Friday, January 17, 2014

The Pitching Predicament: What Happened?

It’s incomprehensible to most long-time observers and fans how the Yankees pitching rotation has been reduced to a big question mark. Let’s look back. During the latter stages of the 2012 offseason, the Yankees dealt A.J. Burnett to the Pittsburgh Pirates because they had an influx of pitchers and Burnett seemed expendable. The Yanks acquired Hiroki Kuroda in that off-season and made the much maligned trade for Michael Pineda. Dellin Betances and Manny Banuelos were also being plugged as the “next big thing,” yet neither of them have entrenched themselves into the starting rotation yet.

As the 2013-2014 off-season progresses, the Yankees find themselves with a pitching predicament. Outside of C.C. Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda, and Ivan Nova, the rest of the starting rotation are question marks. It is expected that David Huff, David Phelps, Adam Warren, and Vidal Nuno will compete for the final two spots in the rotation. Despite missing two full seasons, Pineda might compete for a rotation spot, but it is doubtful that he will get it since no one knows what to expect out of him. The rest of the competitors are not sure things either and neither are the known members of the starting rotation. C.C. Sabathia is coming off a career-worst season. Hiroki Kuroda is coming off a late season fade and Ivan Nova has been up-and-down the past couple of seasons.

Poor drafting continues to plague the Yankees development as they struggle to find stable successors to some of the great pitchers of the 2000s. Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlain, Ian Kennedy, and Andrew Brackman were once mentioned as the future stars of the pitching staff. Instead of being the next Mike Mussina, Andy Pettite (or even Roger Clemens), all of the above-mentioned pitchers are either in Yankees minor league system or no longer with the team. Hughes and Chamberlain signed with Twins and Tigers this off-season. Kennedy was a part of the three-team trade for Curtis Granderson in 2009. (Granderson recently signed with the New York Mets.) 

The last time the Yankees produced an everyday player was in 2005. This off-season the Yankees have made numerous front office changes. Let’s hope this will help the Yankees position themselves for success in the long run.

In the meantime, the Yankees have some serious pitching issues to work through before they can be considered legitimate playoff contenders again. Signing Masahiro Tanaka is a must. Even though it has been reported that the Yankees are not enamored with Ervin Santana, Matt Garza, Ubaldo Jiminez, or any of the pitchers on the market, the team should consider signing at least one of them to bolster the rotation. When he was available, the Yankees should have gambled on Mark Mulder as a low-risk/high-reward option. Johan Santana now falls into that category for the Yankees.

The Yankees have to focus on developing young starting pitchers and they need to draft better and/or scout better rather than rely on pitchers such as Sidney Ponson, Freddy Garcia or Bartolo Colon as they have done in the past. While that strategy might be effective, it is not worth taking a gamble on when the Yankees have enough resources to sign a top tier pitcher in free agency or trade for another middle of the line starter. Even though some acquisitions – such as Randy Johnson, Kevin Brown, Javier Vázquez (twice), or Jeff Weaver did not work out – they still provided the team with flare. We’ll have to wait and see if the front office maneuvering can bring back the once feared pitching staff that the great Yankees teams were known for in the 1990s and 2000s.

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Sorry for the Capatcha... Blame the Russians :)