Recent rash of pitching injuries shows Yankees’ depth isn’t expendable

Open Thread: 3/17 Camp Notes
Spring Training Game Thread: Pineda, Part Two
Patrick Corbin won't get a chance to build on his breakout season in 2014. (Rob Tringali/Getty)
Corbin won’t get a chance to build on his breakout season in 2014. (Rob Tringali/Getty)

As of right now, with a little less than two weeks to go before Opening Day in Houston, the Yankees have not tipped their hand about the fifth starter’s spot. One some days it seems Michael Pineda is the frontrunner, on others it seems to be David Phelps. Then Vidal Nuno chucks four one-hit innings against the Orioles’ mostly-regular lineup to re-enter the conversation. Adam Warren has allowed two runs while striking out nine in 8.2 innings this spring. No one has pitched themselves out of consideration yet.

Having four possible starters for one rotation spot is one of those “good problems” people like to talk about. It’s not really a problem of course, pitching depth is a wonderful thing to have. The baseball gods have taken it upon themselves to remind teams and fans of that the (very) hard way over the last week or so. Look at this recent run of pitching injuries:

  • Sunday, March 9th: Kris Medlen of the Braves left his start holding his elbow. After getting a second opinion, he is having his second Tommy John surgery in the last four years this morning.
  • Monday, March 10th: Medlen’s teammate Brandon Beachy left his start with what is called biceps tightness. Tests show ligament damage and he is likely headed for his second Tommy John surgery in the last three years.
  • Friday, March 14th: Jarrod Parker of the Athletics was scratched from his start with a forearm issue. A visit to Dr. James Andrews revealed a torn ligament. He needs a second Tommy John procedure after having his first in 2009.
  • Saturday, March 15th: Diamondbacks’ ace and native New Yorker Patrick Corbin left his start with elbow pain and is currently deciding between Tommy John surgery and rehab, the latter of which never seems to work.

Four the game’s best young pitcher are out for the season and it happened in the span of a week. It doesn’t end there though. Luke Hochevar blew out his elbow two weeks ago. The Padres lost lefty Cory Luebke to his second Tommy John surgery last month and are on the verge of losing prospect Joe Wieland to the same fate. Mike Minor’s shoulder is acting up (the Braves signed Ervin Santana because they had so many injuries), Jon Niese has been dealing with shoulder and elbow problems, Cole Hamels has yet to appear in a game because of a shoulder issue, on and on it goes. Pitchers get hurt, we know this, but this recent rash of injuries around the league has been something else.

Last season the Yankees were the ones hit hard by injuries, though most of them hit the position players. The pitching staff has remained healthy this spring, knock on wood, but that tells us nothing about future durability. CC Sabathia has a ton of innings on his arm, Hiroki Kuroda is approaching 40, Michael Pineda is coming off two lost years following shoulder surgery … it wouldn’t be a surprise if any of those guys missed time in 2014. That and all these pitching injuries around the league are a reminder that the Yankees’ pitching depth — Phelps, Warren, Nuno, etc. — is not really expendable. The Yankees have not gotten through a non-strike season using fewer than eight starters since 1975, so all of those guys figure to be needed at some point this year.

It’s easy for us to starting thinking about a trade whenever the team has an extra something, be it pitchers or catchers or whatever. Heck, just last week I wrote about the possibility of the Yankees trading one of their spare arms to the Braves in the wake of their injuries, thinking it would be one way to improve the infield. Pitching, especially potential starters, have to be treated differently though. You know you’re going to need several extras throughout the season, moreso than any other position, so dealing away a spare arm is always risky. I don’t think we needed all the recent injuries to drive the point home, but it’s pretty clear the Yankees are best off holding onto guys like Phelps, Warren, and Nuno. They will come in handy at some point, probably sooner rather than later.

