How Pettitte’s return could change the Yankees rotation

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.

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15 Responses to How Pettitte’s return could change the Yankees rotation

  1. Gary Gullio says:

    It is just a shame that Pettitte couldn't get the itch to return BEFORE the Yankees traded away Montero – especially since Pinenda may end up being the odd man out due since the Yankees can still send him to AAA

  2. Don says:

    As much as the timing of Pettitte's return could have been better for the Yanks, it will still be good to see him in pinstripes. I can't wait for him to crank up his baseball workouts, and gets his legs under him. The Yankees might actually have a solid rotation. Just hope Andy can regain his previous form.

  3. Ryan says:

    Don't forget the other option nobody is talking about. Pettitte might not ever get back to the majors. 39 and a full year away from pitching isn't a shoe-in to make it back. Injury, dead arm, or lack of leg strength could all derail his efforts. I don't see him wanting to go from preparing to rehabbing.

  4. Matt_DC says:

    I read Andy is set up for extended spring training. I imagine, if/when he's ready, that will be followed by a couple minor league starts. By then injuries/effectiveness could dictate what happens.

  5. Mike Sommer says:

    Just to play devil's advocate, I like another scenario… say the rotation is doing well. Andy does turn 40 in June. I read (Sherman? I can't remember who wrote it) on twitter that for years after Jimmy Key retired, that Gene Michael tried to get him (Key) out of retirement to be a lefty in the bullpen. Lefty, crafty, smart, unflappable, been there through big moments. There most likely would be men on base, good pickoff move. Of course, it depends on how fast a person can warm up. But if Andy has stuff, but not stamina at this age, think about it. Who better to come out of the bullpen to face a tough lefty in a big spot than Andy? I doubt it would ever happen, but thinking about it is juicy…

    • Fred says:

      That could be a serious possibility for October, if he is only so-so as a starter through the year.

    • Bronx_Knight says:

      Andy out of the pen is a pretty clever idea, and there is precedent for converting an elite starter to a reliever later in his career (see John Smoltz), but I don't see it happening.

      I think Andy has to be thinking about his Hall of Fame legacy as a major motivator in his return. He was never baseball's best pitcher, never won a Cy Young or MVP. But he has five rings and 240 wins, and could get in as a compiler. Three 12-win seasons would put him at 276, with a good chance for the Hall. Just saying.

      • hotdog says:

        I got the feeling that Pettite is just here for the one year…Pettite will help his chances if he has a really good year, especially if the Yankees win another ring, Pettite's 6th…other than that, he might be a tough sell even with the 5 rings…

        • Mike Sommer says:

          Wondering if Andy realizes something (that it WILL be Mo's last year) and wants to be a part of it and go out together with Mo…

    • Cashman said that Andy Pettitte is coming back strictly as a starter. They will not consider him for the bullpen.

      • Mike Sommer says:

        Yup. Just supposing based on what Sherman said. It'd sure be interesting, though, wouldn't it?

  6. Joe says:

    Andy will be the 2nd lefty out the pen by July, remember where u heard it first

    • I just hope that you come back in July.

      • Joe says:

        I will be here, I know he wants the wins and I know the Yankees will give him an extended opportunity to start and get those wins but I think CC/Pineda/Nova/Hughes/Kuroda becoming this teams rotation is almost inevitable at this point(don't forget now Andy is 38 and hasn't pitched in a MLB game in 18 months). It's gonna be a numbers squeeze and Andy will go out on top with class like he always has saying all the right things like "I just want to help this team win a World Series and if that's with me coming out the pen so be it".

        U heard it hear first