Mailbag: Cruz, Phelps, Ichiro, Jeter, A-Rod

It seemed like we got an awful lot of questions this week, but I picked just four for the mailbag. Keep sending them in though, one of these weeks I’ll do a rapid fire mailbag with like, 12-15 questions. Please use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar to send us anything at anytime.

(Leon Halip/Getty Images)

J.R. and several others asked: With the bullpen not looking great, would Juan Cruz make sense?

I started thinking about this as soon as I saw that the Pirates had designated Cruz for assignment (he was officially released yesterday). The 33-year-old missed just about a month with shoulder inflammation but otherwise has pitched to a 2.78 ERA (4.19 FIP) in 35.2 innings for Pittsburgh this season. His strikeout (8.33 K/9 and 20.4 K%) rate was fine and his walk rate (4.79 BB/9 and 11.7 BB%) was high, just like every other season of his career. That’s actually his lowest BB% since 2006, if you can believe it. The fastball isn’t what it used to be, but PitchFX says he’s still running it up there in the 92-94 mph range.

Cruz has struck out just one batter in his last nine appearances (7.1 IP and 36 batters faced), which includes three appearances before the DL stint and six after. He’s struggled a little bit of late but nothing crazy. You do have to be skeptical anytime a team releases a reliever in favor of Chad Qualls, so perhaps the reason why he’s available is something we just don’t know as outsiders. The Yankees don’t have much bullpen help coming in September, so signing Cruz to a minor league pact with the promise of a September 1st call-up sure seems to make sense from where I sit. I guess it depends on the medicals more than anything.

Steve asks: Assuming Andy Pettitte returns successfully, what would David Phelps have to do the next month to win the postseason rotation spot over Phil Hughes, Ivan Nova, and Freddy Garcia?

This was sent in before Nova was placed on the DL, so let’s remove him from the discussion. The easy answer is that Phelps would have to pitch phenomenally well the rest of the season, and I don’t mean slightly out-pitch Hughes or Garcia. Those guys have track records and will get the benefit of the doubt. Phelps would have to pitch like Hiroki Kuroda has been of late, I mean completely dominating each time out. That’s not easy to do.

Obviously a lot depends on the ALDS schedule and who the Yankees would be playing in a potential playoff series, but right now I would lean towards Garcia as my Game Four starter. Both Hughes and Phelps have shown not just that they can pitch in relief, but that they can be true weapons out of the bullpen. As an added bonus, both would be in position to contribute multiple innings in relief. The fourth starter is marginalized in the postseason — quick hooks, starting only when absolutely necessary — and I would rather let Freddy be that guy.

(AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

Donny asks: I doubt I am the first to bring up this idea, but with everyone working under the assumption that Nick Swisher is not re-signed, doesn’t Ichiro Suzuki make sense? I would think a one year deal worth $6-8 million would work with some kind of team option for 2014, no?

A few people asked this as well and I’m not really a fan of bringing Ichiro back. Maybe if they trade Brett Gardner this winter it would make more sense, but I doubt that happens. I’m not a fan of powerless corner outfielders — the Yankees would be lucky to get ten total homers out of Gardner and Ichiro next season if they’re both starters — no matter how much contact they make or how great their defense and base-running is. Having one guy like that in the outfield is fine, but two is really pushing it. If the Yankees let Nick Swisher walk, they’ll need to replace him with someone who can hit for some power, particularly against left-handers. That ain’t Ichiro.

Kevin asks: With all of the recent talk of Derek Jeter possibly breaking Pete Rose’s hit record, which do you think is more likely to happen at this point: Alex Rodriguez passing Barry Bonds or Jeter passing Rose?

