MINNEAPOLIS, MN - A.J. Burnett #34 of the New York Yankees wipes the sweat off his face in the second inning against the Minnesota Twins. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)
The Yankees did quite well with a collection of question marks and retreads last year. They're not going to try to do it again.
Never forget: The New York Yankees' rotation featured an out-of-shape 38-year-old who was out of baseball the previous year, and who hadn't pitched more than 100 innings since 2005. He attributed his comeback to an experimental procedure that isn't available in the U.S. just yet. He had a syringe filled up with nature's nanobots, and it was shot into his elbow. He pitched 164 innings with a 111 ERA+. He's also likely to leave as a free agent.
Also relevant: The New York Yankees coaxed a good season out of Freddy Garcia, who was a spring-training invite. Garcia had a mini-renaissance with the White Sox in 2010, throwing 157 innings with a 92 ERA+. It was functional innings-munching. For the Yankees, he threw 146 innings with a 122 ERA+, his best mark since 2004.
A tidbit of note: Ivan Nova's ERA last season was lower than his career ERA in the minor leagues. He's a sinkerballer, so his strikeout rate might not be as relevant, but there have been 35 pitchers who have had a season like Nova's over the past decade. Exactly seven pitchers did it more than once. Maybe he's the outlier. Maybe he'll cut down on the walks. Or maybe he's a latter-day Gustavo Chacin, right down to the down-ballot ROY votes.
A nugget for your perusal: Phil Hughes broke last year. Springs and gears flew out of his shoulder and everything. The Yankees and their doctors ran tests. They crossed their fingers. His velocity came back. No one knows why it left. No one knows why it came back. This is akin to a co-worker leaving for the day because blood is shooting out of his ears, then coming back and saying "Dunno" when you ask what was wrong. You're right to still be concerned.
A final point: A.J. Burnett finished his second straight season with an ERA over 5.00. He's 35 now. If you believe in his xFIP, you might think he's been unlucky. That's your prerogative. You're still not going to pick him for your fantasy team.
Here's the ostensible rotation for the 2012 Yankees:
- CC Sabathia
- Ivan Nova
- A.J. Burnett
- Phil Hughes
- Freddy Garcia
I just gave you reasons to be suspicious of four of those pitchers. The Yankees' payroll will likely be over $200 million this year, and yet 80% of their rotation is made up with if-then scenarios. It worked last year. It could work again this year.
It really could.
Yeah. There are three second-tier starting pitchers left on the market: Hiroki Kuroda, Roy Oswalt, and Edwin Jackson. Their asking price is reportedly dropping. The Yankees absolutely will sign one of them. It's the Baseball Nation Lock of the Week™ -- call 866-800-1275 for our other picks. Oswalt and Kuroda are even okay with one-year deals, which suits New York just fine.
The Yankees are playing it cool right now. They don't need to panic. They aren't knee-deep in sewage, desperately needing a plumber. But their teenage son keeps flushing potatoes down the toilet because him and his punk friends think it's funny. They're right to think that they should be a little proactive.
When the Yankees make another move, they'll probably put Freddy Garcia in the back of the bullpen, unless they've completely lost faith in A.J. Burnett. There will still be question marks with the team's starting pitching. But that rotation you see up there will not be the rotation the Yankees start the season with.