Yankees Pitching Dilemma

Steve O Speak

With a combined $64 million doled out to starters CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, Andy Pettitte and Javier Vazquez, and the emergence of Phil Hughes starting pitching would seem like it would be the Yankees greatest strength. Instead it appears to be their Achilles heel going forward. Now no one can really fault Sabathia, Pettitte or Hughes as all three of them have just dominated all season, but Vazquez and Burnett haven’t lived up to their big money contracts (also Vazquez hasn’t been worth the prospects the Yankees gave up to acquire him). Things took a turn for the worse yesterday when Andy Pettitte went on the D.L. with a groin injury that could sideline him up to 5 weeks.

In some fairness, Vazquez has looked better over the past month, and has cut over 4 runs off his ERA (it currently sits at 4.45), but he is far from a sure thing going forward. While he is overall a very good pitcher, Vazquez for some reason has struggled in New York (twice now). With the uncertainty of Burnett and the Pettitte injury, Vazquez is still a bit of a wild card for the Yankees. And while Vazquez has improved over the last month, both Hughes and Burnett have added over a run to their ERA. While Hughes is still pitching well, he isn’t dominating like he did the first two months of the season, leaving more games in the hands of a shaky bullpen. Burnett is even more troubling, as he is pretty much imploding on and off the pitching mound. In his last start after giving up a home run he injured himself by slamming his hands into a clubhouse door, during the game. The injury seemed to affect him and he didn’t last much longer, but the troubling thing is what this means going forward. There was already uncertainty about whether or not Burnett would make his next start (and how effective he will be). Now with the Pettitte injury, the pressure is on Burnett to return to form and to keep his anger in check. Pettitte had been more or less the Yankees ace this year, every fifth day taking the mound and dominating the opposition. Now the Yankees will be without their veteran starter for at least the next month and the team needs to look for other options.

While New York says they are looking internally to replace Pettitte, I have to believe they will look to make a trade. The problem is the Yankees are in a bit of a bind. They have already said they aren’t going to trade Jesus Montero their top prospect in a deal for a starter, but now their need has jumped up quite a bit. If Pettitte didn’t get injured and/or the bullpen was effective New York could have waited some middling starter as an insurance policy. Now though the Yankees need not only a starter, but a quality one, that can consistently go 7+ innings.

The market doesn’t favor New York as the top two starters remaining, Roy Oswalt and Dan Haren would definitely require Montero (or everyone else in their farm system). While New York will inquire about both players, I don’t see them getting a trade done since they have already dealt a number of their top chips in the Granderson and Vazquez deals. After Oswalt and Haren, the market thins out some Ted Lilly is an option as are Jake Westbrook and Ben Sheets (all pitchers whose contracts are up after this season). Lilly is the best of the bunch (and ironically he was traded with Westbrook 10 years ago to the Yankees), as his down year this season is still superior to what Sheets and Westbrook are doing. He also profiles as a Type-A free agent meaning the Yankees can get some draft picks back (although they will have to give up more) after the season. While Fautso Carmona and Ricky Nolasco are likely on the market, their contract status will probably make them too costly for New York (in terms of prospects). One other pitcher that might make sense to the Yankees is Paul Maholm of the Pittsburgh Pirates. He is a lefty so he will help keep that balance in the rotation, and he is under control for a reasonable amount next season. He is still fairly young and gives Pittsburgh solid innings, but he won’t cost the Yankees their top prospects.

One way or another New York needs to figure out what to do in their rotation, because while they remain in first place now, a month without Pettitte could very well leave them in 3rd. While neither the Rays or Red Sox have made moves yet, both could easily overcome the Yankees as they are presently constructed.

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