If Andy Pettitte does not resign, the Yankees are currently set up to enter spring training with two open rotation spots. I don’t know about you, but I can’t remember that ever being the case on the modern Yankees. Even in 2008, when the Yankees attempted to use Phil Hughes, Ian Kennedy, and later Joba Chamberlain all in the rotation, the plan was set from the start. If the Yankees decide to go into spring training with their current roster, it’ll really be a rare sight, and pretty interesting too from an objective standpoint.
Luckily for the Yankees, the team does have a lot of options. An exhaustive list at this point probably includes Ivan Nova, David Phelps, Sergio Mitre, Joba Chamberlain, D.J. Mitchell, Andrew Brackman, Dellin Betances, Hector Noesi, Adam Warren, and Romulo Sanchez, plus whatever minor league contracts the Yankees bring in to audition.
Right off the bat, I think the Yankees will value some stability by immediately promising one job to Ivan Nova. This would allow him to relax in spring training a little bit and work on his game, instead of having to endure the pressure of a competition. You can pass your own judgment on whether or not pressure is good for a young pitcher – I think the team should press him. Regardless, Ivan Nova is probably the best “ready-now” pitcher on the roster. He’s got two great things going for him – a superb 2.86 ERA in 146 Triple-A innings plus a solid MLB debut with a 4.50 ERA in 42 innings. He’s got the workload and mental icebreaking down. Nova’s problem is that he’s just not all that great of a pitcher. He has the stuff, and should be a MLB starter, but has poor K/BB numbers all around. He’s going to allow a lot of baserunners, which means a lot of runs. Still, he’ll get his outs, and shouldn’t be overexposed in the majors. The Yankees couldn’t really ask for much better right now.
Once we get to the competition, I think that the Yankees will only give a real serious chance at making the rotation to Phelps, Brackman and Mitre, plus Joba if they decide to go that route. They’ll do their due diligence on Sanchez and Mitchell, but neither are particularly promising as starters in the majors. Warren, Betances, and Noesi offer higher-ceiling options than Phelps and Mitre, but all could definitely benefit from some more time. The Yankees do not need their opening day starters to last the whole season, and Noesi in particular could very well be ready by the time its apparent that one of the MLB guys isn’t working out. If spring training is really kind to them and the Yankees are feeling pretty adventurous, maybe they get a shot. Just don’t bet the farm on it.
Phelps should be the favorite of this group. He has the potential to be a lot better than Mitre, but is a little more ready than Brackman. He pitched a robust 158 innings between Double-A and Triple-A, with a strong 3.92 K/BB ratio. He’s got solid enough stuff with a 91-93 mph fastball and a good slider, plus oodles of polish. He’s no ace, but Phelps definitely has the potential to stick in the back of the rotation on a team like the Yankees. You could see him pitching 200 innings with a 4.50 ERA, which we would take I think. Brackman, on the other hand, is the opposite kind of prospect. He had a fairly strong season, but topped out pitching 80 2/3 innings at Double-A. We all know about how good he can be. If he shows up to spring training looking like the good Brackman – in shape and all together mechanically – I think the Yankees will strongly consider him. But that needs to happen first. Sergio Mitre is Sergio Mitre. You know what he brings to the table – not a whole lot, but he’ll go out and pitch every 5th day.
Its important to remember what the Yankees are seeking to replace. Andy Pettitte and Javier Vazquez combined to pitch 286 innings for the Yankees with a combined ERA of 4.40. That’s what the Yankees should shoot for. Furthermore, the Yankees can count on some kind of mid-season reinforcement coming from Hector Noesi, Adam Warren, Dellin Betances, Manuel Banuelos, Brackman, etc, plus the trade market. I really don’t think this picture is all that bleak for the Yankees. Yeah, it might be painful to watch some rookies struggle at first, but it was just as painful to watch the Vazquez/Moseley/et al crew try and hold down the bottom part of the rotation this year. Cashman might not be pulling a Bubba Crosby here, folks. The truth is that Phelps and Nova are relatively solid, if unspectacular, major league options, and the rest of the crew represent high-ceiling potential at mid-season (or earlier in Brackman’s case).