Jeter is currently 999 hits behind Rose, so he’ll need another five or six really good years to become the all-time hit king. I’m talking 180+ hits a year on average until he turns 43 or 44. A-Rod, on the other hand, is 118 homers behind Bonds, which works out to another five or six really good years (20+ homers per season). Both seem improbable at this point but not impossible. I know which one I think is more likely to happen, but this question is screaming for a poll…

Which is more likely to happen?
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Mailbag: Melky, Soriano, Swisher, Felix, Garcia

Got seven questions for you this week, so consider this a jumbo-sized edition of the mailbag. Remember to use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar to send us questions and whatnot.

(AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

Countless people asked some variation of: Can/should the Yankees sign Melky Cabrera to a cheap one-year deal after the season following his suspension?

Sure, it’s worth exploring. Based on my last few days at MLBTR, the fans of the other 29 teams are wondering the same thing as well. I suppose the Yankees may have a leg up considering their history with Cabrera, plus the fact that his good buddy Robinson Cano plays here. Either way, I’m sure the club can make a competitive offer if they’re so inclined.

The real question is what kind of hitter do you expect him to be going forward? I don’t buy that testosterone alone turned him into an MVP caliber hitter, but I also don’t think this season’s performance — .346/.390/.516 (146 wRC+) — is a reasonable expectation going forward simply because I don’t believe anyone is a true talent .346 hitter. Not Melky, not Mike Trout, not Miguel Cabrera, not Derek Jeter. No one. If he’s more of a .310 hitter doing forward, that’s still really awesome and shouldn’t be considered a knock. If they can get him for one-year at like, $5-8M to shore up the outfield next season, sure that’s something they should seriously consider. Whether or not it’s actually realistic is another matter entirely.

Daniel asks: The Cubs are offering to turn Alfonso Soriano into a $3M/year player. Any interest in him as a RF solution next season?

This is an unequivocal no for me. Soriano is having a real nice .263/.320/.448 (112 wRC+) year with the bat, but he’s a 36-year-old one-dimensional player. If he’s not hitting homers, he has zero value. Soriano doesn’t walk, doesn’t hit for average, doesn’t steal bases anymore, and doesn’t play much defense either. He’s under contract through 2014 so you’re talking about a $6M commitment for a player that is basically a bad HR/FB% slump away from a forced retirement. Soriano would be like, my Plan F for right field next season.

Brett asks: Let’s say the Yankees don’t re-sign Nick Swisher this offseason and then think like you and let Cano walk after 2013. With Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, Mark Teixeira, and Curtis Granderson (Yankees sign him after Cano leaves) all two years older and currently not even performing that well, as well as a black hole offensively at catcher, do you really think the Yankees lineup will be good enough?

I spy a nice free agent payday. (Jim McIsaac/Getty)

Well that’s the thing, why are we assuming catcher is a black hole? If they let Cano and Swisher walk, the Yankees will have the opportunity to turn over the second base, right field, catcher, and DH positions in the next two offseason. If you think A-Rod is resigned to being a DH down the line, then you can bring in a new body for third base. That four of the nine lineup spots they have to work with. Plenty of room to add some offensive punch.

Bill asks: So with Swisher all but assuredly leaving next year, what do you think the chances are he ends up in Boston? The team needs some pop in right field and they need a good clubhouse guy, with everything that is going on in Boston right now. Think this is a possibility?

Absolutely. If for whatever reason the Yankees had declined his option last offseason, I think the Red Sox would have been the first team to call Swisher’s agent. Pretty much every contending team in need of a bat — the Rangers, Dodgers, Braves, Tigers, Giants, Reds, etc. — figures to have some interest because he’s versatile (corner outfield or first base) and a switch-hitter. Swisher could go 0-for-October and he’ll still have plenty of suitors on the free agent market after the winter.

Sal asks: Do you think we’ll ever get to a point where teams start structuring contracts so that players are paid appropriately in their peak years but the contract dollars are “tapered” in the end years so that they don’t over pay for a players decline?

