When posted earlier about the key issues at each position, I intentionally left out both the rotation and the bullpen.
In the bullpen, the key issue — replacing Mariano Rivera — is obvious and has been overly dissected already this winter. The secondary issues are largely unknown while we’re waiting for the bullpen to more fully come together. Things like what to expect from Shawn Kelley, Matt Thornton and Dellin Betances are pretty standard for any bullpen bringing back a breakout reliever, bringing in a veteran, or preparing to give a young guy a chance. Those situations aren’t exactly unique.
But the reason I left out the rotation was different. It’s because the key issues are overwhelming and all over the place. Every rotation possibility, it seems, has his own key issue to consider. The most obvious one at the moment is the availability of Masahiro Tanaka, but I think you could argue that some of the issues surrounding the Yankees current starters are just as pivotal as landing Tanaka.
Which is why signing Tanaka is so important in the first place: Because this rotation has so many holes and so much uncertainty to begin with.
Consider these eight rotation possibilities, with the key issue facing each one:
CC Sabathia – Transition
Diminished velocity and the worst season of his career. Does that mean he’s finished, or simply that he’s transiting into a new phase of his career when he’ll have to be more savvy than overpowering? Having Sabathia bounce back just might be the Yankees biggest issue of 2014.
Hiroki Kuroda – Age
Two nearly identical seasons in the Bronx, which led to yet another one-year contract heading into his 39th birthday. How long can he keep this up, and could a workload limit help him avoid a late-season decline?
Ivan Nova – Consistency
Sent to the minor leagues mid-season, he finished with the rotation’s best ERA last year. Such is Nova’s wild up-and-down experience. He can be great, but can he be great game after game for more than a month or two at a time?
Michael Pineda – Effectiveness
He didn’t pitch in many games last year, but at least he pitched last year. And at times, there were positive reports about his arm strength. Assuming he’s healthy — which is a huge assumption — is he still a good enough pitcher to be a No. 2 or 3 in the big leagues?
David Phelps — Opportunity
Other than the number of innings, there’s not too much difference between last year’s number for Phelps and Phil Hughes. Bouncing between the bullpen and rotation, Phelps had a 4.98 ERA and 1.42 WHIP. He still carries some benefit of the doubt, but that might disappear with another rocky year.
Adam Warren – Next step
Phelps had a 3.34 ERA as a rookie long man and spot starter in 2012. Warren had a 3.39 ERA in nearly the same role last year. Difference is, Warren’s had only three big league starts (Phelps had 11 as a rookie). Given the chance, can Warren take that next step from emerging mopup man to dependable starter?
Vidal Nuno – Dark horse
Prospect hype comes and goes, and sometimes it misses the mark entirely. Nuno has gone from being released, to pitching in independent ball, to having a breakout 2012, and showing encouraging results in 2013. Can he keep that pace with a larger sample size?
Manny Banuelos – Readiness
Not so long ago, he was considered one of the best young left-handed pitchers in baseball. Now he’s more than a year removed from Tommy John having hardly pitched since 2011. How soon can he be ready? And when he is ready, will he be ready to help in the big leagues?
Associated Press photos