It's been a busy offseason for the New York Yankees, with perhaps their biggest splash coming when they added Japanese right-hander Masahiro Tanaka on a seven-year, $155 million deal to help shore up their rotation.
Tanaka joins CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda and Ivan Nova as locks to make the rotation this spring, but the No. 5 starter job is still up for grabs at this point.
There are a handful of candidates expected to compete for the job, but the Yankees would love nothing more than for right-hander Michael Pineda to prove healthy and grab that spot.
If early reports out of Yankees camp are any indication, he could finally be back to the Pineda of old and ready for a big season, according to Dan Martin of the New York Post.
“I’m going to compete for the rotation,” Pineda said. “I’m the same Michael Pineda. I’m 100 percent now and my body is in good shape.”
Pineda broke into the league with the Seattle Mariners as a 22-year-old back in 2011, making the AL All-Star team as a rookie thanks to a first half that saw him go 8-6 with a 3.03 ERA and 113 strikeouts in 113 innings of work.
He fell off in the second half, but still managed to finish the season 9-10 with a 3.74 ERA and an impressive 173 strikeouts in 171 innings.
Originally expected to be an integral part of the Mariners' rebuilding efforts, the team instead shipped him to the Yankees that offseason in a four-player deal that netted them top catching prospect Jesus Montero.
A deal that originally looked like it would make a huge impact on both franchises has instead been a dud to this point for both sides. Montero was unimpressive as a rookie before being hit with a 50-game PED suspension last year, while Pineda has yet to throw a pitch for the Yankees.
Right shoulder issues shelved him during spring training in 2012, and he underwent surgery for a torn labrum on May 1 of that year. He finally returned last July, going 2-1 with a 3.32 ERA and 41 strikeouts in 40.2 innings over 10 minor league starts.
Now the 25-year-old Pineda finds himself entering camp this season having to prove himself as the best option for the No. 5 starter job. Here is a look at the other candidates:
|Starter||Major League Stats|
|Vidal Nuno||5 G, 3 GS, 1-2, 2.25 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 9 K, 20 IP|
|David Phelps||22 G, 12 GS, 6-5, 4.98 ERA, 1.42 WHIP, 79 K, 86.2 IP|
|Adam Warren||34 G, 2 GS, 3-2, 3.39 ERA, 1.43 WHIP, 64 K, 77 IP|
|Starter||Minor League Stats|
|Manny Banuelos||*6 G, 6 GS, 0-2, 4.50 ERA, 1.63 WHIP, 22 K, 24 IP|
|Jose Ramirez||17 G, 16 GS, 2-6, 3.67 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, 78 K, 73.2 IP|
|Nik Turley||28 G, 27 GS, 11-8, 3.79 ERA, 1.36 WHIP, 141 K, 145 IP|
For what it's worth, Pineda seems to be focused on himself at this point and not on the competition in front of him, according to another quote in the Post article.
“I’m not really paying attention [to whether] I’m the favorite or not," said Pineda. "I’m focused on my job and doing good and making it through spring training.”
Pineda relied heavily on his fastball during his time with the Mariners, throwing it 62.2 percent of the time and averaging 94.7 miles per hour, according to FanGraphs. He backed that with a good slider/changeup combination, and he may need to rely on those pitches more now if his velocity is not all the way back to where it was.
Still, he has a much higher ceiling than the likes of Phelps, Warren and Nuno, and he will get every chance to beat them out for the job.
He's not going to be asked to be anything more than a No. 5 starter, and even if he can just stay healthy enough to make about 30 starts while posting an ERA under 4.00, he'd be a big addition to the staff.
Who will win the Yankees No. 5 starter spot?
If he is, in fact, back to 100 percent and anywhere near where he was during the first half of his rookie season, he could make a significantly bigger impact though.
Sabathia is not the pitcher he once was atop the staff, and Kuroda began to show his age down the stretch last season. Tanaka has tremendous upside, but is still an unknown commodity at this point. Nova had a nice season last year, but doesn't have the track record to guarantee he'll repeat that performance.
Kuroda carried the staff for much of the first half, while Nova did at times in the second half. A healthy Pineda could be counted on in a similar capacity in 2014, while it's hard to envision someone like Phelps or Nuno being anything more than a league-average starter at best.
So what could a healthy Pineda mean for the Yankees in 2014?
Best-case scenario, it could mean another starter capable of making a significant impact and pitching like a staff ace at times.