Thinking about the starting fiveBy
The 1948 Boston Braves were a pretty good team. They finished the season with a 91-62 record, good for first in the National League, but they fell to the Indians in the World Series in six games. Despite a few no-name pitchers in their rotation — or perhaps because of them — that club birthed one of the most famous poems in baseball history.
On September 14, 1948, as the Braves held onto first place and tried to find someone not named Warren Spahn or Johnny Sain who could win games regularly, the now-defunct Boston Post ran a verse from Gerald V. Hern. The one-time paper’s sports editor’s words live on as part of baseball culture.
First we’ll use Spahn
then we’ll use Sain
Then an off day
followed by rain
Back will come Spahn
followed by Sain
by two days of rain.
As we sit here on January 28, just a few weeks before pitchers and catchers report for Spring Training, the Yanks’ rotation resembles that poem. Substitute CC Sabathia and Phil Hughes — what, You think I’d say Mitre? — and we can have the 2011 edition of “Spahn and Sain.” Of course, Sabathia and Hughes won’t combine to throw 41 percent of all of the Yanks’ innings as Spahn and Sain did, but isn’t that why the club signed Rafael Soriano?
Lately, the Yankees have been trying to find someone, anyone willing to part with a pitcher, but the pickings are slim. So earlier this week, they turned to Bartolo Colon, and the world seemingly imploded. Blog commenters, Twitter conversations, talk radio spots all focused on Colon as though the Yanks were relying on him to make 33 starts and win 18 of them. They’re not. He’s a low-risk invitee to Spring Training who will take home a few thousand dollars if he doesn’t make the team. If he pitches well enough to merit a longer look, the Yanks will pay him a salary of $900,000. It won’t break the bank.
Yet, as Joel Sherman pointed out, every pitching move is being viewed through the prism of Cliff Lee. The Yankees didn’t sign Lee; ergo, Colon is the replacement. It doesn’t quite work that way. Rather, in a thin market, the Yanks have an opportunity to maybe catch lightning in a bottle for 15 starts — Aaron Small says hello — or push Ivan Nova and Sergio Mitre to earn their rotation spots. Who would want to have Colon breathing down his neck anyway?
But maybe it won’t come to that. Sherman adds a tantalizing bit of some hopey-changey thing to the conversation:
For now, their only chance to change the perception of having a frail rotation would be if Andy Pettitte again reversed retirement plans. And optimism has risen within the Yankee family that Pettitte will indeed pitch in 2011. Two people briefed on the most recent conversations between the Yankees and Pettitte say the team is upbeat because Pettitte is working out regularly, has not firmly committed to retirement and because it is hard to dismiss the $12 million to $13 million Pettitte knows the Yankees would pay for his services.
What Yankee fan isn’t going to go to their windows, open it, stick their head and scream, “Come back, Andy Pettitte”? One simple signing will turn the Yanks’ off-season around. Although I’m not sold on Pettitte’s ability to withstand the physical rigors of a full season, 21 starts of Pettitte and 12 starts of someone else is far better than the alternative.
So we keep waiting, and if push comes to shove, as Sherman says, the Yanks just have to ride it out until early June. Cliff Lee was sent from the Mariners to Texas on July 9th, and if the Yanks can put together a Spahn-and-Sain-like rotation for half a season or less, the market will open up. Still, I’m holding out hope for Andy Pettitte. Does he really seem retired to you?