No, definitely not. I’m sure the club would love it, but I highly doubt the players and agents would. I think it’s pretty normal to want to make more money the older you get, which is why most multi-year contracts include some kind of year-to-year raise. Another part of this is that most GMs won’t be around to see the end of the multi-year contracts they hand out, specifically the big six and seven-year ones. What do I care if I saddle the next GM with a back contract when I could win right now and enhance my reputation? It’s a good idea, but I don’t think the players and agents would go for it.

I found this floating around on Twitter and have no idea where it originated, but props to you good sir (or madam).

Tucker asks: This is a bit of a hypothetical, but would the Yankees even have the pieces to acquire Felix Hernandez if he were made available? Could the Rangers swoop in and nab him instead?

No, I don’t believe the Yankees have the pieces to acquire any kind of high-end talent like that right now. Not unless they’re willing to dangle Cano and the other club really values him despite being a year away from free agency. The lack of impact, near-MLB ready prospect really hurts them here.

The Rangers could certainly jump in and make a great offer for Felix if they wanted — if you’re Seattle, don’t you have to listen if Texas offers Jurickson Profar and Mike Olt? I have to think that would at least get their attention. The Yankees can’t put together any kind of offer like that right now, so they’re handcuffed on the trade market. As much as I’d love to see him in pinstripes, there’s just no realistic trade scenario for Justin Upton at the moment.

Craig asks: Do you think Freddy Garcia is now (or should be) in the post-season rotation?  Even if Andy Pettitte comes back?  I think I’d rather take my chances with him than Ivan Nova or Phil Hughes.

Right now, with both CC Sabathia and Pettitte on the shelf, yes Freddy would definitely be in postseason rotation. I’d probably have him start Game Two behind Hiroki Kuroda in that scenario, which is … yikes. If Sabathia and Pettitte come back, I would use Freddy as the fourth starter and stick Phil Hughes in the bullpen for October. I don’t see how they could trust Nova in the postseason given his current performance, but he does have about six weeks to figure things out.

Assuming David Phelps is headed back to the bullpen at some point, I’d rank the potential playoff starters are Sabathia, Kuroda, Pettitte, Garcia, Hughes, Nova. Just remove players and bump everyone else up as needed due to injury. I don’t think it’s out of the question that Phelps pitches his way ahead of Nova in the pecking order, but I wouldn’t count on it. I think he’ll run out of innings before that happens.

Thoughts after another win over the Rangers

(Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

The Yankees have won three straight over the Rangers and seven of their last eight overall, restoring some order to the universe after playing sub-.500 ball for about three weeks. They’re on the verge of sweeping Texas in a four-game series, something that was honestly unthinkable when the week began. The Yankees are playing so well and with the quick turn-around for the afternoon game today, there’s no use for a focused post this morning. Instead, here is a collection of some random thoughts. Feel free to expand or add to the discussion in the comments…

1. I think that we, as a fanbase, don’t give Freddy Garcia enough credit. He had that brutal April and it seems to have lingered in everyone’s minds, but he’s been rock solid ever since regardless of role (starter or reliever). Part of the problem is that he doesn’t fit the profile of the type of pitcher that usually succeeds in the AL East. He’s not a hard-thrower and he doesn’t miss bats, but he generates lots of weak contact and simply outsmarts hitters. When I saw the weather prior to the game last night, my thought was that the Yankees were in pretty good shape because Garcia’s a veteran starter who has pitched through everything. A little rain wouldn’t bother him. Freddy really does deserve a lot of credit for stepping up once Andy Pettitte went down.

2. He isn’t going to continue hitting this well through the end of the season and into the playoffs, but don’t the Yankees have to find a way to keep Eric Chavez in the lineup once Alex Rodriguez comes off the DL? They could get him three or four starts a week at third base and/or DH, but to do so they would have to take some playing time away from Ichiro Suzuki and Raul Ibanez. I suppose they could platoon those two and use Ichiro in left for the fly ball pitchers (Phil Hughes and Garcia) while Ibanez gets the call for the ground-ballers (CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda, and Ivan Nova). Either way, Chavez has been far too productive to turn him back into a once-a-week type player. Someone’s going to lose at-bats when A-Rod comes back and it shouldn’t be him.

