What will happen when Pettitte and Pineda return?

You would be hard pressed to find a person more excited than me when I found out that Andy Pettitte had signed a one year, minor-league contract with the Yankees on March 16th.  I was sitting in my Spanish class and, like the bad student I can sometimes be, I had my laptop open.  As I was fiddling through Twitter, the breaking news from baseball writers galore started flooding in.  Andy Pettitte, my all time favorite Yankee pitcher, was coming home to the Bronx.  I jumped out of my chair and made like I was leaving class to go to the bathroom, yet I ended up sprinting down the hall, first pumping like my last name was Chamberlain, and calling every Yankee fan I knew.

I grew up watching Andy pitch gem after gem, win ring after ring. During that one fleeting moment as I ran through the halls, I felt like I was a seven year old kid again, watching my favorite pitcher outduel Kevin Brown, shutout the Padres in Game 4 of the 1998 World Series, and capture another championship.

Now that a month has passed since we found out he’d be taking the mound every fifth day come mid-May, and the overwhelming feeling of sheer joy behind us, the question becomes as such.  Since Andy is guaranteed a spot in the rotation, barring any injuries or monumental struggles before or during his stint in the Bronx, who becomes the odd man out once he dons the pinstripes again? How does Michael Pineda’s return from the disabled list around the same time affect Pettitte’s return?  Who gets sent to the minors, the bullpen, or another team looking for an arm?  These questions have been swirling around for quite some time, but I don’t find the answers that difficult, as the Yankees only have a few potential options when the time comes.

Three of the five current Yankees starters are guaranteed spots in the rotation even once Pettitte returns.  They are CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda, and maybe my favorite young pitcher in the game today, Ivan Nova.  Some may disagree with Nova, but I turned 20 years old two weeks before he last lost a game on June 3th and my 21st birthday is a month from Saturday.   I know that wins isn’t exactly the best way to judge a pitcher’s success, but the guy has been phenomenal for the Yankees.  Not many guys would be happy with getting a demotion to the minor leagues despite an 8-4 record and a 4.12 ERA, let alone excel for the rest of the season.  Despite his putrid spring training, he’s off to a decent start this year and there’s little reason in my mind to think he’s pitching for his job once the Killer P’s make their respective season debuts in a few weeks.  With Nova safe, that leaves just Freddy Garcia, Phil Hughes, and Pineda on my chopping block.

I hope Sweaty Freddy’s bags are packed, because he’s as good as gone in a few weeks.  Just a few weeks ago, I rigorously defended my opinion that he deserved a rotation spot over pre-injury Michael Pineda.  Thanks for making me look like an idiot after a few starts, Freddy.  He’s been trying to pitch his way out of the rotation, it seems, and even if he was throwing a little better, he still would probably find himself on the outside looking in.

Rotation depth is a beautiful thing to have, but Garcia’s stuff doesn’t translate at all out of the bullpen and I hardly anticipate him accepting a demotion to the minor leagues.  The only thing really left to do is trade him.  Just like the Marlins were interested back at the start of spring training, I’m sure there are some National League clubs looking for a back-of-the-rotation arm and Garcia fits the bill perfectly.  For example, if the Cardinals want to move Lance Lynn back to the bullpen, where he pitched very well last season, acquiring Garcia might not be a mad move.  Cashman shouldn’t have a problem finding a potential suitor for The Sweaty One if he so chooses to go down that route. Even though your days in pinstripes are probably numbered, Freddy, I’ll always remember your minor league flier turned major league success.

Next comes young phenom turned frustrating fourth starter, Phil Hughes.  I’ll go on record as saying that Hughes can do his best Mike Maroth impression and lose 20 games and I would still love him.  I don’t know why I like him so much, but I know I root harder for him to succeed than maybe anyone else on the team.  We’ve all seen what he’s capable of doing on the mound.  We all remember him his memorable game against the Rangers in 2007 when he took a no-hitter into the seventh inning of his second (second!!) career start, with his hamstring of all things breaking it up.

The Yankees don’t win the 2009 World Series without his incredible work out of the bullpen, and he was one of the best pitchers in the entire league during the first half of 2010, going 11-2 and making the All Star Game in Anaheim.

