With every passing day, Spring Training draws closer and closer. And as baseball draws near, so do various battles among less proven players for that last backup spot, that last spot in the bullpen, or that ever-important fifth spot in the rotation. It is one of the finer joys in watching baseball.
As Yankee Fans, we have grown accustomed to such competition. But unlike in years past, there is a great deal of weariness heading into March.
40% of the Yankees rotation is currently unoccupied. And the names from which it will be filled are not as compelling as one would hope. Ivan Nova, Bartolo Colon, Freddy Garcia, and Sergio Mitre are the leading names heading into 2011, none of whom Yankees fans would trust in a tough game against the Rays or the Red Sox.
But it is what it is, and with a great offense, dominant bullpen, and CC and Hughes atop the rotation, the Yankees will contend nonetheless. But who of that group will step up and be given a spot?
Ivan Nova is widely considered to be the best option at this point, and I’d tend to agree. In ten games (seven starts) in the majors last year, Nova allowed 21 earned runs in 42 innings, and in triple-A, he held a 2.86 ERA (3.54 FIP) in 145 innings.
Nova has never been one with electric stuff, and for that reason, projects to a mid-rotation starter at best. He is more of a groundball pitcher who may not rack up strikeouts but at the same time will keep the ball in the park. Fortunately, the Yankees do not need him to be a top line starter, they just need him to provide innings and keep the offense in the game.
If Nova does end up winning one of the two spots, I would guess that the newly signed Freddy Garcia will win the other. Garcia threw 157 innings for the White Sox last season, and pitched to the tune of a 4.64 ERA and a 4.77 FIP. Like Nova, Garcia does not strike out a ton of hitters, but also does not walk many.
I would not expect Garcia to do any better than he did in 2010 for the simple fact that he is getting older and is moving to a more difficult division. That said, a 4.64 ERA from the fifth spot would not mean the end of the world. Consider this; his ERA+ was 94, just a tad below league average, and much better than anything Javier Vazquez provided. But why should the Yanks settle for a mere “better than Javy” tag? It’s simple; there is no one left that can do better.
I have never been a fan of Sergio Mitre, even though he did somehow manage a 3.33 ERA mostly out of the pen last season. He does not miss enough bats, and allows far too much solid contact. That 3.33 ERA came in just 54 innings, and seems to have been a result of luck as his BABIP was .226, nearly 100 points lower than his career mark of .312. That said, he can be useful as a last man in the pen and spot starter, so I think he stays on the major league team in his customary role.
As for Colon, just look at his stats, or lack thereof, since his last full and effective season in 2005.
I for one am not expecting anything from Bartolo. He did not even pitch in 2010, and is going on 38 years old. It is my guess that he ends up accepting a trip to the minors, and will wait for one of the Nova/Garcia/Mitre conglomeration to falter.
Many have pointed to some minor league options such as Hector Noesi, David Phelps or even Manuel Banuelos, Dellin Betances or Andrew Brackman, all five of whom boast greater potential than a Freddy Garcia or Bartolo Colon. Unfortunately, it appears that they all need more seasoning in the higher levels of the minors before being called up.
To conclude, it is my guess that the Yankees head into the 2011 season with a rotation finished by Ivan Nova and Freddy Garcia, hardly a recipe for dominance. Though it would not surprise me one bit if the rotation is different come the trade deadline, whether it is by way of trade or mid-season call up.