Sorting out the rotation, now and later

The Raul Ibanez Problem
Projecting Andy Pettitte

The good news is that the Yankees have two and a half weeks to sort the final three spots in the starting rotation. The bad news is — really, there is no bad news. The difficult news, if it can even be called that, is that they don’t have a spot for everyone. Right from the start someone is getting traded, optioned to the minors, or sent to the bullpen. Then, a few weeks later, assuming Andy Pettitte‘s comeback goes according to plan and schedule, they’ll have to make another similar move.

Given the guys on the roster, the Yanks could move in a number of directions. They face a few restrictions, but few enough that they can both populate their rotation with five high-quality arms and retain depth. They might even find upgrades in other spots along the way.

Unmovable objects

While it was seen as meaningless banter when he said it, Joe Girardi did reveal a truth when he talked about his rotation earlier this spring. In discussing his starters, he said that only CC Sabathia and Hiroki Kuroda were guaranteed spots. Yeah right, people said in reaction. As though they’re going to send Ivan Nova or Michael Pineda to the bullpen or to the minors. Yet right now the possibility of just such a move has increased.

Without reading too far into Girardi’s statement, he did make one thing clear: Sabathia and Kuroda are unmovable. Kuroda secured a no-trade clause when he signed on with the Yankees. Given his desire to stay in LA last season, despite having no prayer of making the postseason, there is a close to zero chances that he waives it at any point this season. He committed to New York, and given everything we’ve heard about him, he intends to honor that commitment. Sabathia, of course, is the team’s ace and is essentially irreplaceable. We don’t need to forget about the idea of moving him, because it was never there in the first place.

Options remaining

If the Yankees would like to retain their depth, they could take advantage of the three pitchers on staff who have minor league options. Phil Hughes, Michael Pineda, and Ivan Nova can head to AAA if the Yankees feel that is the best course of action. Chances are, however, that AAA isn’t the best option for these guys, for a number of reasons.

1. A full AAA rotation. The Yankees already have D.J. Mitchell, David Phelps, Adam Warren, Dellin Betances, and Manny Banuelos in the AAA rotation. There have long been talks of Mitchell and Betances going to the bullpen, but it appears the Yankees would prefer for that move to come of necessity. Optioning one of the big leaguers to AAA would mean bumping someone at AAA, which causes a chain reaction across the organization.

2. The AAA road show. As we know, the AAA Yankees — the Empire State Yankees — will have no home turf this year. They will essentially be a traveling roadshow. That makes life a bit tougher, and it might make them think twice before optioning one of their more highly regarded pitchers. Then again, they do plan to have Betances and Banuelos travel all season, so perhaps it’s not that big a deal. In any case, it seems like an unideal situation to force someone into.

Along with those two general points, each pitcher has something going himself. It seems unlikely the Yankees would trade their up-and-coming slugger, and 2012 full-time DH, for a guy they’re going to stash in AAA. Last year Nova was one of the Yankees’ more reliable starters, and even earned the call in Game 2 of the ALDS. Finally, how silly would it look if the Yankees optioned Hughes to AAA a month after Brian Cashman referred to him as a “top-of-the-rotation starter”?

To the bullpen

Before the Pettitte news broke, it was pretty much assumed that the Yankees would move the odd man out of the rotation into the bullpen. From the start of the spring it appeared that Freddy Garcia would head that way, since the Yankees want to continue giving Phil Hughes chances in the rotation. Since Pettitte won’t be back to start the season, the Yankees could simply continue on this path and table their decision until Pettitte forces the issue.

Trade winds

Eventually the Yankees will have to make another rotation decision. Once Pettitte is ready, someone will get bumped. By that point, things might work themselves out. Someone might get hurt, someone might pitch horribly, whatever. That would give them a chance to shuffle things around and make room for Pettitte in the rotation.

Still, the Yanks could decide to get out in front of this issue and make a trade now to keep the picture a bit clearer. Chances are Garcia would agree to a trade — they need his permission if they want to trade him before June 15th. Otherwise, would they trade Nova for the right package? Hughes? It seems as though it’s Garcia or bust when it comes to a trade. That lessens the chance that one will happen.