Open Thread: 3/17 Camp Notes
Spring Training Game Thread: Pineda, Part Two
  • Donny

    The amount of elbow injuries this spring has been very alarming. I wonder what knee-jerk reaction will come of this. I suspect each team will conduct some sort of in-house audit to see how these injuries can be prevented or what might be causing them (similar in nature to the audit the Yankees just did with their scouting department).

    It just really illustartes (and hammers home the point) that you will need, at least, 7-8 starters through the course of a year.

  • Ed

    What’s with the wave of second Tommy John surgeries lately? I feel like there have been a lot of them over the past couple of years. Just in spring training we’ve had 4 players go down for a second TJ. It used to be pretty rare to have a second TJ.

  • Mister D

    Are 2nd TJ surgeries becoming more common because the fail rate is increasing or because the pool of 1st timers is becoming so much bigger?

    • CS Yankee

      …or maybe the throwing program to get them back is too aggressive. It use to be a 18 month deal for them to return to the majors and now it seems like a 11-12 month deal.

      • Jim Is A (Bored) Peckerhead

        I suspect this has to have something to do with it.

      • Jorge Steinbrenner

        We certainly have all gotten used to speaking of post-TJ as being fairly bulletproof, even implying that pitchers are likely to come back stronger after the surgery. We may be seeing a correction in that sort of thought and, therefore, like you say, a change in how this is all looked at recovery-wise.

        Like Mister D said as well, a higher pool means a higher diversity of outcomes.

        My gut, other than trying to figure out how Cashman Failed here, tells me follow up and recovery efforts need to be examined further. We can’t just say “they all come back fine.”

        In the long term, this is probably a good thing, even if it’s a bad thing for a few young pitchers right now career wise.

      • Ed

        That sounds likely to me. Fangraphs wrote about pitching thru pain, and one of the things that stood out to me was Daniel Hudson pitching thru pain during his Tommy John rehab. It sounds like he was so focused on getting back from the surgery ASAP that he ended up tearing the ligament a second time.

        • OldYanksFan

          It’s just dumb.
          Pain is just the body’s way of saying: STOP DOING THIS!

          • Vincent Vega

            Which is why you spend most of your time in front of a keyboard and likely never played sports

    • Jorge Steinbrenner

      Something to consider for sure.

  • LarryM Fl

    Much of what I indicated in yesterday’s article, ” 2014 Season: Innings Eaters.” We need about 8 starters for the season. More than that we are in trouble for the season being a good one. You can’t trade good young pitching depth.

    Cervelli can be traded. He hasIMHO more value than our other guys excluding Sanchez. Romine can fill in while Murphy gets a bit more seasoning.

    • Darren

      Did you see McCann’s throw down to second the other day? If that’s indicative his ability, he’s going to be DHing a lot under Girardi and we’re going to want to see Cervelli’s bat in there. Let’s not go trading him because two Braves pitchers go injured, ok?

      • Jim Is A (Bored) Peckerhead

        Yeah did you see that one play in that one game in spring training? That’s exactly how every other play is going to happen.

        • Darren

          Weak sauce, son.

          You can tell a lot from one throw down to second. A catcher’s arm is a raw tool. It’s not like I saw a guy strike out and then said he whiffs a lot.

          In any case, everyone knows McCann’s weakest element is his throwing arm and the announcers even commented on it.

          Not to mention that I said “If that’s indicative of his ability..”


          • Jim Is A (Bored) Peckerhead

            You started it with an anecdote.

            You could have cited any number of sources that have evaluated his arm as being pretty weak. But nope. You didn’t, so I called you out on using a sample size of ONE as potential proof.

            • Jim Is A (Bored) Peckerhead

              You can tell a lot from a throw, sure. However, he could throw accurately and strongly 95% of the time and there’s still a chance you saw the 5% that his grip slipped, the ball was dirty, he tripped over a shoe lace, something got in his eye, etc.

              Don’t use sample sizes of one.

