When the Yankees surged early in the year, they did it largely on the backs of the pitching staff. Hiroki Kuroda was pitching like an ace, CC Sabathia hadn’t fallen apart, David Phelps came on strong, and Phil Hughes pitched very well in a number of his starts (though got creamed in others). Even Andy Pettite had pitched well, and when he got hurt the Yankees got pretty competent performances in his absence.
This is no longer the case. Since the Yankees tumbled out of first the pitching staff has performed considerably worse, leaving the Yankees in fourth place and six games back of the Wild Card. Worse, they have no games remaining against five of the eight teams ahead of them in the AL standings. If they’re going to fight their ways back into this they need a 1995-esque run, which means running the board against AL East opponents.
The Yankees have addressed one area of weakness, finding a platoon partner for Lyle Overbay in Mark Reynolds. That should give them some additional firepower against lefties, which they sorely need. Yet it won’t be enough on its own. They need plenty of other help to leapfrog four teams and slide into the second Wild Card slot. The pitching staff represents one area where they could make a solid improvement.
Earlier today we learned that Phil Hughes is willing to pitch out of the bullpen next year. My only question is, why wait? Hughes’s 4.97 ERA ranks 43rd out of 46 qualified AL starters. He’s averaging a hair more than 5.1 innings per start. His woes also didn’t start this year. Since his return to the rotation in 2010 he ranks 49th out of 63 qualified starters in ERA. Things have gone downhill since then, as he ranks 39th out of 42 since 2011.
The problem is that the Yankees don’t have a viable replacement at the moment. Adam Warren could perhaps fit the bill, but he’s still an unknown at this point. Brett Marshall hasn’t exactly earned a spot with his AAA performances. Vidal Nuno is on the DL, as is David Phelps. Michael Pineda would have been nice here, but chances are we won’t see him pitch again this year. If the Yankees want to make such a transition, they’d have to look outside the organization.
A couple of well-known pitchers have cleared waivers in the last few days. First is left-hander Erik Bedard, the last remaining Astro earning more than $1 million. His overall season doesn’t look much better than Hughes’s, so that could be an exercise in futility. The other name is quite a bit more interesting: Dan Haren.
Like Bedard, Haren has struggled this year. His 4.82 ERA is actually higher than Hughes’s. Yet that doesn’t tell the whole story. Haren actually had a 6.15 ERA through his first 15 starts, but then went on the DL with right shoulder inflammation. That must have been truly bothering him, because he has been downright phenomenal since his return on July 8th: 2.30 ERA in 43 innings, meaning he’s averaging over six innings per start. Opponents are hitting .191/.250/.283 off him, and he’s struck out 42 while walking just 10.
For their part, the Nats are in a much worse position than the Yankees. They might have fewer teams between them and the second Wild Card (just two), but they’re also 9.5 games back of it with 42 games left to play. Their only chances against teams ahead of them (Atlanta notwithstanding, because that’s simply not happening) come with the last two series of the year, against St. Louis and Arizona. Oh, and they’re under .500 120 games into the season. If they can get even a C prospect and salary relief for Haren, they might as well try.
For the Yanks, the time has come to grasp at straws. That’s exactly what the Mark Reynolds acquisition represents. They’re looking at what’s available and adding where they can. Adding Haren, and moving Hughes to the bullpen, should help shore up both aspects of the pitching staff. They could jettison its weakest member, Joba Chamberlain, in hopes that Hughes not only performs better, but can become a reliable part of the setup crew, as he was in 2009.
(As an added bonus, if the Yanks get this done before the doubleheader Tuesday, both Haren and Hughes are lined up to pitch. That would work out better than having to call up Marshall [assuming David Huff gets DFA’d to make room for Reynolds today].)