During this last week leading into spring, let’s take a look at some of the decisions facing the Yankees. And why not start with the big one?
No spring training decision looms larger than what to do at the back of the rotation. CC Sabathia and Hiroki Kuroda have the big contracts and the past success to suggest they’re locked into rotation spots (clearly Sabathia’s the Opening Day starter), and the Yankees obviously didn’t trade Jesus Montero with plans of acquiring a Triple-A pitcher, and they certainly didn’t witness Ivan Nova’s breakout season with plans of moving him to the bullpen. There is still some development to be done with Pineda, and Nova’s all-but-locked-in status is based on a little more than two months in the big leagues, but for now, logic dictates that Sabathia, Kuroda, Pineda and Nova are heavy front runners for four spots.
That leaves Phil Hughes, Freddy Garcia and A.J. Burnett. Three very different cases for one available spot.
Best-case scenario is that Hughes forces the Yankees’ hand with a terrific spring training, then cements his spot with a living-up-to-expectations regular season. Hughes is still just 25 years old, less than two years older than Dellin Betances. Injuries have been a problem, and Hughes has yet to find consistency at the big league level, but there’s still time for him to become a long-term fixture in the rotation. He changed his training program this winter and is apparently in much better shape than he was last spring. Big picture: Having Hughes win a spot in the rotatoin may be what’s best for the Yankees future.
Signed to a minor league contract at this time last year, Garcia earned a $4-million deal after pitching to a 3.62 ERA last season. Short-term, Garcia might be the safest choice. He is what he is: Not overwhelming or overpowering, but experienced and effective. Even with a step back from last season, Garcia would still be a solid fifth starter. And there’s always the chance he’ll repeat last year’s results and pitch more like a No. 3. Short-term: Having Garcia in the rotation and Hughes in the bullpen could improve every facet of the pitching staff.
At this point, there’s a solid chance Burnett won’t actually be a part of this conversation by the time pitchers and catchers report to spring training. After two disappointing seasons — when the lows were about as low as you can get — Burnett seems to be on his way out. The Yankees would like to dump part of his contract and use the money to sign a hitter or two. If they can’t pull off a trade, though, Burnett will remain in the picture. His early-season results have been pretty good the past two years, so don’t rule out a strong spring that forces the Yankees to at least consider Burnett in the fifth spot.
Associated Press photo