Part One of a Four-Part preview of the Yankees 2011 season.
Spring Training has begun for the New York Yankees, closing the book on a dramatic offseason which saw the team fail to acquire prized free-agent Cliff Lee, in addition to the retirement of longtime Yankee Andy Pettitte. Both of these things impact the club’s starting pitching, which is now faced with a number of questions, particularly at the back-end of the rotation.
The Yankees pitching rotation is anchored by the reliable CC Sabathia, who won 21 games in 2010 and has ranked in the top-five in the league in innings pitched three of the last four years. The team will also be relying on 24-year old Phil Hughes to have another strong season, after winning 18 games last year. Third in the rotation is AJ Burnett, who has been erratic at times since joining the Yankees in 2009. They will hope he can at least come close to living up to his $82.5 million contract, something he did not do in 2010, finishing with a 10-15 record and 5.26 ERA.
The most pressing questions regarding the Yankees pitching for the 2011 season concern the back-end of the rotation. Ivan Nova, Sergio Mitre, Bartolo Colon, and Freddy Garcia will compete for the final two spots in the rotation in the coming weeks. Colon, 37-years old, and Garcia, 34, were acquired by New York this offseason, and despite past success on the Major League level, both of their careers have declined in recent years. After the 2006 season, in which Colon was the reigning AL Cy Young Award winner and Garcia won 17 games, the pair have combined for double digit wins in a single season only once (this occurred in 2010, with all 12 victories coming from Garcia; Colon missed the season due to injury). Nova, 24, and Mitre, 30, have both pitched for the Yankees in the past, with Mitre being acquired by New York in 2009 and Nova making his Major League debut for the club last season. According to Joel Sherman of the New York Post, the team thinks highly of Nova, saying that “all things being equal, the Yankees want Nova to be in the rotation.” Sherman said his worth to the team was proven last July, when Yankees general manager Brian Cashman refused to include him in trade offers for Cliff Lee.
While some combination including Nova, Mitre, Colon, or Garcia is expected to fill the Yankees rotation, the club’s pitching prospects have an outside chance for a spot in the starting rotation as well. As Bronx Baseball Daily says, “many have pointed to some minor league options such as Hector Noesi, David Phelps…or Andrew Brackman, all…of whom boast greater potential than a Freddy Garcia or Bartolo Colon.” However, the same website adds that these young pitchers “all need more seasoning in the higher levels of the minors before being called up.”
As the Yankees attempt to settle this situation, the team will be comforted knowing it has a bullpen bolstered by free agent acquisition Rafael Soriano, and an offense that led the majors in runs scored last season, both of which can help offset possible deficiencies in the starting rotation.