(AP Photo/H. Rumph Jr)

3. Isn’t this Melky Cabrera stuff just sad? You know I’m not the biggest Melky fan in the world, but it’s sad because he was so close to a life-changing contract. We have no idea how much the added testosterone helped his performance, but the story about him getting into shape and taking his career seriously after getting released by the Braves seemed completely plausible. Melky always had some skills, he makes lots of contact and he has a pretty good idea of the strike zone, so it’s not completely unexpected that he turned into a BABIP machine during his peak years. Now his free agent value is destroyed — I was thinking something along the lines of six years and $80-90M this offseason, but he might have to settle for a one-year, prove yourself contract now. He was staring at money that would put his great great great grandkids through college, now he has to do it all over again to land that kind of payday. Rough.

4. On the heels of his perfect game yesterday — which was just absolutely brilliant, I can’t tell you how filthy he was if you didn’t see it — would you take Felix Hernandez over any other pitcher if you had one game to win? I’m pretty sure I would. The top three names that immediately jumped to mind for me were Felix, Justin Verlander, and Clayton Kershaw, but I’d rather have Hernandez over the other two. MLB Network joked (or maybe it wasn’t a joke) yesterday that the ninth inning of the perfect game were the three biggest outs of his career, and that kinda bummed me out. Felix has never pitched in the postseason and only once have the Mariners finished above third place during his career, but he just seems to give off that vibe that he would be untouchable on the big stage. Maybe I’m completely off the mark here, but he always seems to perform his best when facing top teams like the Yankees or Red Sox or Rangers or the Rays yesterday.

5. Is this not the most likable Yankees team in quite some time? At least since the 2009 squad, and I think you might even be able to go back farther than that. The mid-aughts teams were just awful in that regard, full of grumpy and unlikeable players that came off as far too corporate (Gary Sheffield and Kevin Brown stand out as notable examples). This team has likeable players all over the place, from Chavez to Sabathia to Kuroda to Curtis Granderson to Robinson Cano to many others. They’re all just very easy to root for and it makes the whole baseball fan experience that much better. The Yankees placed a renewed emphasis on makeup and character a few years ago, and I think this is a byproduct.

Freddy Garcia, David Phelps, and the 5th Starter

(Winslow Townson/Getty Images)

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.

(REUTERS/Steve Nesius)

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.

Midseason Review: Falling Short of Expectations

During the next few days we’ll take some time to review the first half of the season and look at which Yankees are meeting expectations, exceeding expectations, and falling short of expectations. What else is the All-Star break good for?

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Although the Yankees have the best record in baseball, they have yet to really fire on all cylinders. They have a number of players who have not produced as expected so far, including some high-profile guys in prominent roles.

Alex Rodriguez
Father Time catches up to everyone, even players who were once historically great. A-Rod was able to avoid the DL in the first half thanks to Joe Girardi‘s plan of regular rest, but the production has not improved as hoped. Alex is hitting just .269/.357/.436 with 13 homers overall, on pace for what will likely become the worst season of career after setting a new low-water mark a year ago. His strikeout rate (22.0%) is his highest since 1996, his walk rate (10.3%) his second lowest since 2001, and his ISO (.167) his lowest ever.

Obviously there’s a lot going on here. A-Rod will turn 37 later this month, so age-related decline as already set in. Numerous lower body injuries in recent years — torn hip labrum and knee surgery chief among them — have impacted his ability to incorporate his lower half into his swing, resulting in the power decline. He’s more of an arms hitter than ever before. His struggles with runners in scoring position (.215/.354/.367) only exacerbate the problem. There’s no BABIP correction coming (he’s at .318 right now) and the power is unlikely to re-emerge. A-Rod is not a superstar anymore, get used to it.

