Early in the offseason, the New York Yankees accomplished their Number 1 priority in restructuring the contract of ace left-hander C.C. Sabathia to ensure that he stays in pinstripes for at least a few more years. Then, after a long period of silence except for the crickets, the Yankees re-signed Freddy Garcia.
On January 13, they landed two top-notch starters from other teams. The Yankees traded away a star prospect in catcher Jesus Montero to the Seattle Mariners for sophomore starter Michael Pineda. That same night, they signed free agent pitcher Hiroki Kuroda, formerly of the Los Angeles Dodgers.
The Yankees now have seven starters vying for five spots heading into spring training. Along with Sabathia, Garcia, Pineda, and Kuroda, the Yankees have returnees Ivan Nova, Phil Hughes, and A.J. Burnett. So, who should begin the season in the five-man rotation? Here are my picks.
Sabathia is the ace hands down. He is coming off a 19-8 season with a 3.00 ERA pitching mainly against the high-powered A.L. East in a very hitter-friendly Yankee Stadium. He did not care if he pitched at home (8-3, 3.07) or away (11-5, 2.93). Although he did not fare so well against the Detroit Tigers in the ALDS, his gutsy performance coming out of the bullpen on short rest in Game 5 was the act of a gamer and an ace.
Nova surprised many fans and critics with his 16-4, 3.70 record. He finished fourth in A.L. Rookie of the Year voting. He went 8-2 both home and away and was undefeated (8-0, 3.18) after the All-Star break. He also pitched well against the Tigers in the Game 1 continuation of the ALDS. He should have another breakout season in 2012.
Since he is 37 (at season's start), I can see why he got only a one-year deal, but he will make a fine #3 starter. He is slightly under .500 for his four-year MLB career, but he has an ERA of 3.45. In 2011, he was 13-16 but with 3.07. The question is how he will do in the A.L. East, a more power-packed division than the N.L. West. He now will pitch half of his games in Yankee Stadium rather than Dodger Stadium, a very pitcher-friendly park. Even the Boston Red Sox wanted him. I put Kuroda at #3 over Pineda because of he has more experience.
Pineda was fifth in Rookie of the Year voting and made the A.L. All-Star team. He went 9-10 but had a 3.74 ERA for the last-place Mariners. At age 23, he looks like the real deal for many years to come, hopefully in pinstripes. I see no reason why he should not have similar pitching numbers but with a better win-loss record with a much more powerful offense behind him. Seattle finished last in runs scored in 2011, but the Yankees finished second.
Garcia really surprised me in 2011. I did not expect him to win 12 games, but he did so (12-8) with a stunning 3.62 ERA after five seasons well over 4.00. To me, he earned a spot in the 2012 rotation - at least his to lose. He is 36 but still likes a bona-fide Major Leaguer.
That leaves out Hughes and Burnett. Both had ERA's well over 5.00, so they have work to do come spring training. I would not mind seeing the Yankees shop Burnett and his salary (although they may have to pay much of it), and I would also not mind seeing Hughes come out of the bullpen as a middle or long reliever and occasional spot starter. We will have to see what Joe Girardi and Brian Cashman have in mind come mid February and throughout the spring.
The Yankees began the offseason with many questions in their starting rotation. So far, I like the answers.
Bryan Hoch, MLB.com, Pair of Moves Land Pineda, Kuroda with Yanks, yankees.mlb.com, January 14, 2012.
Baseball Reference, 2011 League Division Series, baseball-reference.com
Baseball Reference, Hiroki Kuroda and Michael Pineda Player Pages (linked above), baseball-reference.com.
Major League Baseball, Sortable Team Statistics, mlb.mlb.com.
New York Yankees, C.C. Sabathia, Ivan Nova, and Freddy Garcia Player Pages (linked above), yankees.mlb.com.
Raymond was born in Connecticut into a family spilt between the Red Sox and Yankees. Although he grew up in Florida, Raymond became a Yankees fan. He played baseball through high school and soon after became a varsity coach. He currently coaches Little League in Florida. Raymond previously produced radio sports talk shows and hosted a weekly baseball radio call-in show.
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