Andy Pettitte is back in Pinstripes, but what happens to the Yankees rotation when he comes back?
Pettitte said that he has been throwing some this offseason, but said that his legs weren’t ready yet and that he’s going to take it slow in his return. Brian Cashman said he needed the equivalent of a full spring training before he is ready. So we know that at the very least he won’t be ready for Opening Day.
So the Yankees are going to need five starters to open the season not named Pettitte because they won’t be able to skip the No. 5 spot at least the first time through the rotation. But which five?
CC Sabathia and Hiroki Kuroda already have guaranteed rotation spots manager Joe Girardi has already said this spring. So that leaves Phil Hughes, Ivan Nova, Michael Pineda, and Freddy Garcia. They’ll need three of them and then two.
There are going to be two “losers” here eventually. That could mean (1) two of them are sent to the bullpen, (2) one is sent to the bullpen and one is traded, (3) one of them is sent to the bullpen and one is sent to the minors, or (4) one is sent to the minors and the other is traded.
In the first scenario of sending two players to the bullpen, the Yankees best option would be to send Garcia to the pen as the long-man and Hughes to the pen as a one-inning guy. This would give the Yankees starting depth by keeping Garcia around while also giving them somebody to serve as the No. 5 until Pettitte is ready. Nova could also be ‘pen bound instead of Hughes, but it seems doubtful they would even consider Pineda for that.
The second scenario actually seems the most likely. Garcia would probably be the most likely to get traded. They might consider dealing Nova or Hughes if they could get somebody who is good enough to replace Nick Swisher in right field for next season. That is unlikely. It is much more likely that teams would be interested in Garcia although the Yankees probably wouldn’t get much in return other than salary relief to offset the signing of Pettitte (Garcia makes $4 million). In this scenario the Yankees would have the option of sending whomever to the bullpen permanently or as the long-man ready to make spot starts.
I don’t think the third scenario is very likely. Hughes, Nova, and Pineda all have minor league options, but all three are major league caliber pitchers. If they are going to be sent down they might as well be traded. Besides, the Triple-A rotation is packed with legitimate prospects in Dellin Betances, Manny Banuelos, David Phelps, Adam Warren, and D.J. Mitchell and moving one of those guys to Double-A or the bullpen seems wasteful. They could potentially trade one of those five to open a spot for one of the major leaguers though.
Finally, in the fourth scenario they could trade Garcia (or somebody else) and then send somebody to the minors once Pettitte is ready. This way they could have a in-season competition and the “loser” (between say Nova, Hughes, and Pineda) to the minors to keep them stretched out as starters. That way they are ready to be called up when the Yankees need a starter. Again, this idea sends a major league caliber pitcher to the minors and displaces a prospect at the same time.
I like the first two scenarios the best because they don’t involve sending anybody to the minors which if you haven’t noticed by now, I am against. On top of displacing one of the guys they have down there already keep in mind that they wouldn’t be going to the Scranton Yankees – rather they would be going to the Empire State Yankees.
That would mean that a major league caliber pitcher – either Hughes, Nova, or Pineda – instead of being in the majors one of them would be on a bus travelling around the north eastern area when they should be in the majors. This seems like a perfectly reasonable way to create a disgruntled player, something I would like to see avoided.
Clearly the Yankees have options here. They might not even know what they are planning on doing until right up before the season starts, but I expect them to at least entertain all trade offers in the meantime.