In the past week, the Yankees have traded Ian Kennedy, non-tendered Chien-Ming Wang and seen Josh Towers sign a minor league deal with the Dodgers.
In the past year, the Yankees have traded Chase Wright, Jason Jones and Eric Hacker; lost considerable development time because of injuries to Alan Horne, Chris Garcia and George Kontos; lost Dan Giese on waivers; and seen Humberto Sanchez achieve his worst-case scenario instead of his lofty potential.
In the past two years, the Yankees have sold Darrell Rasner to a team in Japan; traded Jeff Karstens, Ross Ohlendorf, Dan McCutchen, Tyler Clippard and Jeff Marquez; non-tendered Matt DeSalvo; and seen Steven White more or less disappear after a breakout 2007.
That’s a list of 19 names. Very few are marquee starters, but all of have served as rotation depth for the Yankees. Eleven pitched for New York at some point, two made their major league debut after leaving the Yankees and two more are currently on a 40-man roster. Rotation depth is rarely flashy, but it matters.
Let’s assume for now that CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, Andy Pettitte, Joba Chamberlain and Phil Hughes are the Yankees current top five starters. What does the depth look like as of right now?
Alfredo Aceves: If he never pitches another game at Yankees Stadium, Aceves has already been a terrific find out of the Mexican League. He pitched well out of the bullpen in 2009, made some strong starts at the end of 2008, and Brian Cashman has said he’ll go into spring training once again working as a starter. That could change, but he might be the sixth starter right now.
Chad Gaudin: Another who can play different roles. He proved to be a valuable mid-season pickup and the Yankees have offered him a contract for 2010. He’ll go to arbitration, then go to spring training as another in that long list of potential starters who could move into the bullpen.
Sergio Mitre: The Yankees took a shot on Mitre last winter, signing him to a minor league deal even though he was coming off Tommy John surgery. The fact he had to serve a suspension at the beginning of the season hardly mattered (from a baseball point of view) because he wasn’t going to be ready to pitch in a game anyway. As he gets farther removed from the surgery — he’ll hit the two-year mark mid-season — Mitre should get stronger and better.
Ivan Nova: One of the latest 40-man additions, Nova was taken in last year’s Rule 5 but was ultimately returned and pitched his way to Triple-A and was outstanding in the playoffs. Nova had 15 groundouts in one regular season game, then had 15 groundouts again in a playoff start.
Romulo Sanchez: With his overwhelming fastball — sits in the mid-90s, touches 97 — Sanchez could move back to the bullpen, but he came into his own this season as a Triple-A starter and the Yankees added him to the 40-man this winter. He also has a terrific changeup and a solid slider.
Zach McAllister: The top upper-level starting pitching prospect was one of the best pitcher in the Double-A Eastern League and was called up to Triple-A for the playoffs, where he made his Scranton/Wilkes-Barre debut in a clinching victory in the first round.
Jason Hirsh: Once a huge pitching prospect in the Astros organization, Hirsh ran into injury problems and hasn’t been nearly the same since. With Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, though, he pitched well at the end of last season, and he could be a wild card to play a big league role next season. Before the injuries, Hirsh was his league’s Pitcher of the Year in back-to-back seasons, first in the Double-A Texas League and then in the impossible-to-pitch-in Pacific Coast League.
Kei Igawa: I know, I know. Have to mention him though. Igawa has had his chances in the Major Leagues, there’s no doubt. And it seems likely that the Yankees would have to be overwhelmed before bringing him back to New York. But Igawa has pitched well in Triple-A.
By mid-season, you might be able to add Alan Horne, Chris Garcia and George Kontos to the list, but they first need to answer questions about their ability to stay healthy. Wilkin De La Rosa and Hector Noesi have spots on the 40-man, but they don’t seem especially close to New York (and I still wonder if the lefty De La Rosa will move to the bullpen). Andrew Brackman and Jeremy Bleich are high draft picks, but last year’s results don’t suggest a quick move to the big leagues.