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Rebuilding the rotation (again)

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It’s pretty well established — and difficult to argue — that the Yankees need Cliff Lee. They have their ace, but the rest of the rotation is either relatively inexperienced (Phil Hughes), unreliable (A.J. Burnett), untested (Ivan Nova) or unnamed (is Sergio Mitre the fifth starter right now?).

Didn’t the Yankees just rebuild their rotation two years ago?

It was at exactly this time in 2008 that the Yankees signed Burnett and CC Sabathia, landing two premier free agents who immediately helped them win a championship. Now the Yankees are in desperate need of pitching help again. What happened to that group of starters?

ALCS Yankees Rangers BaseballCC Sabathia
Good as advertised
Whatever rotation problems popped up in the past two years, they weren’t Sabathia’s fault. Two years into a seven-year deal, Sabathia has 40 wins and a couple of top-four finishes in the Cy Young voting. The No. 1 spot in the rotation is secure.

A.J. Burnett
Worst-case scenario
Burnett had a hit-and-miss reputation when he came to the Yankees, but he also had five-straight seasons with a 4.07 ERA or lower. He made it six straight in his first Yankees season, then he made arguably the most important start of the 2009 postseason. Of course, 2010 was a different story altogether, the idea of a repeat performance makes his spot in the rotation unreliable at best. Burnett has three seasons left on his deal, and he could bounce right back, but last season was cause for significant concern.

Andy Pettitte
The inevitable question
When Pettitte re-signed before the 2009 season, it was with the understanding that he was nearing the end of his career. One year. Two years. Three years. However long the wait, Pettitte’s spot in the rotation was never built to last, so the fact he’s considering retirement certainly comes as no shock. The question of whether Pettitte would come back was inevitable. Of all the current rotation questions, this one was most predictable.

ALCS Yankees Rangers BaseballJoba Chamberlain
The tough decision
Chamberlain had some good moments in his first full season as a Major League starter, but his 4.75 ERA wasn’t exactly inspiring and last spring he was bumped back to bullpen by the emergence of Phil Hughes. After years of back-and-forth questions, the Yankees finally made a decision on Chamberlain, declaring him a full-time reliever, and they don’t seem likely to stray from that approach. He’s essentially been replaced by Hughes, giving the Yankees one young, homegrown starter instead of two.

Chien-Ming Wang
Still trying to recover
That 2009 season was supposed to be a return to form for Wang. He was supposed to be healthy, and a healthy Wang was supposed to mean another season of effective sinkers and close to 20 wins. Instead, Wang won one game that year and he hasn’t pitched in the big leagues since. In reality, the two-year unraveling of the Yankees recently rebuilt rotation started with Wang. He couldn’t make it through the season, Chamberlain’s future was in the air and no one knew how much longer Pettitte would pitch. The Yankees rotation had been rebuilt heading into 2009 season, and by that winter there were already significant longterm questions.

Associated Press photos