Chein-Ming Wang Out Until September: What Now, Yankees?

Mackenzie KraemerSenior Analyst IJune 17, 2008

Panic time now begins in New York.

While the Yankees, in the previous several seasons, have suffered long-term injuries to Hideki Matsui, Gary Sheffield, Derek Jeter, and even Jorge Posada this season, the Yankees have not had to replace their ace pitcher in a while.

Chien-Ming Wang had been having another good season (8-2, 4.07), but his eighth win was a costly one, as a foot injury will sideline him for at least the next ten weeks.

With Wang on the sideline, the Yankees' rotation takes a major hit. Joba Chamberlain's transition into the rotation is almost complete, so the Yankees hope he can replace some of Wang's production, but the rotation other than him looks very shaky.

Andy Pettitte has not had an ERA below four or a WHIP below 1.4 since 2005, and with his 36th birthday on Sunday, he's likely not to revert to his previous form.

Mike Mussina shares the American League lead in wins, and his ERA and WHIP of 3.87 and 1.22 are both solid, but with a watered-down fastball of 85 MPH, he might not be able to keep that pace up all season.

The rest of the rotation was a question mark before Wang got hurt, and now it's exacerbated even more. Darrell Rasner has been a pleasant surprise (3-4, 3.64, 1.21), but the Yankees still need one more starter to replace Wang.

Dan Giese will get the first opportunity. In 59 innings in the minors, he allowed just 13 earned runs for a 1.98 ERA. The 31-year old parlayed that into his second chance in the big leagues, and he allowed one run in his first 7.1 innings, proving that he does deserve a chance to start his first game in the major leagues.

There are other stopgap options in the minor leagues, like Jeff Karstens and (gulp) Kei Igawa. Karstens has struggled through injuries, and he followed up a short productive stint in 2006 by a brutal 2007 season, allowing 18 earned runs in 14.2 innings. Igawa has been in the minor leagues all season, save one terrible start. His AAA numbers aren't bad, but there are other options.

If the Yankees want to give a young arm a chance, there are options available, though they would have to shuffle around the 40-man roster. Alan Horne is returning from injury, and he is likely the Yankees' best remaining high-level pitching prospect.

Other options include Dan McCutcheon, Jeff Marquez, and Steven White, though White and Marquez have struggled in AAA, and every option mentioned here likely needs more time in the minors.

If the Yankees want to swing for the fences, they can try to acquire C.C. Sabathia or Rich Harden near the trade deadline, though by that point, Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy should be healthy. GMs Mark Shapiro and Billy Beane aren't likely to trade their aces away this early in the season, and Brian Cashman might not be willing to part with the young talent and the cash necessary to get someone like Sabathia.

So what other options remain?

Freddy Garcia is a free agent, but he's supposedly topping out at about 85 MPH now. He won't be ready before Hughes or Kennedy likely will.

Sidney Ponson is out there as well. He was pitching shockingly well for Texas before being released for being a bad guy in the clubhouse. The Yankees aren't desperate enough to try him out for a second time.

That leaves the Yankees' scouring staffs across the league, hoping to maybe get a stopgap option that way. The Mariners would likely love to part with Miguel Batista or Jarrod Washburn. Maybe the Dodgers would move Derek Lowe, or perhaps the Padres have had enough of Randy Wolf.

With the options available, the Yankees hope Giese can be the answer. While Hughes and Kennedy did not pitch too well this season, both were trusted enough to start the season in the big leagues, and by the time Giese might prove he can't be a starter, Kennedy will likely be healthy again.

Hughes will be out longer than Kennedy, but when he comes back, that's another good, young arm they can slot into the rotation.

If either young pitcher can be available by July 24, eight days off between now and then means that the Yankees only need to make up four starts between Giese, Igawa, Karstens, and whoever else might be needed.

With Chamberlain, Pettitte, Rasner, and Mussina taking most of the starts, the Yankees should be able to get at least average pitching. The offense is finally healthy, so the Yankees should be able to stay afloat.

However, the Yankees will need a healthy Wang if they hope to win at all in the playoffs. A rotation of Wang-Chamberlain-Mussina-Pettitte/Rasner is good enough to win in the playoffs, if two of the latter three pitchers (or Hughes or Kennedy) can keep up or improve upon their current paces. Without Wang, it's merely average, and the bullpen isn't particularly strong.

The Yankees will likely just try to fill those four starts internally. If they need more starts filled, or if someone else gets hurt, they'll need to explore other options. But in the meantime, while Wang's injury is a major blow to this team, it will not sink them.