How should Yankees sort out rotation?
Now that the Yankees have signed Andy Pettitte, they have seven starting pitchers competing for five rotation spots. How should manager Joe Girardi sort things out?
As you are no doubt aware, the Yankees have signed veteran lefty Andy Pettitte out of retirement, and they're now left with uncommon rotation depth. CC Sabathia and Hiroki Kuroda are sure bets, barring injury, so that leaves three spots for five starters: Pettitte, Michael Pineda, Phil Hughes, Ivan Nova, and Freddy Garcia. To be sure, there are more troubling baseball dilemmas than having too many starting pitchers, but the question remains: how should manager Joe Girardi and the Yanks sort out this pleasing mess?
Pettitte's timetable lessens the "problem" at the front end. He's not going to be game ready until early May (barring setbacks), but once he's in fighting shape it's to be assumed he'll be slotted in. They did not, after all, make such a splashy addition in order to make a long reliever out of the 240-game winner.
While Pineda, Hughes and Nova all have minor-league options remaining, it's hard to envision any one of them being dispatched to the farm, mostly because they're too valuable. In the event that the Yankees join the New York media in fretting over Pineda's reduced velocity (and come to believe there's something more to it than a change in approach), then extended spring training seems the more likely course of remedy. It's doubtful it will come to that, though. As well, take into account Garcia's hand injury and slightly lower forecast relative to everyone else, and it's not a great leap to assume he'll be a part of the long-relief corps.
What also may happen upon Pettitte's return is that Hughes will join Garcia in the bullpen. While there's cause to believe that Hughes can be an effective starter, there's also no denying his success as a reliever. For his career, Hughes has an ERA of 4.90 and a K/BB ratio of 2.14 in 387.1 innings as a starter; in the pen, he boasts an ERA of 1.44 and a K/BB ratio of 4.12 in 56.1 innings. While the sample size is somewhat lacking, there's no disputing the difference in performance. The Yankees may already have the best bullpen in baseball, and adding Hughes to the mix would officially end the discussion. Seriously: Imagine a middle-relief unit that boasts Hughes, David Robertson and Rafael Soriano from the right side.
Considering that Hughes has had injury concerns and trouble maintaining velocity as a starter, such a move makes sense on a number of fronts. As well, most advanced forecasting systems expect better results from Pineda and Nova than from Hughes, insofar as performance as a starter is concerned.
Another option for thinning the herd might be via trade. Starting pitching, for reasons perceived or authentic, is always in demand, and the Yanks could leverage their surfeit to, say, improve their DH situation with a spare part or two. The Yankees' schedule for April is such that they'll use their fifth starter three times within the month, so that's three chances to audition, for example, Garcia in advance of Pettitte's return.
All of this is to say that the Yankees options. The most sensible tack once Pettitte is ready -- provided everyone is healthy, of course -- is to deploy Hughes as a high-leverage reliever and use Garcia either as a long man or as "trade bait disguised as temporary fifth man."
If baseball has taught us anything, it's that time and events have a way of sorting these things out.
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