out of necessity, Garcia has yet to provide a month with a FIP under 4. It seems that lightning did not strike twice and certainly will not with a third opportunity. Hiroki Kuroda on the other hand has been spectacular. Fearing the dreaded ‘National League pitcher’ stygma, Kuroda has showed up his detractors. He has arguably been the team’s best starter and certainly has proven to be their most reliable in 2012. In 30 starts he has only given up more than 4 earned runs in a game four times. That’s reliable. Not only has he performed in the American League, he’s actually had one of his best years in his short American career. It was thought that after this year Kuroda was going to return to Japan, but there are thoughts that he might look to stay here another year. It could be a mistake to let him go if he still has more in the tank.
The Yankees are working on a budget this coming offseason, so expensive free agent options might be out of the question. While there are some enticing young pitchers on the open market, a cheap veteran might be in the cards for the New York Yankees. People want to think that Edwin Jackson and Zack Greinke are future Yankees, however, if recent offseasons are any indication (especially for the ‘too crazy for New York’ Greinke) the Yankees will be looking elsewhere. Like Here:
Joe Blanton is solid. Since becoming a fulltime player in 2005, he’s failed to reach at least 170 innings only once. He hasn’t reached 200 innings since leaving the Athletics, but if he’s healthy he can provide a lot of innings. The problem with Blanton is that he’s been overpaid and never gave the Phillies what they thought they were getting. The lack of better alternatives could lead to a bidding war for him and possibly lead to a long term contract. If there isn’t much demand for his services, the Yankees could pounce and acquire an innings eater at a reasonable price.
Francisco Liriano has been linked to the Yankees for years and will be a free agent in 2013 now that the floor has finally fallen out from under him. Aside from two very good years, Liriano has been mostly underwhelming in his results as a starter. With his FIP exceeding 4 in his last two seasons, a possible payday for the 28 year old is looking far less likely than it was back in 2010. He might be looking at a reclamation-type deal in order to rebuild his value. New York might not be the best place for that, but it could be slightly more lucrative for him.
Brandon McCarthy was a once promising starter who has been bogged down by injuries. Just when he had gotten past that part of his career, a fractured skull ended his 2012 season. McCarthy should be fine for next year, but his injury history will prevent him from getting a big contract. A contract between $5-10M should be enough to get it done, but he also might be looking for multiple years. The Yankees might shy away here, but since he’s only 28, a two year deal shouldn’t be out of the question, considering the amount of question marks that are currently residing in the farm system.
Anibal Sanchez has overcome injury to become a reliable starter and an above average option for a team that only needs a backend starter. He’s seen better years than 2012, but he has been reliable. He only missed pitching 5 innings in a game twice this season. His 11.2 WAR over the last three seasons puts him in the top 20 for pitchers during that time period and the #2 free agent pitcher behind Zack Greinke. Sanchez will be looking for a long term contract, and a lot of money. The Tigers might have a leg up on the competition after they traded for him, but the Yankees would be hard pressed to find a better option that won’t quite reach Greinke and Jackson contract levels.
Whatever direction the Yankees end up going in, they will probably have restraint on the mind. Big flashy contracts might be attractive, but this offseason looks to be different. The series of decisions the team will have to make puts the rotation at a lower priority for the first time in years. Expect the best bang for your buck deals, if any even come.
By: Jason Cohen