Baseball fans love pitching cliches. Good pitching beats good hitting. You can never have enough pitching. Pitching wins championships. Yet in the Bronx over the past few years, we haven’t seen a top-flight pitching staff. We’ve seen a number of good pitchers for sure: Chien-Ming Wang, Andy Pettitte, Mike Mussina, Randy Johnson if you consider a guy with a 5.00 ERA a good pitcher. When looked at as a staff, though, none of the recent teams has been too impressive. Gone are the days of Cone, Clemens, Pettitte, El Duque, Wells, and other top arms pitching together.
It appears the top priority of the Cashman administration is to remedy this issue. Over the past few years the Yankees have restocked their farm system with arms from the draft, to many of whom they paid over slot money to lure away from college. We’re just starting to see the beginning with Kennedy and Hughes. There are plenty more to come, and while most of them will not pan out, the Yanks are betting that a few will. A few just might be enough.
The team is also looking to take advantage of a free agent market with a few top arms in its ranks. CC Sabathia obviously tops the list, followed by other talented arms such as Ben Sheets, A.J. Burnett, Derek Lowe, and even Jake Peavy (whose agent said would approve a trade to the Yankees, though that could very well be just a marketing ploy). Using their financial advantage they could sign two of these pitchers, who would then combine with Chien-Ming Wang and Joba Chamberlain to form the bulk of the team’s rotation. That would be in the team’s best interest for 2009.
Going forward, though, I hope the Yankees are looking to more than just adding free agent arms and drafting high-celing pitchers. There’s certainly a process involved in developing pitchers, and it might be just as important as selecting the right arms. The Yankees have Nardi Contreras on staff as their pitching guru. While he’s highly regarded by most critics, I don’t have the base of knowledge to evaluate or compare him to peers. We can only hope he is, in fact, the right man for the job.
Just ask the Texas Rangers about process. They brought in Nolan Ryan, who has vowed to change the team’s approach to their minor league pitchers. They even went so far as to sign Mike Maddux to an enormous deal to be their pitching coach. For the team that finished last in the AL in ERA this year, such a move might be considered a necessity.
The Yankees weren’t nearly as bad as the Rangers in terms of pitching, but they certainly have a ways to go. WIth pitching-heavy teams like the Red Sox, Rays, Blue Jays, Twins, and Angels in the AL, the Yanks could have some even tougher competition ahead. While I certainly agree that we should pursue top starting pitching when it is available, I also think the Yanks need to make sure they’re properly developing their own arms.