But we’ve all seen Phil Hughes play as terribly as Larry Hughes played with the Knicks.  How much longer before the Yankees more-or-less give up on Hughes as a starting pitcher?  Personally, I’m not ready to do so just yet, but his performance thus far in 2012 might force management’s hand.  Hughes has given up eight runs in as many innings, and his inability do much of anything on the mound is troubling.  If he doesn’t put together a string of gems in the next few weeks, he could find himself occupying the long-man role out of the bullpen pretty soon, assuming David Phelps gets sent down to the minors to make room for Pineda or Pettitte.   I want to see Hughes in the rotation, but not if he’s going to pitch dud after dud and block anyone else from starting and starting well.

I might be one of the few who feels this way, but the real question mark to me is Michael Pineda.

I’ve alluded to it previously, but I am the farthest thing from a Pineda fan.  I’m not convinced at all that he can succeed in New York and I feel that there are a lot of question marks surrounding him, but once he comes off the disabled list, he’s going to get a chance he proves to start every fifth day.

The above scenarios of Garcia getting traded and Hughes shifting to the bullpen all depend on Pineda’s success or failure.  He was pitching for his job in the spring and when he returns, his job will still mostly likely be on the line.  The Yankees don’t want to give up on Hughes and if Pineda struggles, I would not be surprised to see Hughes once again jump into the rotation, while Pineda takes his spot in the pen or even gets demoted to figure things out.  I’m not saying I want this to happen, but I would not be surprised in the least if something along those lines does happen.

Pineda is far from a sure thing, just look at some of his first and second half splits from last season.  That, combined with pitching in the media frenzy that is New York, in the toughest division in baseball, and in a stadium that is a polar opposite from the cavernous Safeco Field, leads me to believe that Pineda won’t be the all-world pitcher he’s been hyped up to be.

Hey, this is all speculating and arguing at this point though.  Pettitte won’t make his triumphant return to the Bronx for a few weeks and Pineda won’t be buttoning up his pinstriped jersey for a while, we can figure all of this out when the time comes.  But where’s the fun in that?  Argue away, Yankees fans.   Argue away.

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6 Responses to What will happen when Pettitte and Pineda return?

  1. klaus says:

    Pineda will be toast by the All Star break.

  2. Fred says:

    You have to figure at this point that Pineda has a higher ceiling than Hughes, even if both figure everything out. Combine that with Hughes having apparent stamina issues and bullpen experience, and I think that's how they have to go.

    I definitely agree that if Pineda struggles Hughes could potentially take the spot back though, at least for this year. Hopefully management finds a way to get both of them to contribute now and going forward

  3. Mike Sommer says:

    Also remember that there were a couple other people in the deal. It wasn't just Montero & Pineda. Noesi and Campos were involved also. Who knows what Campos develops into? He's 19, and in 3 starts at Low A so far, 3-0, 0.56, 18 K in 16 IP, 4 walks, just 5 hits. That is why you have to give the deal time. You don't know who will develop or what will happen down the line, esp. if Campos turns out to be the real deal and a steal.

    • Chris Barca says:

      Campos is pitching out-of-this-world right now in Low A, absolutely. He gave up a whopping one hit in his first 11 innings. But he's a long way away from being relevant, he's still got a lot of time left before he gets a shot at the major league level. The Pineda-Montero trade might not be judged a success or failure for a decade even, but I'll worry about Campos when the time comes. I'm not going to put all of my eggs in the basket of a 19 year old just yet.

  4. Tanned Tom says:

    With Pettitte due back in early May, Garcia will be the first one to go. There's no way he's on the team for 2014, whereas there still exists a remote possibility Hughes will be, so Garcia gets traded. But when Pineda comes back Hughes goes to the pen. There's no way the NYY traded Montero for a guy to pitch in relief, or start in Scranton. The question for Hughes is bullpen or trade? He's pitched well in relief and management clearly favors him (though with a 4.90 ERA as a starter who knows why) so they'll probably demote Wade and pitch Hughes in the 6th inning or for a batter here and there. With Rivera's retirement coming, Joba's health uncertain, and Soriano signed only through 2013, there will be openings in the bullpen, but the days of Hughes being in the mix as a starter are rapidly dwindling.