Following a dormant pre-holidays period, the New York Yankees have been active in the trade and free-agent markets recently, signing former Los Angeles Dodgers right-hander Hiroki Kuroda to a one-year, $10 million deal.
The Yankees then traded stud catching prospect Jesus Montero and pitcher Hector Noesi to the Seattle Mariners for 22-year-old right-hander Michael Pineda and a minor leaguer. It was a flurry of activity that was aimed at improving the Yankees' shaky starting rotation, which was considered a glaring weakness that needed to be addressed.
New York already has a bona fide ace in CC Sabathia, who has been good for at least 19 wins and 230 innings per year since joining the team before the 2009 season. Sabathia will continue to anchor the staff in 2012, but there was uncertainty surrounding who could be counted on after CC takes his turn.
Right-hander Ivan Nova, 16-4 last season, emerged as a solid No. 2. He logged 165.1 IP in his rookie season last year, along with a 3.70 ERA. Expectations heading into this season are that Nova will follow up his solid rookie campaign with another 15- to 20-win season.
The third spot in the rotation will likely be filled by the newly acquired Hiroki Kuroda. The veteran was 13-16 with a bad Dodgers team in 2011, but he logged a solid 3.07 ERA over a respectable 202.0 innings. On a contending team like the Yankees, Kuroda should be able to post a winning record in the high teens.
Slot No. 4 would feature another newly acquired Yankee, Michael Pineda. The young fire-baller struck out 173 batters in 171.0 IP during his rookie season, the most Ks by a pitcher 22 or under since Kerry Wood in 1998. Pineda also ranked first among MLB right-handed starters in opponents batting average, holding hitters to a .184 BA.
Who should be the Yankees' No. 5 starter?
The Yankees' fifth spot is a bit more murky. A.J. Burnett, Freddy Garcia and Phil Hughes are expected to compete for the final turn in the rotation.
Burnett, who could be moved before spring training, possibly for an everyday DH, is the latest in a long line of overpriced, under-performing free-agent pitchers the Yankees have signed over the last decade. His high salary and low production could present a problem on the trading block.
Hughes, an 18-game winner in 2010, missed a large part of 2011 with arm fatigue, pitching only 74.2 innings and posting a 5-5 record. Hughes' arm issues are a huge question mark, and he'll face an uphill battle to make the rotation heading into 2012.
Garcia, 34, is coming off a 12-8 season in which he logged 146.2 IP and a 3.62 ERA. He's a proven veteran who should be considered the favorite for the fifth spot.