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Mark Teixeira
Teixeira’s offseason and Spring Training work drew lots of attention as he focused on hitting the ball the other way to beat the shift and improve his declining batting average. Everything looked fine during the first two weeks of the season, as he hit a solid .288/.354/.508 through the team’s first 15 games. Teixeira fell off in a big way after that, hitting just .135/.185/.220 in his next 16 games. He got hot a few games after that, but then Girardi decided to sit him for three games due to an ongoing cough that has since been diagnosed as nerve damage to his vocal cords.

The rest helped the cough and at some point during those three days, Teixeira decided to abandon everything he’d been working on and get back to being a pull-happy slugger. What he was doing before just wasn’t working. The early returns were positive — four homers in his next seven games — but Teixeira’s production soon slowed down once again. Through the team’s first 85 games, their first baseman is hitting .250/.334/.473 after putting up a .248/.341/.494 batting line last year, the second worst of his career outside of his rookie season.

Teixeira’s production has been better than league average but again, below his normal standards even if you were expecting him to simply repeat last year. His 15 homers are well behind his usual pace — he had 25 at the break last summer — and his walk rate has dipped from 13.1% in 2010 to 11.1% in 2011 to 10.7% in 2010. A ten-point boost in BABIP from last year hasn’t helped his average much, unsurprisingly. The big problem right now is that not only has his average and OBP suffered, but he’s not hitting the ball out of the park as often either. His defense is still all-world, but Teixeira’s production at the plate has declined for the fourth straight season.

(Winslow Townson/Getty Images)

Nick Swisher & Russell Martin
The Yankees can survive a few sluggish bats because they have a deep lineup, but even the production from lower down in the order has suffered. Swisher is in the middle of a contract year but is hitting just .262/.336/.477 so far. The power production is obviously fine, but his 10.1% walk rate is the second lowest of his career and well below his 13.3% career average. Swisher’s strikeout rate (22.0%) is up slightly compared to recent years, so it shouldn’t be surprising that he’s swinging at 23.6% of the pitches he sees outside of the strike zone. Last year it was just 17.5%. He’s doing damage when he makes contact, but a big part of Swisher’s value is his ability to be get on-base in ways other than a hit. He hasn’t done much of that in 2012.

Martin, on the other hand, hasn’t done much offensively at all. His .179/.300/.348 batting line is below average even for a catcher, and although he’s shown signs of breaking out on occasion, it never lasted. Martin will have a good game or two every once in a while then slide back into a prolonged slump. He’s striking out way more than usual (20.2% strikeouts this year, 14.6% career) despite swinging at fewer pitches outside of the strike zone (15.4%) than ever before. His .193 (!) BABIP should improve in the second half just by pure luck, but the quality of Martin’s contact has not been good all year. You really can’t understate how awful he was in the first half.

Freddy Garcia
Although he just turned in a damn fine start against the Red Sox in Fenway Park, Garcia has been a disappointment overall. His first four starts in April were a total disaster, I’m talking a 20 runs in 13.2 innings kind of disaster. The Yankees shipped him off to the bullpen where he worked sparingly in low-leverage situations, then reinserted him into back into the rotation once CC Sabathia and Andy Pettitte hit the disabled list. Freddy has pitched well in his two starts back, but that doesn’t wash away the stench of April. Overall, Garcia has pitched to a 5.23 ERA (4.16 FIP) in 43 innings. Here’s to a much more successful second half.

(Al Messerschmidt/Getty)

Eduardo Nunez
When the season opened, the Yankees planned to give A-Rod and Derek Jeter time at DH against left-handed pitchers while Nunez filled in on the infield. They did just that for a few weeks, but Nunez’s defense — four errors in 20 games plus several other botched plays — became such an issue that he had to be demoted to Triple-A in early-May. He was hitting just fine, especially for a utility infielder (.294/.356/.373), but the glovework just could not be tolerated anymore. Nunez committed two errors in four Triple-A games before being placed on the DL with a thumb injury. He had a chance to really step up and force his way into the team’s long-term plans this season, but now he doesn’t even have much trade value.

