Before last week’s front office explosion, the New York Yankees offseason was associated with the scores of chirping crickets and rolling tumbleweed. Outside of renegotiating C.C. Sabathia’s contract, picking up Nick Swisher’s option and resigning Freddy Garcia, it had been a most un-Yankee like off season.
However, after biding his precious time, Brian Cashman struck the market with shrewd assertiveness.
Trading highly touted prospects and signing free agents, he reaffirmed the Yankees primary offseason goal of refurbishing their debatable starting rotation. Some of the faces on the carousel will look familiar, while others will be completely green to the Bronx experience.
In the next 12 months, the club will attempt to reaffirm their supremacy atop the AL East with a group of arms that present questions. We’ll find out the final answers in October.
Last week, the Yankees avoided arbitration and signed pitcher Phil Hughes to a $3.2 million deal for the next year. Yet with the ink barely dry, many are wondering where he will be assisting the Yankees.
With the Yankees acquiring Michael Pineda and Hiroki Kuroda in the offseason, uncertainty has appeared in the starting rotation. In addition to the aforementioned two, the team already possesses C.C. Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, Ivan Nova, Freddy Garcia and Mr. Phillip Hughes. That leaves seven hurlers for five spots.
In the case of Hughes, his destination will most likely be the bullpen, at least for the beginning of the season.
Both Sabathia and Nova are coming off more than impressive years, so their positions are set. Garcia and Kuroda were born into starter molds and that is where they’ll stay. When the team sent their prized pupil Jesus Montero to the Seattle Mariners, they weren’t receiving a reliever in Michael Pineda.
After eliminating the aforesaid five pitchers, only Burnett and Hughes will remain. Recognizing the moderate success Hughes has had in the bullpen, the only logical solution is to park the 25-year-old right-hander in the bullpen. Besides, no one in the organization wants an exceptionally played game spoiled by A.J. Burnett in the seventh inning.
Much to Yankee fans' delight, general manager Brian Cashman woke up from his winter slumber and executed a flurry of action. With options running low on arms, the team had to act on the remaining selections and signed right-hander Hiroki Kuroda.
In four years with the Dodgers, he compiled a 41-46 win-loss record and pitched over 200 innings only once (202 innings in 2011). This guy is the club’s answer to pitching woes?
A career under-.500 pitcher deserves $10 million for this year?
Before Cashman is burned at the stake, let’s look at the reality regarding Kuroda. The sub-.500 record isn’t a fair reflection of the Osaka native. Sporting a career earned run average of 3.45 is an illustration of the kind of quality pitcher he is.
Unfortunately, a different depiction also rings true when looking at his body of work. When pitchers and catchers report to Tampa, Kuroda will be arriving with 37 years of age on his resume. While he is no means in the stratosphere of Satchel Paige when it comes to playing age, his age and limited years in America might be an issue when presented with a different challenge.
After four years on the senior circuit, he steps into the American League with unfamiliar faces—a power hungry league with an extra professional hitter, instead of a feeble pitcher.
Signing a one-year contract is likely to intensify his quest for comfort with his new league, but in the end the move will likely have him catching the “next train for the coast” in 2013.
When rookies experience a large amount of success their initial year, they have to overcome a daunting hurdle that has forever plagued second-year players: The sophomore slump.
After playing an integral role for the Yankees in 2011, Ivan Nova returns for his second full season with the team in 2012. Will he fall victim to a pestilence that has sent many a gleeful rookies in the wrong direction?
In 2004, columnist Aaron Gleeman did some research to see if this much talked about affliction is reality or just paranoia. Analyzing the years of 1949-2004, he discovered that 64 percent of Rookie of the Year winners declined in their second year and only 32.5 percent improved.
While Nova didn’t win the Rookie of the Year award, he was in the conversation with the rookie elite. So, it’s quite conceivable he could be just as vulnerable to these statistics as well.
Finally, if you don’t believe in unreliable stats from yesteryear, then let’s look at the cold hard facts. As a 24-year-old rookie, Ivan Nova won 16 games last year. With the enormous pressure put on a young player, it would be completely unreasonable to pencil that same win total in for him this year.
His regression might not be as extreme as some rookies, but count on less glowing numbers from Nova in 2012.
Horse. Anchor. Ace.
All these words represent what C.C. Sabathia has been for the Yankees in his three-year tenure. Every year, the left-hander has held the sometimes combustible lineup together with a clubhouse presence and reliable pitching. Along with team cohesiveness, he continues to improve every season including an earned run average that shrivels every year in pinstripes.
Last year, Sabathia posted a flat 3.00 earned run average and was fourth in the Cy Young voting. From the sounds of it, he is even willing to trim down on his famous roundly figure for the 2012 campaign. So, what’s stopping him from his continued excellence?
Predicting that he will have another successful season isn’t really a bold prediction, but a safe prognostication nonetheless. On top of his game and in a New York state of mind, there’s little that can stop the 31-year-old from etching another dominating season on his resume towards his march to Cooperstown.
Believe it or not, but A.J. Burnett actually improved his win total, earned run average, strikeouts, and walks and hits per innings pitched in 2011 from the previous year. Yes, for him 11 wins and a 5.15 earned run average is an improvement. With that being said, don’t expect this year’s enhancement to reach remarkable plateaus.
After three rocky and tumultuous years in New York, Burnett hasn’t come close to meeting his lofty expectations when he signed an $82.5 million deal in 2009. His short outings and overall inconsistency have morphed into the biggest problem on the entire team.
No one can reasonably predict how an albatross like Burnett will perform in 2012. With one pitch, he looks as if the baseball gods blessed him with utmost powers. On another toss, he represents one of the worst judgments of Brian Cashman’s career.
Nevertheless, when the regular season begins, expect the 35-year-old to pick up where he left off in 2011—flashes of brilliance with overall disappointment.
"A breaking ball, steee-rike at the knees. A nasty, diabolical slider. Oww, that stank!”
That was the call by the late Dave Niehaus, play-by-play man for the Seattle Mariners upon seeing Michael Pineda in action for the first time. The much heralded youngster made his 2011 debut a memorable one. However, that’s not to say he didn’t have a roller coaster rookie year.
After busting out of the gate with a 6-2 record to begin the season, he struggled as the year went on and finished at 9-10. Putting the win-loss title to the side, the 22-year-old managed a respectable 3.74 earned run average.
Moving across the country, he now has an offense that is remarkably different from the makeup of the Mariners. Instead of having to worry about run support on a nightly basis, Pineda will have a formidable arsenal behind him in New York.
Look for Pineda to benefit from his surroundings and drastically increase his win total in pinstripes.
While the offseason paints a picture of too much pitching for the Bombers, anything can happen. Every year, the game is filled with underachievement and injury, and at that time decisions have to be made. Some possible solutions are contrived by thinking outside the box, while others are familiar.
For the past four years, the great Joba debate has been littered and dissected ad nauseam. At this point, it appears Chamberlain has cemented his role in the bullpen. But if the starting rotation were to crumble in unthinkable ways, he will be considered for the starter’s role.
At this moment, Chamberlain is on the shelf and currently recovering from Tommy John surgery and his exact timetable for return is not known. Yet if for some reason the Yankees are desperate for an arm in July when Chamberlain is believed to saddle up, listen closely to the masses.
Joba: bullpen or starter?