Entering the offseason, Brian Cashman and the Yankees front office made drastically improving the team's shaky (to say the least) starting rotation a top priority. Three months and more than $240 million later, it is still unclear how successful they were.
Sure, the Bomber's management, aided by the Steinbrenner's deep pockets, were able to secure pitchers C.C. Sabathia and A.J. Burnett, the two biggest fish in this season's free agent pitching pool. But neither of the two are considered to be anything close to sure things. In fact, with the help of Burnett's fragile elbow and Sabathia's steadily ballooning weight, these deals each have the potential to go down as busts of Chan-ho Park/Mike Hampton magnitude.
The eyebrows began to raise as soon as the Yankees signed Sabathia in mid December to the richest contract ever awarded to a pitcher at seven years for $160 million. Despite his stellar 2007-2008 season, critics wondered how wise it was Sabathia, all 300 pounds of him, a contract in spite of his 253 innings pitched last season and his postseason ERA of nearly 8. But the general consensus remained that the possibility of Sabathia anchoring the rotation for the next 5-7 years far outweighed his bust potential.
Burnett, however, was a different story. After the Yankees shocked the baseball world by topping the Atlanta Braves' offer after they appeared to be Burnett's next home, the criticism grew noticeably louder. Five years at more than $82 million was a hefty sum to give to any player, let alone a pitcher who has missed significant time in almost every one of his seasons in the bigs because of injuries, had never broken 12 wins before last season, and recorded an ERA over four last season.
And Burnett is far from the only one of the Yankees' projected starters with injury concerns. The Yankees will be hoping Chien Ming Wang returns to form after not pitching past June 15 last year because of a foot injury, and that Phil Hughes comes closer to reaching his potential than he did last season, when he went 0-4 with a 6.64 ERA and spent extensive amounts of time on the DL and in the minors. But the good news for the Yanks? When Sabathia, Burnett, Hughes, Wang, and Joba Chamberlain are healthy and on their, each of them possess the nasty repertoire needed to be an elite Major League pitcher.
And that's just what the Yankees are hoping for.