All of this is predicated on the idea that Pettitte will indeed come back in good form. There is always the chance that he does not, which is why the Yanks might want to avoid the trade route. Then again, they do have considerable depth in the minors, so losing Garcia might not hurt that much, even if Pettitte does not return.

Looking at it from a wider angle, there doesn’t seem to be much of an issue. The Yankees can proceed as normal through the final weeks of spring training. Pettitte only complicates things a bit further down the road. Maybe this increases the chances the Yankees look to trade someone, but for right not it’s unlikely that they do anything too drastic. Seven starters for five spots seems like excess, but that can chance in a heartbeat. Despite possible complications, the Yanks are in a great spot right now.

The Raul Ibanez Problem
Projecting Andy Pettitte
  • Robinson Tilapia

    My solution is one which apparently isn’t being considered.

    Barring Hughes (or other) implosion between now and early May or so, you give Freddy Garcia the chance to be a starting pitcher somewhere else. Solid veteran who did well and can contribute to any team with an opening. He deserves it.

    As for Andy? While this will probably work itself out in his favor, you don’t guarantee him a starting spot unless you need him to assume one. Does it mean that one of my favorite Yankees of all time would pitch as the famed “starter working out of the bullpen” if no one in the rotation needed to be bumped? Yes, it would. That’s not disrespect. That’s taking him at his word that he just wanted to come back to play and asking him, at almost age 40, to do what’s best for the team.

    Chances are, though, that, with two pitchers going on their second full year in the majors, and one young pitcher who’s struggled to have an entire successful season throughout his career, that someone will need some time away from the rotation at some point. There’s also injury and, yes, a close-to-40-year-old pitcher trying to make a comeback which may not go as planned.

    • Sweet Dick Willie

      you give Freddy Garcia the chance to be a starting pitcher somewhere else. Solid veteran who did well and can contribute to any team with an opening. He deserves it.

      Not saying Freddy doesn’t deserve the chance to start, but the Yankees are a business, and should be run like one. If trading Freddy is best for the Yankees, then by all means trade him, but NOT because he “deserves” it.

      Time is on the Yankees side; there’s no need to rush into anything. If a contending team has a starter go down, well, Freddy’s price just went up. And if two contenders are in need of another starter, his price just went WAY up.

      As has been said often, these things have a way of working themselves out.

      • Mike HC

        True, but getting the reputation for selling a bill of goods to a free agent and then completely screwing him out of a rotation spot with subsequent moves, is not necessarily a great strategy. Other free agents might be influenced by that, and there is also potential for him to be a cancer for the team (and rightfully so from his perspective).

        • Urban

          The Yankees don’t have the reputation. They have a reputation of paying money.

          If you pay, they will come.

        • Needed Pitching

          ” (and rightfully so from his perspective).”

          he’s being paid 4M to play for the Yankees. As long as they keep sending him paychecks he should do what they ask him to.
          Not saying he doesn’t have reason to be upset, but he certainly doesn’t have a right (or reason) to be a cancer (I don’t expect he’d do that anyways, fwiw)

  • statboy yankopherson

    Our fantastic AAA rotation cannot afford a roadblock. Nova, Hughes & Pineda are all established Major League starters. Optioning them doesn’t make sense.

    Even if Garcia blocks a trade, he and Pettitte are destined to be bull[en-mates until further notice.

    • Cris Pengiucci

      Nova, Hughes & Pineda are all established Major League starters.

      If by established you mean they’ve all started for 1 entire season with varying degress of success, then I agree. However, I’m more inclined to only say they’ve all had 1 entire MLB season as a starter with varying degress of success. Who knows what this year will bring for any of them? While I believe they should all have very productive seasons, that’s yet to be seen.

      • Cris Pengiucci

        Degrees not degress (can’t believe I misspelled that twice).