Cory Wade
For the first two months of the season, Wade was absolutely lights out while David Robertson and Mariano Rivera were on the DL. He also threw a lot of innings and made a lot of appearances, and that may have contributed to one of the worst pitched months in recent Yankees history. Wade has allowed 25 hits and 18 runs in 10.1 innings since the calendar flipped to June, earning him a demotion to Triple-A. His ERA climbed from 3.34 to 6.48 in his last three appearances alone (13 runs in 3.2 IP). It’s all about command with him; when he missed his spots with his soft stuff, it got hammered. Wade was tremendously useful last year and at the start of this year, but now the Yankees have to be wondering if he’s even salvageable.

Freddy steps in, doesn’t miss a beat

(AP Photo/Brian Blanco)

Lost in the frustration of last night’s loss was Freddy Garcia‘s strong performance in his return to the rotation. The injuries to CC Sabathia and Andy Pettitte forced the Yankees to remove Freddy from the long man role and essentially make him the fourth starter, and he responded by allowing just two runs in 5.1 innings while being held to a 75-pitch limit. His last pitch was a game-tying solo homer by Carlos Pena, so his night ended on a sour note, but otherwise he did exactly what the team needed him to do.

“I need to step up,” said Garcia after last night’s game. “We’ve got a couple of guys hurt. I want to do good. That’s all, man. I want to pitch good. I’ve got the chance again, and I want to take my opportunity to prove I can be in the starting rotation.”

Of course, Freddy was banished to the bullpen because he was a disaster in April. He pitched to a 12.51 ERA (5.39 FIP) in his four starts, failing to complete even two full innings twice. Joe Girardi used him very sparingly during May and June — ten appearances (17.1 IP) in the team’s 54 games — and very rarely in a close game. Seven of those ten appearances came with the score separated by three or more runs. Freddy pitched well though (1.57 ERA and 2.94 FIP) and despite all that talk about his fastball velocity coming back, you’ll be hard-pressed to find it in the PitchFX data. I think that might have to do with the system’s issues classifying his repertoire more than anything.

For a while I was on the “just release Garcia” bandwagon, which was really born out of frustration as the team struggled in mid-May. When the Yankees are losing we want to see changes made, it’s human nature, and Freddy was an easy move to make. Obviously the club is smarter than me (and you) and they decided to keep the pitching depth, which is coming in mighty handy right now. The fact that Freddy isn’t some kid they have to baby is a plus as well; the Yankees can be aggressive with him and run him out there for 74 pitches after he hadn’t thrown more than 33 in a month like they did last night.

The Garcia we saw last night was pretty much the guy we saw all of last season, a super-finesse guy who generated some weak contact, some hard-hit outs, and kept the Yankees in the game. With Sabathia and Pettitte out for the time being, that’s what the team is going to need Freddy to do in his spot starts. Given his track record and the general unpredictability of young pitchers like David Phelps and Adam Warren, it wouldn’t be a surprise if the sweaty one assumed Pettitte’s rotation spot in the long-term, or at least until the Yankees go out and make a trade.

Sorting out the Sabathia & Pettitte-less rotation

(Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

In the span of about five hours yesterday, the Yankees lost their two best starting pitchers to injury. First CC Sabathia was placed on the DL with a left adductor strain, then Andy Pettitte was struck by a batted ball and suffered a fractured left ankle. Brian Cashman said Sabathia could have pitched through his injury if this was the stretch drive or postseason, but they decided to play it safe. Obviously they didn’t have the same choice with Pettitte.

