What to do with the fifth starter spot?

Once Chien-Ming Wang left yesterday’s game in the sixth after pointing to his shoulder, this post was inevitable. The Yanks will have a few decisions to make in the next few days. They’ll need a spot starter this Thursday in Minnesota, but then won’t need him again until July 21st. So what will the Yanks do to plug this hole both short- and long-term?

The Yanks will go the rest and rehab route with Wang, and Girardi said he expects him to be back this season. The feeling around the clubhouse is that Wang could be back in a month or so. Even so, the Yanks will need at least four appearances from a fifth starter: this Thursday, then three times after the All-Star break before they have another off-day.

Phil Hughes is the obvious choices, as the Yanks bumped him from the rotation for Wang in the first place. But if being stretched out is a concern for the Yanks, it would appear Alfredo Aceves would be the man for Thursday. He and Tomko are the only Yanks bullpen arms who have gone multiple innings with any regularity, and there’s no chance Tomko gets the start.

After yesterday’s game, Joe Girardi said of Aceves and Hughes: “They’re not in a position where you could run them out for 90 or 100 pitches.” He said Aceves could likely go 50 to 60, and Hughes 45-50. Again, the Yankees would have a chance to stretch out either one for the July 21st start, but may be reluctant to do so for Thursday’s.

One interesting name is Sergio Mitre. He’s been rehabbing and working back from Tommy John surgery down in Scranton, and has pitched fairly well this year. He’s only been at about 80 pitches, so he’s not totally stretched out either. But he’s further along than Hughes and Aceves, so the Yanks could opt to add him to the 40-man roster (placing Xavier Nady on the 60-day DL) and give him the spot start.

Here’s the wild card in this: How long will the Yanks keep Wang on the DL? He might be ready to return in a month, but the Yanks will want to play this one cautiously. They have an opportunity to make sure everything is back to normal before returning him to the majors, a process they seemingly botched earlier in the year. If the plan is to take their time with Wang, Hughes should be the guy. He’s the sixth starter, and if someone goes out for a prolonged period, he’s the guy.

What the Yanks could do, and I’d prefer this, is to recall Mitre tomorrow as a bullpen arm. Start Hughes on Thursday, knowing he can’t go long; Aceves and Mitre will be around for backup. Then option Hughes the next day so he can get a start in the minors. It would probably have to be Trenton, since Scranton’s All-Star game is the same week as the MLB one. That would probably put him at 80-90 pitches for the start on the 21st against the Orioles.

As they did with Joba, many Yankees fans are falling in love with Hughes in the bullpen. It’s hard not to. He’s been lights out since making the transition. But if the team doesn’t have good starters, a good bullpen is kind of moot. Why would they put an inferior pitcher in the rotation? Oftentimes, when there’s a poor starter on the mound, the bullpen doesn’t have a lead to protect.

In the end, I believe the Yankees will opt to keep Hughes in the bullpen and start an inferior pitcher in Wang’s place. They’ll have their own justification for it, and I hope it works out. It very well could. From a strategic standpoint, though, it’s not the most sound decision. But if Mitre or Aceves comes through, they’ll look like geniuses.

Mitre lands 50-game suspension

When the Yankees signed Sergio Mitre to a Minor League deal, we praised the signing as a low-risk, medium- to high-reward move. Little did we realize that Mitre’s first headline as a Yankee would involve a 50-game drug suspension.

According to ESPN.com, Mitre failed a drug test last summer when trace amounts of androstenedione were found in his urine. He’ll serve the 50-game time out while on the disabled list this spring, and he takes full responsibility for his actions. In a statement released by his agent, he said the following:

“Although being suspended for 50 games is tough to accept, I think that it is important to understand that I am in full support of drug testing in baseball. I did take the supplement in question and accept full responsibility for taking it. What has been difficult for me to understand is that I legally purchased this supplement at GNC and had no intention nor desire to cheat or to circumvent the system in any way.

“As confirmed through the drug testing and grievance processes, it contained a ‘contaminant’ amount of an illegal, performance-enhancing drug. This was not listed as an ingredient on the packaging, should not have been in the supplement and certainly should not have been available for legal purchase at a store.

“I accept my punishment because, as a professional, I have a responsibility for what I put into my body. For this I will suffer a significant financial penalty and, more importantly, it will affect my reputation. I only hope that this will help others avoid being punished for having taken a product bought legally at a retail store.”

Oops. That’s not the best way to start a Yankee career.

Yanks ink Sergio Mitre to minor league deal

It looks like Brian Cashman is wheeling and dealing in the early goings of the GM meetings. First we heard that he was chatting up Reds GM Walter Jocketty, which likely means nothing, but surely could mean something. Aaron Harang, anyone? Or maybe Jocketty is looking to cash in his Homer Bailey chip a bit late. That’s all just idle speculation, though. Chances are the two GMs were doing what they’re supposed to, which is gauging the market for available players.

However, the Yanks did sign a player today. Bryan Hoch informs us that former Marlin Sergio Mitre has signed a minor league deal. The 27-year-old righty underwent Tommy John surgery back in July, and likely won’t be ready until July or August of next year. This sounds like another scenario similar to Octavio Dotel. Hopefully the Yankees have learned from that experience in how they handle Mitre. You also would have liked to see them get some sort of option for 2010, as a reward for their signing him and paying for his rehab. Alas, that’s tough to do when you get a guy on a minor league deal.

After three disappointing seasons in Chicago, wherein he alternated between the rotation and bullpen, the Cubs dished him to Florida in the Juan Pierre trade*. He didn’t have much success in Miami either, though he did toss 150 innings for them in 2007. He has plenty of upside, though, as he fared very well in the minors as a youngster. This is a total upside move by the Yankees. If he pans out, great. If he continues to falter in his rehab, they will have wasted neither a lot of money nor a roster spot.

* Talk about a poor trade. Mitre, Rickey Nolasco, and Renyel Pinto for Pierre. Mitre and Pinto might be marginal players, but Nolasco had promise then, and had a break-out year at age 25 this season. Why do teams continually overvalue Pierre?

While the results didn’t bear it out, Mitre has fared decently as a reliever, in that his strikeout rates are far higher than as a starter. Considering the surgery and his lack of success as a starter, the Yanks should think about bringing him back solely as a reliever. Maybe then they can get some production out of him. Otherwise, this is just another in a line of low-risk pitching moves (Milton, Zambrano).

Update: Joe Frisaro, filling in for Hoch on the official Yanks site, notes that this is a $1.25 million deal, with a team option for 2010. The Hoch piece did not mention the option, or the dollar amount.