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.
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.
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.
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.