Ranking the New York Yankees' 5th Starter Options

Walker Harrison@WalkWearsCrocsContributor IIIJanuary 27, 2014

Ranking the New York Yankees' 5th Starter Options

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    Pitching coach Larry Rothschild will be keeping an eye on Michael Pineda, the assumed frontrunner for the final spot in the rotation.
    Pitching coach Larry Rothschild will be keeping an eye on Michael Pineda, the assumed frontrunner for the final spot in the rotation.Scott Iskowitz/Associated Press

    The New York Yankees' rotation was upgraded, albeit at a great cost, last week when they signed coveted Japanese pitcher Masahiro Tanaka

    Tanaka is expected to slot into the second starter's position behind veteran workhorse C.C. Sabathia.

    The tail end of the Yankees' rotation is less certain. They will likely seek to fill the fifth and final starter's spot internally since their offseason spending spree has already cost nearly $500 million, and they have more pressing free-agent needs.

    A small crowd of names will be considered for the job as fifth starter. Here are the Yankees' top five options.

1. Michael Pineda

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    Paul Sancya/Associated Press

    Pineda combines top-of-the-rotation potential with massive uncertainty following his 2012 shoulder injury, which has kept him from the majors since.

    He will begin spring training as the clear favorite for the fifth spot in the rotation.

    The Yankees traded away their popular prospect Jesus Montero to the Mariners for Pineda, and they're hoping to finally see some dividends from that swap.

    Plus, Pineda is a nasty pitcher when healthy. He struck out 173 batters in 171 innings as a 22-year-old rookie in 2011. His average fastball that season was 94.7 mph, good for fourth in the entire league.

    It wouldn't be terribly surprising to see Pineda end up as one of the Yankees' most successful pitchers this season, given the question marks that dot the rest of the staff.

    Then again, it's difficult to rely on the health and performance of an inexperienced pitcher coming off a major arm injury, which could open the door for the rest of the field.

2. David Phelps

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    David Phelps is not exactly the most exciting pitching option for fans.

    His fastball is not overpowering, he doesn't go very deep into games and he kind of looks like an accountant who somehow found himself on the pitcher's mound.

    What Phelps lacks in flair, though, he regains in consistency. Over his 23 starts for the Yankees in the past two seasons, he gave up more than four earned runs only twice.

    If you ignore one nine-run implosion against Baltimore last season, his career ERA as a starter is 3.81, quite respectable for a pitcher facing deep AL East lineups in hitters' ballparks.

    Phelps will probably begin the season as a long reliever and spot starter.

    He could easily slide into the fifth starting position if Pineda proves incapable of holding down the spot, or if he simply earns it with a good showing in February and March.

3. Adam Warren

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    Frank Franklin II/Associated Press

    Of the final three players on this list, Adam Warren ranks above his fellow young arms due mostly to his small chunk of Major League experience.

    After four seasons spent almost entirely in the minors, Warren was on the Yankees roster for the entirety of the 2013 season.

    He had a variety of roles over the course of the year. He often was called upon for mop-up duty in blowouts, but he also threw some high-pressure innings on days where his superiors weren't available.

    It may be that the Yankees need Warren back in the bullpen this season since the losses of closer Mariano Rivera and lefty specialist Boone Logan have opened up some roles for guys like Warren.

    Then again, Warren performed well in his two starts last season, allowing only two runs in eight innings. It's a microscopic sample size, but at least Warren has had that feeling of being the guy on the bump as the umps go over ground rules.

    If Pineda and Phelps stumble out of the gate, Warren could join the rotation.

4. Vidal Nuno

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    Jason Miller/Getty Images

    The good news for Vidal Nuno is that the Yankees probably prefer to have two left-handed starters in their rotation since it helps neutralize their famous short porch in right field.

    The bad news is that a trio of viable candidates probably have to collapse for Nuno to get a shot as a starter.

    That's not to say that Nuno isn't qualified, however.

    Although he's only got 20 innings of big league performance under his belt, he has made minced meat of his minor league opponents in the last several years. In Double-A and Triple-A in 2012-13, he has posted a 2.26 ERA and 8.4 K/9.

    His stuff isn't electric, as his fastball doesn't touch 90 MPH, but his accuracy and above average off-speed offerings atone for any shortcomings in velocity.

    In that sense, his pitching profile is not unlike that of recent retiree Andy Pettitte. If Nuno can in anyway emulate the success of that Yankee legend, he'll have earned consideration for a rotation spot.

5. Manny Banuelos

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    Anonymous/Associated Press

    Once upon a time, Manny Banuelos was the heir to the Yankees pitching throne.

    He was ranked their fourth-best prospect prior to the 2011 season, a testament to his blistering fastball and deceptive changeup.

    Elbow problems have since derailed Banuelos once-presumed path to the bigs. He needed Tommy John surgery in October of 2012 and has not thrown a professional pitch since. Consequently, Banuelos' 2013 season could be a major turning point in his career.

    It's almost unthinkable that Banuelos would start the season as the fifth starter.

    Throwing an inexperienced pitcher coming off career-threatening surgery into such a crucial position in April seems like a witless decision. Plus, General Manager Brian Cashman has stated the team's intention for Banuelos to begin the season at Triple-A.

    Yet what if Banuelos' repaired elbow holds up and he showcases the talent that once made him a top prospect? One would think he would at least make a handful of starts for the Yankees, and maybe even win a rotation spot. Stranger things have happened...