“CC is due back right after the (All-Star break),” said Cashman after yesterday’s game. “Andy, you’re talking about a minimum of six weeks of healing, and as a starter you have to get him going again, so I’ll throw two months in there in Andy’s case. We’ll just have to figure it out and see what happens. I would prefer not to go outside. Obviously if we do go outside, we’ve done that before. This is part of the process. You have to have alternatives. This gives opportunities for people to step up. Just like some guys in the bullpen have allowed us to step up and withstand some injuries — that’s what Boone Logan, Clay Rapada, and [Cody Eppley] have done — we’re going to have to ask for some other guys to do that for the rotation, as well. Let’s play it out and see where it takes us.”

The plan right now calls for Adam Warren to start in Sabathia’s place on Friday — he started for Triple-A Empire State on Sunday and lines up perfectly for tomorrow — and for Freddy Garcia to take Pettitte’s place on Monday. Ryota Igarashi is coming up from Triple-A to take Garcia’s spot in the bullpen, leaving the team without a true long reliever for the time being. In the short-term, the rotation shakes out like this…

  • Thursday, 6/28 vs. White Sox: Ivan Nova
  • Friday, 6/29 vs. White Sox: Warren
  • Saturday, 6/30 vs. White Sox: Hiroki Kuroda
  • Sunday, 7/1 vs. White Sox: Phil Hughes
  • Monday, 7/2 @ Rays: Garcia
  • Tuesday, 7/3 @ Rays: Nova
  • Wednesday, 7/4 @ Rays: Warren
  • Thursday, 7/5: scheduled day off
  • Friday, 7/6 @ Red Sox: Kuroda
  • Saturday, 7/7 @ Red Sox (doubleheader): Hughes and Garcia*
  • Sunday, 7/8 @ Red Sox: Nova

* Garcia will be on regular rest for the July 7th doubleheader thanks to that scheduled day off.

That takes the Yankees right to the All-Star break, after which Sabathia is scheduled to return. Assuming all goes well with CC, he’ll take either Garcia’s or Warren’s spot depending on how each guy performs in their two-start audition. If both guys are performing poorly, the Yankees will also have the option of bringing David Phelps back, who will be five starts into his minor league stint by then and presumably able to throw 95+ pitches. There’s always D.J. Mitchell as well, but he could wind up taking Igarashi’s spot sooner rather than later if the braintrust feels a long man is needed. Given Garcia’s short leash due to his time in the pen and the general unpredictability associated with a young guy like Warren, having a long man would probably be a pretty good idea.

The Yankees don’t rush into panic moves, at least not under Cashman in recent years. They have enough arms to get them to the All-Star break, then they can re-evaluate things once Sabathia returns. If neither Garcia, Warren, Phelps, or Mitchell distinguishes themselves in the rotation, they’ll still have plenty of time to explore the trade market. They could go big (Cole Hamels, Matt Garza or Zack Greinke), go medium (Ryan Dempster or Wandy Dempster), or go small (Jeremy Guthrie or Francisco Liriano). I suppose it depends on Pettitte’s rehab and how Hughes is holding up because frankly, we have reason to doubt his ability to remain effective over the course of a full season.

The Bombers have the makings of a really strong rotation on the DL with Sabathia and Pettitte joining Michael Pineda, so their big league staff has been compromised. The starters have been carrying the team for the last six weeks or so and now the offense is going to have to return the favor a bit, simply because there is no reasonable way to expect anyone to replace the two guys the Yankees lost yesterday. The good news is that they’re in a better position to absorb these losses than at any point in the last like, ten years really. For a while there were no internal options — hence Aaron Small and Shawn Chacon and Sidney Ponson– now there’s several. The Yankees will cycle through them and tread water for a few weeks, at least until Sabathia gets healthy and maybe until the trade deadline.

Aside: Boy, did Manny Banuelos pick a good time to get hurt or what? Same with Dellin Betances. He’s supposed to be getting called up in this situation, not demoted down to Double-A. What a let down.