David Phelps: starter, reliever, or trade bait?

To say David Phelps came out of nowhere this season would be inaccurate. He has dominated at every level in the minor leagues since being drafted by the Yankees. Many were hoping he would fight for a rotation spot this season before the Michael Pineda trade and Hiroki Kuroda signing materialized in the same night. While Phelps was unable to earn a rotation slot, he did earn a spot in the Yankees bullpen to start the season due to his stellar spring training performance. The great performance was partially a result of an uptick in velocity which many scouts took note of.

As the season has gone on, Phelps has served as a reliever, spot starter, and minor leaguer. His name has come up several times in trade talks (mostly other teams requesting him). Now almost two thirds of the way into the season Phelps is with the Yankees with the “defined” role of “swingman.” It’s basically the Alfredo Aceves and Corey Wade role. The difference is many are speculating that Phelps should be starting over Freddy Garcia. Today I will examine the role of David Phelps for the rest of this season and next.

From what Phelps has already done out of the bullpen and in spot starts, he has at the very least shown that he could be valuable to the team as a starter, be it back end or whatever. At this point it appears that the best course of action would be to give the kid a chance at starting, although it’s not 100% clear yet whether that chance should come this year or next. He attacks hitters, gets strikeouts, and has shown he can be durable over a large number of innings in his course through the minors. He has everything a starter in the MLB needs, it’s just a matter of whether he can be successful over an extended period of time.

Of course if things were this easy, Phelps would already be starting. For whatever reason, the Yankees have decided to hold off on giving him a rotation slot. Part of it is that Freddy Garcia has been serviceable as a number five starter. Recently he has walked the line between serviceable and automatic loss though.

Aside from Freddy, the other reason to keep David Phelps in the bullpen is trade value. His value is currently at an all time high now that he has proven he can get major league hitters out in at least one role. This coupled with his uptick in velocity mean that he could probably be a large part of a big time trade if the Yankees chose to use him that way. Obviously if he were to have success starting for the rest of the season, that value would increase exponentially, and that’s another thing the Yankees should consider.

If they do plan on marketing him for a trade this Winter then they should be careful though. As with any rookie pitcher, there is a significant chance he will fail in the starting role. If that were to happen, his trade value would undertake a steep decline. If trading Phelps is the plan, then the Yankees may consider the old adage “quit while you’re ahead” to be the wisest course of action.

Whether or not the Yankees really need another third through fifth starter is a legitimate question. They already have Nova and Hughes through next year. Pineda will be coming back next year as well. He was signed to be a number two, but after the injury the truth of the matter is that none of us know what we’re going to get from him. What’s left is the team’s unending search for a number one-A or two starter. Phelps doesn’t fall into that mold, at least not now.

Trading Phelps may in fact turn out to be the best option given the current composition of the Yankees rotation. He is not the number two starter they seek. That said, Brian Cashman values depth. David Phelps represents great organizational depth. This season fans have been reminded of how important that depth can be, so trading him may not be the best idea.

Thus far, I have not discussed the most important factor. The Yankees need to win this year. The rest will fall into place after the season is over and the dust has settled. If Phelps gives the team the best chance to win this year, then he should be starting now. Based on the small sample size Phelps has provided so far, he would likely be a better option than Freddy Garcia. It is also possible that over more starts Phelps would be exposed, but at this point that’s a risk we’re all probably willing to take.

Give Garcia one or two more starts. If he doesn’t show that he’s going to win this team some games, it’s time to move on.

Whatever the Yankees decide to do with Phelps, one thing is clear. He has become a real commodity that will be a part of the Yankees’ future success, be it as a starter, reliever, or trade piece.

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