      • Havok9120

        While I’d agree with your addendum, his point still stands. It makes no sense to send them down before we see what they can do at the MLB level since they have all preformed well at the MLB level in the past.

        • Havok9120

          Which is fine, because we won’t have to.

          People need to let the season happen and stop freaking out about problems that may not even matter, two months before they can POSSIBLY matter.

  • LiterallyFigurative

    I don’t see the point in sending any of the 3 young guys to the minors. Whatever issues they may have, it’s best to figure it out in the Bronx.

    These young guys are going to have to sink or swim, so babying them and sending them down when they have yet to cost you any games with their performance is a little panicky to me.

    Also, let’s not assume Andy will be ready, or pitch as well as the 5 rotation guys either. He’s going to have to make a case for himself, while simultaneously one of the starters has to struggle mightily.

    • Robinson Tilapia

      I get what you’re saying, and agree with the overall point here, but there would be valid reasons that could come up to send one of them down, especially Pineda/Nova. I’m not advocating for it, nor do I see it as likely, but I don’t think either is 100% out of the woods yet.

      • LiterallyFigurative

        Oh no, I totally agree that it’s not 100%, nothing really is. My thing is I would rather the young guys figure it out up here rather than send them down. If there is something seriously wrong, I’m all for fixing it. But to me it’s counter-productive for young pitchers to be yanked back and forth everytime they struggle a little.

        • Ted Nelson

          There’s a lot of room between yanking someone back and forth vs. sending them down to AAA if it’s what’s judged to be in the best interest of the organization.

          • Havok9120


            Though I would bet he was thinking of Nova with that part of his comment.

            • Ted Nelson

              Which worked out really well for Nova…

  • kevin w.

    Ivan Nova for Dominic Brown.

    • Landry

      I’m not criticizing, but I don’t understand the Dominic Brown love I’ve seen on here. Other than being young and cost controlled, what’s the attraction?

      • fin

        I always wondered the same thing. The Philies have done a good job with developing players and are having issues with him. By all accounts he is a terrible fielder that requires a defensive replacement latter in the game. I cant say I’m against aquiring him but Nova would seem to be too steep of a price to pay right now. I think for the Yankees to make a move for a player like Brown it would have to involve players that arent part of the 2014 teams plans. I think Nova is much more of a sure thing at this point than Dom Brown.

      • Tom Zig

        I don’t know much about him, but he’s supposedly got a big bat.

    • Slu

      Why would the Phils do that? They already have six starters themselves in Halladay, Hamels, Lee, Worley, Blanton, and Kendricks. Nova may be an upgrade, but they’d have the same issue the Yankees have.

      • kevin w.

        Blanton and Hamels will be FA after this year and i’m still not sold on Worley. And Nova >>>>>> Kendrick. I haven’t heard of him being a bad defender, he is a young athletic player so i’m not sure how accurate that is. If he develops into the player he has the potential to be thats a cost-controlled .270/15/70/20 guy. I’m just trying to solve two issues at once.

        • Fin

          I hadnt heard of it either, until i watched the Yankees/Phils ST game. Brown dropped an easy fly ball, and the Phils announcers expanded on his issues. They said that Manuel basically confirmed that his defense is so poor that he would require a D replacement in later innings of a game. That he has real issues with fly balls (which of course is not good for an outfielder, lol).

  • Manny’s BanWagon

    If Pineda starts throwing 95 in the next 3 weeks (which I fully expect to happen), I’d go:
    CC, Kuroda, Nova, Pineda, Hughes with Garcia as long man in the pen and trade bait until the Yankees get a decent offer.

    If Pineda is throwing low 90s and struggling in 3 weeks, I’d go:
    CC, Kuroda, Nova, Hughes, Garcia for a month or so while sending Pineda to AAA until he or Pettitte are throwing well enough to move into the rotation, at which time I’d start shopping Garcia.

    • Needed Pitching

      how about if Pineda is throwing low 90’s, but not struggling
      He’s been fairly solid in term of results so far in spring without the extra velocity

      • Cris Pengiucci

        Velocity is over rated. I agree, if he’s successful, I don’t care if he’s throwing 91-92 or 95-96.

