CC Sabathia, Cliff Lee, A.J. Burnett, Andy Pettitte, Phil Hughes.
What would you say if I told you that was the starting rotation of a Major League Baseball team? You would probably say that they would inevitably be in the World Series and it would be nearly impossible to beat them.
Oh, you can also add in that it would be for a team that has had the best offense for two straight years.
That team is the New York Yankees. Everyday that passes, this startling fantasy becomes closer to reality.
Lee and Pettitte are the two pieces to this puzzle that are a bit loose. Lee isn’t even on the Yankees at this point and Pettitte contemplates retirement every year. But if history gives us any indication, this dream rotation is not very far off.
Lee, the 31-year old left-hander of the Texas Rangers, is set to be a free agent after the 2010 season. He was the Cy Young winner in 2008, leading the league in ERA. Since then, he has found homes in Cleveland, Philadelphia, Seattle and Texas. He will be looking for a more permanent home this off-season and the Yankees seem poised to haul him in.
Especially after a season where starting pitching was a weak-point, the Yankees are going to be eager to bring in a top-flight starting pitcher. And just like we saw with Mike Mussina in 2000, Jason Giambi in 2001, Hideki Matsui in 2002, Johnny Damon in 2005 and Sabathia, Mark Teixeira and Burnett in 2008, if the Yankees feel they need something they are not going to let it slip away.
Then, there is Pettitte. At 38 years old, and a contract that is about to expire, it seems like a perfect time for the 240 game winner to call it quits. Retirement has been in the discussion every year, and it will be taken even more seriously after the 2010 season.
However, history tells us that retirement after this season should not be considered.
This season Andy Pettitte became the fifteenth pitcher in Major League Baseball history to pitch at least 3,000 innings and win at least 200 games in his career. If he retires after this season he will be the first of the 15 to retire before age 39; if he retires after next season he will be only the fourth to not pitch into his forties.
Historically speaking, it would be very surprising if Lee and Pettitte were not on the Yankees next season. The Yankees need pitching and Lee is the best available help, while Pettitte is historically dominant enough to pitch for at least two more years.
Burnett is a legitimate concern as well. With a 5.26 ERA this season, he had one of the most inconsistent seasons of his career, frustrating Yankees fans week after week.
However, Burnett is going to be in the Yankees rotation next year. That part we know. As for his success, it is likely that another horrific season will not happen. This was the first season of his career where he had an ERA above five. Chances are it won’t happen again. Plus, with Lee and Sabathia in front of him—and Pettitte behind him—there will be virtually no pressure on Burnett. Will that help? We will see.
Hughes, who is entering his prime, has given us no reason to believe that he is on the decline. As a 25 year old next season, he will be in his second full season as a starter, and that can only help him.
As for Sabathia, nobody worries about him.
If the Yankees seemed scary in 2010, or even 2009, watch out for them in 2011. The Yankees have a good chance of putting together a rotation full of pitchers that most teams would love to have as aces. All they need to do is remain the Yankees they have been for the past forty years.