Free Agent Veteran or Rookie: Who Should Fill a Yankees Rotation Spot in 2009?

Eliot PodgorskyContributor IApril 4, 2008

Three games into the 2008 season I'm sure Hank and Brian Cashman are just kicking back and relaxing, and they'll probably start putting together a game-plan for the off-season sometime after the All-Star Break. However it is never to soon to start planning and I would like to give my thoughts on the Yankees 2009 rotation. After the season the Yankees will have an abundance of money coming off the books, Jason Giambi at 23,428,571 million, Andy Pettitte at 16 million, Bobby Abreu at 16 million, Mike Mussina at 11,070,423 million, Carl Pavano (yes he's still on the team) at 10 million and Morgan Ensberg, LaTroy Hawkins and Kyle Farnsworth also come off the books at a total of 13,866,667. This large amount of money will give the Yankees even more money to spend in the free agency market. It is almost certain that Mussina will not be back leaving a spot in the rotation that should go to Joba Chamberlain. Phil Hughes, Ian Kennedy and Chien-Ming Wang are all under contract and should be back. The Wild Card is Andy Pettitte. How will his elbow hold up? Will the fallback from the Mitchell Report affect him? I hope that Pettitte comes back next season but for this article I am going to entertain the thought that this finally be the year that Pettitte retires.

2009's crop of free agent starters will be pretty good. It has Free agents like: Brad Penny, John Lackey, A.J. Burnett, Mark Mulder, C.C. Sabathia. But the question that needs to be asked is: Should the Yankees give a rotation spot to one of these veterans or give it to another young starter such as Alan Horne, Humberto Sanchez, Jeff Karstens or Jeffery Marquez?

Though Mulder was good in Oakland injuries caught up to him with the Cardinals and there is no guarantee he'll ever be the same. He may be worth a low-risk contract but I would rule him out. Penny has spent his entire career in the National League but at only 29 and with his track record he may be one of those few starters that is able to succeed in the American League immediately. A.J. Burnett has great stuff and has shown he can be an A.L. pitcher but he's injury-prone and last year when he went on the Disabled List some of the Blue Jays front office grumbled about his unwillingness to pitch through the pain. He may not also be a Free Agent as he has an opt out clause, if he gets injured or pitches poorly he'll take the 22 million the Blue Jays owe him over the next 2 years. The two most probable starters the Yankee would go after are Sabathia and Lackey, aged 27 and 29 respectively. Both have proven that they can be aces and have spent their entire careers in the A.L. There are concerns about Sabathia's weight and Lackey will be out until May this year with a triceps strain. If both stay healthy either one of them would be a welcome addition to the the pitching staff, could lead and teach the Yankees young guns and wouldn't require a Johan Santana-like commitment.

Instead of spending upwards of 50 million on a free agent the Yankees could give the rotation spot to another pitcher coming through their farm system. The four most likely  candidates would be Horne, Karstens, Sanchez and Marquez as I stated earlier. Sanchez due to his injuries is probably destined for the bullpen. Karstens could be a useful long reliever and spot starter but I don't see his stuff giving him the ability to have a good career as a starter in the A.L. at least. Marquez, 24 throws between 92-93 topping out a little higher with his fastball also throws a great changeup and has fantastic command. Horne, 25 throws between 94-96 with his fastball with a great 12-6 curveball and above-average slider. Of the two Horne is a little more polished giving him the edge, though if either of the two where to get a rotation spot it would probably come down to whoever pitches better in Spring Training.

In my opinion if there is a rotation spot available next season my gut says it will go to a free agent veteran. Many columnists and baseball experts feel that Wang is not an ace and that is the main reason the Yankees went after Johan Santana this off-season. If an ace is needed the Yankees will probably go after Lackey or Sabathia to anchor the staff.