It’s a lot easier to write this sort of thing about position players,* but I think we can tweak the format a little bit to make it work for pitchers. The Yankees rotation is obviously built around CC Sabathia, while Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain provide some youth and significant upside, but perhaps the most overlooked move of the winter was the addition of Javier Vazquez. He provides durability to the middle of the rotation and extends the Yankees depth at the back.
Top four: CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, Andy Pettitte, Javier Vazquez
Competition: Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlain
Veteran insurance: Chad Gaudin, Sergio Mitre, Alfredo Aceves
Almost ready: Zach McAllister, Ivan Nova, Romulo Sanchez
Low rising: Jeremy Bleich, Manny Banuelos, Adam Warren, Jose Ramirez
Basically, the Yankees are going into spring training with either Gaudin or Aceves as their No. 7 starter, and that’s a pretty solid situation in terms of depth and insurance. They have a legitimate ace at the top, young talent at the bottom, and two proven veterans in the middle. Burnett is Burnett: Ace stuff without ace consistency. In the past few years, the Yankees have traded away a lot of upper-level pitching talent, but they still have a good group of young arms ready to open the season in Triple-A. Clearly the organizational depth chart goes well beyond the names listed here, and three additional names to keep in mind are Chris Garcia, Alan Horne and George Kontos, right-handers coming back from injuries with the potential to reach the big leagues before the end of the season.
Worst-case scenario: The ghosts of 2004 haunt Vazquez, Pettitte shows his age, Chamberlain and Hughes can’t bring their bullpen results into the rotation, and Burnett is more Mr. Hyde than Dr. Jekyll. At this point, I don’t think it makes much sense to worry about Sabathia, but it’s not especially hard to imagine the things that could go wrong with the rest of the rotation. That said, I’m pretty sure that’s the case with every rotation. Pitchers are volatile, and going beyond an ace is naturally going to raise some red flags.
Best-case scenario: Vazquez repeats 2009, Pettitte continues to pitch as if he’s five years younger, Chamberlain and/or Hughes live up to their potential as front-line starters and Burnett pitches like he did in Game 2, not like Game 5. Oh, and Sabathia wins the Cy Young. There is significant upside to this rotation, so the best-case scenario is a very, very good one. Of all the good that could come in the minor leagues – Banuelos pitching his way to Double-A, Bleich learning to harness his stuff, Jairo Heredia and Dellin Betances getting healthy — the best might be Andrew Brackman throwing strikes and having a breakout season.
The future: Burnett is signed through 2013 and Sabathia through 2015, but both Pettitte and Vazquez are free agents after this season, so there is the potential for significant change in the near future. Ideally, both Chamberlain and Hughes would pitch well enough and get enough innings to factor into the long-term future of the rotation. McAllister and Nova — and maybe Bleich and a few others – could put themselves into the 2011 mix, but it’s worth noting that the upcoming free agent class includes Josh Beckett, Cliff Lee and Brandon Webb.
An attempt at a (somewhat) complete depth chart
An educated guess, but only a guess
Scranton: Zach McAllister, Ivan Nova, Romulo Sanchez, Kei Igawa, Jason Hirsh
Trenton: Jeremy Bleich, Hector Noesi, Wilkin de la Rosa, Chris Garcia, (maybe Alan Horne, maybe Ryan Pope, maybe D.J. Mitchell, maybe Lance Pendleton)
Tampa: Manny Banuelos, Jairo Heredia, David Phelps, Andrew Brackman (maybe D.J. Mitchell, maybe Lance Pendleton, maybe Ryan Zink)
Charleston: Adam Warren, Bryan Mitchell, Caleb Cotham, Sean Black, (maybe Jose Ramirez)
Extended: Dellin Betances, Brett Marshall, George Kontos (all because of injuries)
I’m hardly an expert on the lower levels of the system, but these guesses are probably fairly close. Quite a bit can change with some pitchers skipping a level, some being crowded out by bigger names and others being bumped to the bullpen. The Yankees have quite a few college arms in the lower levels, so those could move quickly.
*I realize I didn’t do one of these for designated hitter. I tried and it doesn’t really work. The depth chart is endless — any viable hitter can play the role — which means the state of the Yankees DH is basically the state of Nick Johnson. Can he stay healthy? Can his power numbers increase in Yankee Stadium? Can he do enough for the Yankees to pick up that 2011 option? There’s a lot to be said for Jesus Montero, but let’s wait to see if he can stick at catcher before declaring him the future designated hitter.