              • Kosmo

                Career-wise McCann is slightly below league average when it comes to throwing out baserunners. It´s not his strongest suite. The Yanks were more than likely aware of it before they signed him. I´m sure teams will try to exploit his throwing ability and I´m sure he´ll more than hold his own.

              • Darren

                Don’t lose the trees for the forest. Sometimes a sample of one is perfectly valid to make an observation.

                You don’t need supporting sources to observe that his arm was weak one particular throw and IF that’s indicative of his general arm strength (meaning that there were no phantom shoelaces or invisible dirt hindering him), it’s a major flaw in his game.

                You’re taking the need for proper sample size way too far. It’s actually way, way worse when it comes to useful analysis than someone who extrapolates based on one play because you’re actively ignoring evidence.

                • CS Yankee

                  I kind of understand what you mean but lets not forget that The Great Kazoo was very weak throwing down to 2B just a few years ago.

                  McCann might need a throwing program or he might just be a johnny Damon noodle-arm…I doubt that he could stick as a C though if he had a noodle-arm.

      • LK

        If McCann does well framing, blocking balls in the dirt, and calling the game, I really don’t care if he’s slightly below average at preventing steals.

        • I’m One

          Right. The point being is that his value comes from his overall game, not one specific piece.

  • PunkPitch

    The hypothetical trade of either Pineda or Nuno would bring little in return right now, perhaps that would improve if they slotted into the rotation, and stayed healthy. Phelps and Warren are a different animal. If traded, the two mentioned above would have to pan out, and that is a risky plan. Bottom line, tread carefully.

  • CS Yankee

    I wouldn’t let a storm of injuries in MLB affect the plan except if there were a way to capitolize on it.

    Cerv’ and Warren (or Romine and Phelps) for Owings would make great sense on this side of the ledger…not this year but the overall health of the org.

    Having four “compete” for the fifth spot is great, but I would trade one of the 3 that don’t make the 5th spot if the pieces were better than the sum of what the NYY were giving up.

  • Eselquetodolosabe

    So …… Maybe …… Just, maybe …… We finally have “enough” to actually complete a trade.

  • fred robbins

    About the injuries, this is a little off topic, but Jacoby Elsbury seems a lock for injuries as an overpaid by a ton Yankee– once again- while the red sox look like the smartest men in the room with the best signing of the best Seizmore….just amazing to me the lack of insight this team has when signing players

    • Kosmo

      We´re not even out of the gate yet and you´re already making the claim the Sawx signed the better Sizemore?
      Dice-K and Lackey both FA signings missed significant time due to injury. Dice-K is attempting his 3rd comeback??????? Victorino another FA signing missed 40 games in 2013 due to injury.

    • Steve (different one)

      Yes. I can’t believe the Yankees didn’t avoid the obvious injury risk and sign Grady “Ripken” Sizemore.

    • Jorge Steinbrenner

      Let’s not let the topic at hand get in the way from having Fred Robbins curmudgeonally trash the team.

    • Need Pitching & Hitting

      Sizemore: 381/409/429
      Solarte: 517/563/724

      Now who’re the smartest men in the room, eh?

      Solarte has a wide lead on Sizemore for spring training MVP.

      • Jorge Steinbrenner

        Incredibly well played.

      • CS Yankee

        Sizemore: HoF, class of 2022
        Solarte: HoF, class of 2025

        Cashman Failed!

      • Eselquetodolosabe

        Whore ? Yeah baby, now it’s a party !

  • Dan

    1 of 8 SPs is expendable. Having 8 capable SPs is a total luxury when you have holes everywhere else. They will get far more value from an infielder and probably more value out of a middle reliever than they will out of someone like Nuno who probably won’t make more than a couple of starts. And at any rate, there’s always another guy down the list who can make those starts and pitch comporably if and when they do come up (Turley?).

    • LK

      I mean, I agree that this team would be far better off with an infielder than one of these back end guys, but who’s trading an infielder for one of these back end guys?

      • I’m One

        Sure, maybe you need to throw in another piece, just do so from a position of depth (like a catcher).

