Yankees Offseason Shopping: A Fifth-Starter

Christopher ChavezAnalyst IIAugust 26, 2009

NEW YORK - JUNE 28: Chien-Ming Wang #40 of the New York Yankees pitches against the New York Mets on June 28, 2009 at Citi Field in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

The 2009 New York Yankees entered the season having the best projected pitching rotation in baseball. They added two aces to their team in the winter with CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett. Then their former ace, Chien-Ming Wang, dropped to the third spot of the rotation.

At that point, you have three aces at the top of your rotation. Then there is the young growing starter with Joba Chamberlain, and the aging veteran in Andy Pettitte. Every starter gives you a great chance to win.

But the rotation was great, until Chien-Ming Wang started to pitch like a fifth starter. 

All of a sudden, each starter after Wang becomes more important. Wang was put on the disabled list with anxiety problems. This was the same problem that the Detroit Tigers diagnosed starter Dontrelle Willis with. Both these pitchers probably suffered from the same psychological issue of no longer being the ace on the team.

Willis moved from the National League Marlins to the American League Tigers, and dropped a spot in the rotation because of Justin Verlander. Wang dealt with the same experience this year when he found out he was no longer "the" main guy for the Yankees, but the third main guy. This idea, probably did something to him to break his focus, and cause him to lose some of his skill. 

After coming back from the disabled list, Chien-Ming Wang was just as bad as before. He was not able to win a game and was shut down for the rest of the season because of a shoulder injury; and could be out until next July.

So what are the Yankees to do until then?

They need a fifth starter, and recent auditioners Chad Gaudin and Sergio Mitre, have shown that they can have their solid and bad days pitching. The Yankees need a starter that could give them just as good production as Wang. There are many options that the Yankees could turn to in the free agent market and in the farm system.

This year's free-agent market for pitchers isn't as start-studded as 2009's free agent pool. The top names in this year's market are John Lackey, Tim Wakefield, Erik Bedard, Tim Hudson, and Cliff Lee if they all leave their clubs respectively.

The free-agent market is always tough for pitchers because there is never a team not looking for pitching. The Yankees are a team that is just trying to get better by adding another pitcher.

Their competition, the Red Sox, could be looking for a response to the Yankees shopping spree of 2009 with a strong 2010 free agency season. The Red Sox decision to keep their team intact this past winter back-fired as they are currently watching the Yankees run away with the A.L. East. Each one of the Yankee investments from the winter has paid off. Teixeira is putting up MVP caliber statistics and CC Sabathia is also competing for the Cy Young. The Red Sox are just watching as they drop in the standings. 

The Yankees could go after a pitcher like Tim Hudson, who was dominant in the American League in the past but he would be a gamble considering his reputation filled with injuries. The pitcher that the Yankees could be most attracted to could be Rich Harden. Harden is having an average year with the Cubs this year, but was brilliant with the A's and Cubs last year. he is 8-7 and has an ERA just over four. Harden has just as much talent as Wang and could strongly make up for his absence.  

The Yankees do not need another ace in the rotation so they could putt off talks about signing Cliff Lee or John lackey if they hit the market. They shouldn't even go after Halladay unless they could get a steal and give up just a few minor prospects. That is highly unlikely though. The Yankees will probably also hold off on making a reunion with Randy Johnson also known as The Big Unit.

The same goes with American idle Carl Pavano. These are pitchers that the Yankees should stay away from unless they are really in desperate need. By desperate I mean that someone like Pavano will have to start on Opening Day, horrible memories. 

The Yankees could take a gamble on cheaper pitchers like Mark Prior, Tim Wakefield, Erik Bedard, or Jarrod Washburn. Mark Prior is always and injury risk, but could still have fifth-starter material in his arm, just like Hudson there is always an injury risk when you go after guys like him.

If it came down between Prior or Hudson, hands-down most of the baseball world would take Hudson. Tim Wakefield would be a strategic move for the Yankees. He could be used in the bullpen when Wang comes back and his acquisition would be taking away something from the Red Sox. I doubt that Tim Wakefield would leave Beantown for the city after spending several years and becoming a fan favorite there. Erik Bedard and Jarrod Washburn have always been on the Yankees radar the last few years.

The Yankees were never able to pull the trigger on a deal for one of them but could take a chance. Bedard had one good season for the Orioles and has proved to many people he doesn't have what it takes to be an ace but more of a middle or back of the rotation pitcher. When the Yankees have thought about trading for Washburn it is to have him as a fourth or fifth starter. 

The Yankees could sign one of these pitchers regardless pending their decision to bring back Pettitte. If the Yankee fan favorite decides to walk away from the game the Yankees will be out on the market again. Recently, the veteran southpaw has commented on his future saying that he could return to the mound next year because he is feeling better than ever. If the Yankees end up bringing their 27th World Series title to New York, why should they change something that worked out in the end. 

As for Chien-Ming Wang, may critics believe that the Yankees should take advantage of his current value and trade him away. There are several teams out there that could use Wang's services. Wang's current value is pretty high but could plummet considering he might be out for a year. The Yankees should move on with Wang and give someone else a chance. Ian Kennedy is coming off an injury and could be able to come back strong next year. The Yankees should try and give him another chance sooner or later. 

The main point is that Brian Cashman will have a busy winter. He has to address Johnny Damon's, Hideki Matsui's, and Andy Pettitte's contract statuses and then he can focus on the rotation. There is a lot of time to wonder whether or not Chien-Ming Wang will come back in pinstripes for 2010.