        • YankeesJunkie

          Velocity is overrated, however if Pineda is shown to be losing velocity then there is an issue unless he is not going 100% on every pitch and that has been stated. At this point I am not worried, but drops in velocity should be taken seriously.

        • fin

          While you are correct that velocity isnt the most important thing. I tend to think if a 23yr old pitcher looses 3 or 4 mph off his fastball, there is something wrong. I also think its a big leap of faith to think Pineda would be effective with that kind of diminished velocity. It may be fine in ST against teams that consist of alot of minor leaguers but I have serious doubts that Pineda would be effective throwing 91-92 during the regular season, at this point in his career. I really think the whole question is moot though, as I fully expect Pineda to be throwing as he did last year about the time the season starts for real.

      • STONE COLD Austin Romine


        Pineda could have a excellent April with 92-93 stuff and folks will still want to send him down just because he doesn’t have enough “V-Lo”.

        …Just kidding

        … Maybe not.

      • LiterallyFigurative

        But I always heard you had to throw 95 to be successful in this sport. Anything less and you were a bum.


      • Ted Nelson

        He’s allowed, what, 13 baserunners in 8.1 IP?

        • Bo Knows

          So what CC has allowed 13 baserunners in 8 innings let’s send him down too, he’s obviously sucking right now.

          Spring training stats are useless, the only thing that pitchers should be judged on should be how are the pitches looking, and how they are being commanded. Pineda’s slider doesn’t need further mention, but the change has been looking very good.

          • Havok9120

            While I agree with the value of ST stats are minimal at best, lets not pretend CC and Pineda are anywhere near the same category for at least 3 or 4 reasons I can think of off the top of my head.

            Where do you get ST game stats Ted? I’ve not found anywhere to get them unfortunately.

            • Bo Knows


          • DM

            Yes. You have to watch the games and allow for the full context of what a pitcher is working on. Quoting how many baserunners over 8.1 for a starter in March is stat wonk nonsense.

            “I know everybody is talking about Michael Pineda’s fastball velocity,” Brian Cashman said. “I wish I could give you an answer. It’s not where it was in the summertime, but I know one thing: I’ve watched every one of his starts except for the one, and I see how the hitters are reacting to him. Even the outs are soft. His secondary pitches are excellent right now. It’s allowing his fastball (to play up). Even if it’s not the power one right now that we believe he’s got coming, he’s still really good. And if that power comes back, he’s going to be great. I’m fine with it. I’m excited by his pitchability, and I’ll be even more excited if and when that velocity comes back.”

            • Ted Nelson

              Again… you seem to have no grasp of what CONTEXT means. I responded directly to a comment that he is not struggling. Baserunners allowed has a lot to do with whether someone is struggling.

          • Ted Nelson

            I said nothing about sending him anywhere. I responded specifically to a comment that he’s not struggling. 8 IP is a totally meaningless sample to judge whether someone is struggling (less than one game), but he is not lightning the world on fire with his results.

            13 baserunners in 8 IP is sort of struggling… that was my only point.

            • DM

              “8 IP is a totally meaningless sample to judge whether someone is struggling (less than one game)”

              “13 baserunners in 8 IP is sort of struggling… that was my only point.”

              What point?
              You went in your usual circle — and in the same post no less.

              Pineda’s line went from a “totally meaningless” indicator of struggling to an indicator of “sort of struggling” in the next sentence??! I guess “sort of” is your usual kinda-sorta-somewhat slippery qualifier — but “sort of” suggests those “totally meaningless” innings have some meaning after all. Which is it?

              I know the answer. Both — as usual.

              But when you say everything you’ve said nothing.

      • Urban

        You know, the funny thing about Pineda’s lower velocity this spring is that he’s pitching better than any of our other starters. CC, Kuroda and Pineda are all locks for the rotation.

