Thursday, September 2, 2010

What Is the Future of the Yankee Rotation?

Yankees 4, Athletics 3. Or, as Steve Somers called them last night on WFAN, the Yankees beat the Anabolics.

The Yankees took a 4-0 lead before the A's clawed back, and it looked like A.J. Burnett was going to implode again. This time, he did not, and held on for 6 innings before the bullpen took over.

Somewhere, 92-year-old Bob Feller is laughing at the notion that pitching just 6 innings and allowing 3 runs is a "quality start." But A.J. did what the Yankees asked him to do: Hold the A's off long enough to give the lineup a chance to win it and the bullpen a chance to save it.

I've been really worried about what happens to the Yankee rotation after this season. Here's what we've got now, and what could happen next year:

1. CC Sabathia. No reason to doubt him. He may be a fat horse, but he's a horse.

2. A.J. Burnett. Much reason to doubt him this season, far more than last season when he was also a horse. Will he still be reliable next season? Is this recent slump, which has lasted since May, a phase that he's now beginning to snap out of? Or is this it? He's 33, too soon to be someone to give up on, but right now the jury is well out.

3. Andy Pettitte. Threw a simulated inning in the bullpen yesterday. Appears to be on his way back within a couple of weeks. Pitched well before he got hurt. I have no reason to doubt him in the postseason (and we will make it, as AL East Champions or as the AL Wild Card). What I doubt is whether he'll come back next season. He's 38, and even if he feels good enough to come back for a season at 39, he may decide that he's "done his bit for king and country," and had enough.

4. Phil Hughes. He's been a little shaky in his last few starts, but he's 16-6 this season, 29-16 for a career, at age 24. I have lots of confidence in him.

5. Javier Vazquez. We still don't know if he can "pitch in New York." He's 10-9 this season, and that's roughly the proportion of his career thus far: 152-148. 152 wins is nothing to sneeze at, but a good pitcher should be more than 4 games over .500 at age 34, especially if he's pitched for 3 postseason teams (the 2004 and 2010 Yankees, and the 2008 Chicago White Sox).

So, for 2011 we can count on CC and Phil for sure. But Andy might not come back, and A.J. and Javy might not be reliable. And Cliff Lee, this coming off-season's big free-agent target, is in a nasty slump. Maybe that "touch of God" he had from early 2008 onward has run out, after less than 3 full seasons. So maybe the best possible replacement isn't even all that good anymore.

There are, of course, other options. Joba Chamberlain has been pitching better lately, and could be moved back to the rotation. Dustin Moseley has filled in admirably in Pettitte's injury-vacated slot. Ivan Nova has now pitched 4 games, including 2 starts, and has looked pretty good, and he's only 23.

So, out of a returning Pettitte, a restored Burnett, a consistent Vazquez, a restored Lee, a back-to-the-rotation and consistent Chamberlain, and a continuation of the recent efforts of Moseley and Nova, the Yankees need 3 of the 7. That doesn't sound like too much to ask.

I have no problem with the Yankees having a 2015 rotation with Sabathia, Hughes, Moseley and Nova. With Joba as a possible option, if he does not turn out to be the successor to Mariano Rivera. If Joba stays in the pen, then we'll have to find a 5th starter, but that could be someone no one's considered yet. After all, outside of the Yankee organization and their minor-league opponents, a month ago, who knew about Moseley and Nova?

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