Freddy Garcia, David Phelps, and the 5th StarterBy
Later on tonight, Freddy Garcia will make his fourth start since returning to the rotation due to Andy Pettitte‘s injury. He’s had one good start (against the Rays), one really good start (against the Red Sox), and one pretty bad start (against the Angels). Freddy’s been much better than he was in April and I think the best way to describe his recent performance is “serviceable.” Pretty much exactly what the Yankees need him to be while Pettitte is on the shelf.
Meanwhile, David Phelps was scheduled to make his third minor league start since being sent down later this afternoon, but the Yankees recalled him from Triple-A yesterday. He had a nice but pitch count shortened start against the Rays before being sent down nearly two weeks ago, and he’s since thrown a dominant start (in Double-A) and very good start (in Triple-A) in the bush leagues. Over his last 21 innings between the minors and Majors he’s struck out 31 batters. A big league rotation spot opened up with Andy’s injury and you can kinda see that Phelps smells the blood in the water.
It’s not a coincidence that Garcia and Phelps were pitching on the same days and with the same exact schedule. Freddy is the weak link in the rotation at the moment and if the Yankees were to pull the plug anytime soon, Phelps is ready to step right in seamlessly. Garcia hasn’t really done anything to warrant losing his rotation spot unless he tosses up a second straight dud tonight, and even then I think he would get the benefit of the doubt. He built up some goodwill last year and the team sure seems to like his veteran savvy.
There is some merit to swapping the two right now, however. For one, it would give the Yankees a chance to evaluate Phelps as a big league starter over an extended period of time. With the 2014 payroll plan looming as well as the free agencies of Robinson Cano and Curtis Granderson, digging up a cheap starter sure would be a big help. Even if he were to flop during an extended rotation audition, there is value in knowing he might not be able to be that cheap fifth starter down the line. There’s also the trade value aspect of it; pitching well would improve Phelps’ value on the market.
Secondly, Garcia pitched pretty well out of the bullpen earlier this season. It was a small sample in low-leverage spots of course, but at least he showed the willingness and ability to change roles. There’s a clear opening in the bullpen for a non-specialist reliever, someone who can throw an inning or two without turning everything into a stressful situation. Perhaps Garcia could be that guy, a 2009 Al Aceves type until Chad Qualls is replaced by whoever. Then again you could say the exact same thing about Phelps. He’s shown what he can do in a relief role already.
There is certainly no urgency to make a change, I’m just thinking out loud more than anything here. It’s very hard to ignore what Phelps has done over the last two or three weeks and as fans we always want to see the young kid over the old veteran with no future with the team. Our prospect crushes must be validated, dammit. The Yankees have a nice comfy lead in the division though, so whatever decision they make isn’t anything that will put a big dent in their playoff chances. I’d rather not see the kid bounce back and forth between the bullpen and the rotation, but at least they’re letting Phelps do it in the minors instead of forcing it in the show. That’s where they ran into trouble with Joba Chamberlain. No matter which of these two starts while the other relieves, the Yankees will have a solid fifth starter and a solid multi-inning reliever at their disposal.