  • Typical Troll DBag

    Trade Pineda for someone while he still has value. His shoulder is clearly shot and he has proven time and time again he can’t even handle the pressure of pitching in the Grapefruit League, yet alone the AL East. Maybe the Mets will give us a real hitter to put behind the plate like Josh Thole and do Pinata a favor by putting him where he belongs in the NL.

    • LiterallyFigurative


      Now I’m going to assume that you are just living up to your name and this post was CLEARLY in jest….

  • Mattchu12

    Jumping to conclusions on a guy who hasn’t pitched since 2010 is a big leap. Sure, Colon did it and I love Andy, but we need to slow it down a bit. It’s gotta be CC-Kuroda-Nova-Pineda-Hughes in the rotation on Opening Day, Freddy stays in the bullpen as insurance for the bullpen until we get solid evidence on what Pettitte might pitch like.

    If he pitches well, then you trade Freddy and let one of the kids audition for a bit in the long-man like we did with Noesi last season and deal with Pettitte when the time comes.

    If he pitches poorly, then you keep Freddy and pay for Pettitte’s flight back to Texas.

    • YankeesJunkie

      Honestly, I can’t see any situation where the Yankees would trade Freddy unless it was a ridiculously good deal for the Yankees. While I agree that at this point and situation he is best suited for the 6th starter/relief that he can still be very valuable in an Alfredo Aceves role at the very least. However, it would not be surprising that it takes Pettitte to June 1st or so to even be major league ready and while they say Pettitte will only be a starter if everyone stays healthy or Pettitte does not have what it takes to go 100 pitches every five days he may re evaluate the situation and that point it would not be that far of a stretch for him in the pen as lefty/set up man. In all probability someone will get hurt, but the Yankees have a depth of experience and youth in the rotation 1-9 that is extremely valuable in the marathon season that is baseball.

      • fin

        I dont think 9 starting pitchers is really needed. You may be right though, Garcia may very well not be traded. Too many variables to make an educated guess really. At the very least though his 4m salary may be deemed by Hal as an unnecessary luxory.

        • YankeesJunkie

          I am just assuming the wear and tear of the season and with 1-7 being the six current starters and Pettitte and everyone after that like Warren, Banuelos, Mitchell, Betances, etc.

      • Mattchu12

        I would be fine with keeping Garcia in the Aceves role, if we didn’t have guys like Mitchell, Phelps, or even Warren ready to graduate from Triple-A.

        The thing about Garcia is that teams seem to be picking up decent prospects for less lately, so I’d trade him to get a decent prospect or two, but only if I feel Andy could start if needed since I view those three as long-men and not rotation insurance.

        • YankeesJunkie

          Garcia’s veteran prescence makes him more suitable in a fungible role such as Aceves than say a Warren or Phelps. However, if the Yankees can get a decent prospect or two then that is deal that needs to be down, but that seems unlikely.

          • Mattchu12

            Exactly. The whole notion is based on the idea of getting a prospect or two, which I could see happening because Freddy is a solid back-end option. He just isn’t a better option than Hughes or Pettitte.

    • Ted Nelson

      Colon’s arm was shot for years before he got the stem cell treatment and made his comeback. Pettitte had a very good season in 2010. Did miss some time, but very good overall. That’s a huge difference. He took a year off voluntarily, while Colon was out of the league because no one wanted him/he couldn’t stay healthy.

      • Mattchu12

        I’m not contesting any of that, I think Andy can come back and give us mid-rotation quality. I’m just saying at his age it’s hard enough doing it without taking a year off and I’m not about to make any moves until I see solid evidence.

  • Fernando

    I would move Garcia. You’d still have Pettite and a whole host of arms in AAA.

    I would be against sending Pineda down for just about any situation. He’s viewed as an important part of the future, as evidenced by who he was traded for. To mess with a young pitcher’s confidence because he has an option remaining or because his velocity is down (in SPRING TRAINING no less) does not make the best sense. Pineda was an AS last year. Yes, he had a rough 2nd half, but now he has to adjust and he’s working on that with his changeup.

    As for sending down Nova, he was one of the best starters in the 2nd half last year. Again, I don’t care about SPRING TRAINING performance.