        D-Backs need a P & a C and have an extra young infielder capable of being a starter. Yankees need a young infielder capable of being a starter and have a P & a C that the D-Backs appear to need. Makes so much sense it’ll never happen.

        • Steve (different one)

          But do the DBacks “need” a catcher? They have a catcher signed for 4 more years at big money. They need a backup catcher, right?

          Also, the “extra” SS they likely have is Gregorius, not Owings. Owings is the starter.

          If they believe Owings is their SS, then they are just robbing Peter to pay Paul.

          Sure, they need pitching like everyone else, but there are many reasons why a trade is unlikely.

    • I’m One

      Having 8 capable SPs is a total luxury when you have holes everywhere else.

      Bingo. Now you just need to get another team to provide approriate value in return.

      • Dan

        Obviously that’s the trick. A guy like Nuno won’t have very much value; but Phelps should–he’s a solid, young number 5 SP, under team control, who still has upside to be a number 4 starter.

        From there you can mix and match him with a young catcher to get the appropriate value back. I definitely think Phelps and Murphy would be a really appealing package to many teams.

  • emac2

    I think the takeaway isn’t that you keep 8 starters but that you don’t trade any of them for back up infielders.

    If you only trade them when someone offers you the value you would have to pay to acquire a comparable pitcher it would make sense to trade two of them. You have to view these guys as money or bitcoin and not pay overpay or sell for less than market value.

    Depth is great but do you buy insurance for injuries to a 4th starter (at the same time) when the cost is a crummy starting infield? You have to find a reasonable balance.

  • Kosmo

    NY has catching depth and maybe some OF depth. To begin with let´s start from there and if a team makes an offer NY can´t refuse and it requires 1 of Warren or Phelps then NY would have to run the risk.

  • mitch

    Depth is great, but if you have the opportunity to fleece a desperate team like ATL or ARZ I think you do it. You’re going to need 8 or 9 starters throughout the year, but you won’t need all of them in the first couple months.

    Later in the season pitchers will be available as teams fall out of it. Maybe a couple young guys like Banuelos emerge and become options. The Yankees will have options if they need to add an arm mid-season. ATL and ARZ probably can’t afford to wait.

  • Eddardo Nuney

    I’ve been saying this for months. Everybody wants to unload Phelps, Warren, Nuno because they think we already have a solid 5 but we don’t. CC may never be the same, Hiroki is 40, Tanaka hasn’t thrown an MLB pitch, Nova is inconsistent and Pineda is coming off injury. Very suspect. They need all the depth they can get.

  • Bavarian Yankee

    pitchers are desperately waiting for bionic arm surgeries :D

  • Cuso

    Keep all ze pitchas, please.

    When it comes down to it, you’re not going to get a good enough piece when trading one of them away to make it worthwhile.

    Why trade Phelps away when you have to throw in additional pieces to get a “part-time-infielder-that-once-had-promise?”

    Just keep them all. They’ll all be needed. Trade a catcher if it’s worth it.

    • Dan G

      I agree. Guys like Phelps, Warren, & Nuno are even more valuable becaues they’re low cost options you can stick in the bullpen and give a solid 5 innings if needed (both spot start and relief). There’s a good amount of value in having cheap young(ish) arms following a 16 inning game or after 2 IP from the starter.

      That way you don’t always need to stash a starter in AAA, you can bring up any 25th man just in case things get out of hand.

      Plus, if Pineda blows up, Nova stinks and HIROK runs out of gas you suddenly need ALL THREE in the rotation. And even if they don’t, there will always be a double header, rain delay or tweaked ankle that needs a 6th starter.

  • willie w

    so how did pitchers survive their career 40 or 50 years ago
    the pitching must be too extreme these days for their own good

  • OB/GYN Kenobi


    Trade them all!

    For Stanton and Trout!

    And also, Prussia!

    Cashman fails if he can’t get this done.