So, Phil Hughes is in the minors trying to find the three miles an hour he lost on his fastball, and the Yankees are scrambling to patch up a rotation that was suspect to begin with.
With Hughes missing in action, the Yankees rotation currently looks like this:
1. CC Sabathia — No complaints here. Sabathia’s ability to rack up innings will be more valuable than ever this season.
2. A.J. Burnett — So far, not bad. In three starts this year, his strikeout rate is strong (8.31 per 9 IP), his walks are low (2.6/9) and he’s posting a career-low, ground ball rate (30.8%). It’s likely the GB rate will return to an area closer to his career average (48.6%), and his ERA will be more palatable than what he has right now (4.67). Either way, with Hughes’ troubles, Burnett is pretty much locked in to this slot.
Here’s where things get interesting:
3. Bartolo Colon — He’s been great in relief, and his strikeout and walk numbers look fantastic, but he’s fanning batters at a level he hasn’t reached in the majors since 2000. At 38-years-old, and given the fact that he hasn’t started a major league game since 2009, it seems unlikely Colon will be a full-time solution for the rest of the year.
4. Ivan Nova — The 24-year-old righty made 23 good starts at triple-A for the Yankees last year, striking out 7.14 and walking 2.98 per nine innings. He made seven starts with the big club last season, with less success. In 10 Major League starts across 201o and 2011 his strikeout to walk ratio is nearly 1:1. Not good.
5. Freddy Garcia — Another retread, Garcia has only been needed once thus far. Unlike Colon, Garcia actually made 28 starts last year for the White Sox, and it’s conceivable he could hold down that fifth starter’s slot if New York skips him here and there to get him some rest.
More likely, the Yankees can count on Colon and Garcia to fill one roster spot. Nova certainly has enough talent to hold on to his back-end job, but he needs to figure things out sooner rather than later. If he continues walking as many guys as he strikes out he won’t be long for triple-A either. It has become increasingly obvious that the Yankees need an arm from somewhere. What to do, what to do? Let’s throw some stuff at the wall and see what sticks.
Step 1: Panic! Seriously. Freak out.
Step 2: Invent a time machine, go back to the winter meetings and promise Cliff Lee whatever he wants to come to New York. A gazillion dollars? Just tell us who to make the check out to. Move the team to Philadelphia and rename it the Philliez? You got it. Whatever it takes.
Step 3: Okay, fine, time for some reasonable options. In order of what I would do:
1. Free Joba! It’s time. At this point, there’s no logical reason to keep Joba Chamberlain in the bullpen. He’s too good and there’s too great a need in the rotation. He was a starter throughout his minor league career, and although he struggled somewhat as a starter, he’s been pretty fantastic (albeit unlucky) for a couple of seasons now. Thus far in 2011, he’s striking out more than a batter an inning and holding his walks to a very solid 2.16 per nine. Last year he did more of the same: 9.76 K/9, 2.76 BB/9. He was a bit unlucky on his batting average on balls in play, posting a mark of .327, significantly higher than the league-average of .295. This made his ERA look uglier than it should have been (4.40). The last time he pitched in the rotation, his strikeout and walk numbers were very different. He was fanning around seven per nine and walking 4.35. The potential payoff is too great to not at least give it a shot. If it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work. If it does work, the team has filled a need internally and without trading away prospects. Chamberlain still has the talent to be a No. 2 or No. 3 starter, and he’s being wasted in a middle relief role right now. Free. Joba. Please.
2. Hope the retreads hold up. In addition to the Colon and Garcia, the Yankees also recently signed Carlos Silva away from the Cubs on a minor league deal. Silva’s turnaround last season with Chicago was nothing short of remarkable. After posting hideous ERAs of 6.46 and 8.60 in his previous two seasons with Seattle, Silva turned his career around with a very respectable (albeit injury shortened) 2010. There’s significant reason to believe his Seattle years were outrageously unlucky (he had a .342 BABIP in 2009 and didn’t make enough starts in 2009 to read much into his numbers). Last season his strikeouts were up (6.37 K/9), his control was impeccable (1.91 BB/9) and his ERA and FIP reflect that (4.22 ERA, 3.75 FIP). Part of the reason for Silva’s turnaround was the fact that he stopped throwing his terrible fastball 80% of the time (as he had in Seattle) and started using his more effective pitches (changeup and slider) in its place. Silva was very effective in 2010, and it would be interesting to see if he can help the Yankees in 2011. He’s another in-house option that saves them from dealing away quality prospects.
3. Trade Jesus Montero for a front-end rotation piece. Montero is crushing the ball in tiple-A again to the tune of a .471/.471/.647 triple-slash line after posting a .286/.349/.514 line across 501 at-bats last season. He’s ready for The Show. If St. Louis falls out of the race, which is possible, Montero would make a fantastic get for the Cardinals in exchange for Chris Carpenter, and the Yankees would bolster the front-end of their rotation. Personally, I would avoid such a move, as the Yankees core is getting older and Montero is too valuable an asset to spend on an expiring deal like Carpenter’s. If the Cards would accept a deal that did not include Montero, it would be much more attractive to New York. The option is available, at least, and with other quality catchers in the system like Austin Romine and Gary Sanchez, a case could be made to cash in Montero now.
This is really a last resort. Break glass only if Hughes can’t find his mojo, the retreads break down, Nova can’t figure out Major League hitters and Joba flops in the rotation.