    • whozat

      I care about Spring Training performance if a guy coming off arm injury is struggling with his command, which is what’s happening with Nova right now.

      It’s probably nothing injury-related, as they say he’s healthy, but…it’s not insane to think “hm. It’s possible there’s something going on there.”

      • Mike HC

        Out of all the starters, I am definitely most concerned with Nova at this point. Not sounding the alarms or anything, but definitely keeping a look out.

        • Havok9120

          This is my outlook.

          Though me saying “I’m most concerned with X” is misleading, because I’m hardly concerned about anyone at all. I am watching his starts more closely than anyone except Pineda’s, I just want to see Pineda pitch.

      • Bo Knows

        it was a minor strain well over 5 months ago

        • Havok9120

          I’m with you, but it IS still an injury. And we didn’t get to follow his rehab, which I’m sure adds to some people’s concern.

          • Robinson Tilapia

            I have no doubt his rehab actually occurred.

            The issue I have is this: Do you pay more attention to the first two innings yesterday, or the last three, when he looked just fine, as well as the start before that?

            An injured pitcher wouldn’t have Nova’s highs so far. This looks, to me, like a pitcher trying to get his command going during Spring Training.

            • Havok9120

              That’s my outlook exactly. Even that second inning was much better than the first. I think he’s totally fine, just a young guy trying to get his command worked out after a winter.

              And I don’t think anyone doesn’t believe rehab occurred. My only point was that we didn’t get to see it and have the day by day reports we get on guys during ST or the season and that I could see that making people have less faith in the idea that it was a minor injury. I have no evidence that this is the case with people worried about the injury, it just occurred to me.

    • fin

      I think everyone, including the Yankees are against sending Pineda down. The only way that happens if the wheels come off during the regular season, and they are left with no choice. Some people who comment on this website put too much faith into coach speak (no one but CC, and Kuroda are guaranteed spots) and media guys trying to stir people up for views.
      It seems to me that Hughes will be given every chance in the world to stay a starter for the full season, as he can be a very valuable trade chip. Sending him down or putting him in an already crowed pen, does nothing for the Yankees but destroy any value he has.
      That leaves my real concern: Nova. I worry they will put Nova on a very short leash and a few bad outings could get him sent down. It seems to me letting young pitchers struggle in the majors and overcome it is part of the process of becoming a good professional pitcher, I hope Nova is allowed to develop along those lines.

  • Conor Gallogly

    Isn’t another alternative to keep Pineda or Nova in extended spring training? I haven’t looked at the schedule, but sometimes the April schedule has so many off days that you don’t need five starters for the first three week so maybe keep both in Florida.

    That would allow Garcia and Hughes to get some starts so they could be evaluated in real games. That would be valuable both for deciding who goes to the bullpen and (if they pitch well) for trades. It would also lesson the chance of Pineda/Nova losing steam in September or October.

    • Havok9120

      If I recall correctly, that doesn’t work for us this season. I think we need all five the first 2 times through the rotation.

  • Naved

    Yankees need to hold on to everything. What happens if an injury occurs? You know one of the pitchers will go down this season so they just to stay put and grind it out.

  • King of Fruitless Hypotheticals


    Please correctify me where I’m wrong:

    Pineda had a slow grinding decline second half of last year.

    Hughes pitched 74 innings of 5.74 ball last year.

    Pettitte didn’t pitch AT ALL last year.

    Nova will start 2nd full season, peak of 165 innings last year.

    Sweaty Freddy.

    So, I’m fairly certain we don’t need to sweat this decision, it is going to take care of itself.

    • Fin

      As far as Pineda goes, it depends if you consider ERA all that matters. His peripherals stayed pretty much the same throughout the season. Last year clearly Hughes had health issues, which seem to be gone at this point of ST. Do to Petites timeline of early May, its very possible these things dont work themselves out, without a trade. Its just as easy to imagine 5 healthy effective pitchers come mid May as it is a couple of these guys being bad or injured.