Along with returning starters Andy Pettitte, Chien Ming Wang, and Joba Chamberlain, C.C. and A.J. have returned the Yankees to a state of strong pitching.
For next year, I’d say three fifths of the rotation is an absolute lock. Those three? Sabathia, Burnett, and Chamberlain.
The questions marks are Andy Pettitte and, unfortunately, Phil Hughes.
I say that Hughes is unfortunately a question mark not because I don’t want him to start, but because I have this lingering doubt in the back of my mind that he won’t start the season in the rotation and will end up doing an ‘08-Joba that could hinder his growth.
However, I do generally have faith in Cashman and Girardi to make the right call and put Hughes in the fifth starter’s spot for 2010, regardless of who he’d be in back of.
Pettitte is also a question mark in my mind, and a slightly bigger one than Hughes. While Pettitte has said he’s interested in coming back, he said the same thing last year.
The Yankees played hardball with Andy before bringing him back. If Pettitte decides to go, or the Yankees decide that they don’t want him back, there are a few options.
The first would be to solve the problem internally and let the last spot in the rotation be decided in springing training in a competition between players such as Ivan Nova, Alfredo Aceves, Ian Kennedy, or someone else brought in during ST for that competition, like Brett Tomko in 2009.
Chad Gaudin is also another internal option, as he is still under team control in 2010 ,and has proved to be pretty serviceable as a starting pitcher.
There are also some external options. Looking at the potential free-agents for 2010, we see a few pitchers of interest, despite a generally weak class. Let’s give them the rundown and see what could pan out:
Two interesting names we see are Rich Harden and Tim Hudson. Both have the talent to be great, but both of them have injury red flags.
Hudson is coming off of Tommy John Surgery and Harden hasn’t pitched 30 games since 2004.
Ultimately, I think Hudson will return to the Braves—making one of their starters, probably Javier Vasquez open for a trade.
Harden may not be back with the Cubs, but I’d expect him to stay in the National League, where he has a better chance to keep pitching at a higher level. He seems like Ben Sheets did in the last offseason: the Yankees will probably be interested, but will want to see his medical reports first.
John Lackey is probably the best option that will definitely hit the market. However, I think the Yankees are definitely going to stay away from him. He wants a lot of money and wants a long term deal.
With Sabathia under contract for seven years and A.J. Burnett for five, and with some improved pitching prospects in the minors, I don’t think the Yankees will want to get locked in to a pitcher for a long term deal. (This is also why I don’t think they’ll be too focused on the Matt Holliday sweepstakes, but that’s a post for another time).
Brandon Webb is another possibility to hit the market, though it isn’t 100 percent likely. The Diamondbacks hold an $8.5 million option on the right hander, including what is now a $2 million buyout, thanks to three finishes in the top five of the Cy Young voting from ‘06-’08 (1, 2, 2).
The Diamondbacks don’t have a ton of money, but an $8.5 million option is pretty cheap for a pitcher of his caliber.
Cliff Lee of the Phillies has a similar option and there is no way he’ll hit the market. Ruben Amaro may have given a stupid two year deal to Jamie Moyer, but he’s not dumb enough to pass up a cheap option on Lee.
There are, however, reasons for the D-Backs to let Webb go.
One is that Arizona could use the young talent Webb would bring back from compensation picks. Since he’s missed essentially all season, Webb profiles as a Type-B free agent this season, but the Diamondbacks, ranked 26th in Baseball America’s 2009 Organizational Talent Rankings could use any help they could get in the minors.
The other reason is because Webb has missed all of this season, there could be injury concerns.
If the Diamondbacks, the team that knows Webb best, let him go, that could set off a red flag for other teams not to sign him. This report from the Arizona Republic says that if the option is not picked up, Webb will test the FA waters.
If he does hit the market, the Yankees should be in on Webb. He is a top-shelf pitcher and if the medicals clear, he’d be an incredible addition to the team on a short term deal. The aforementioned Ben Sheets could also be brought in on a similar deal, if he is deemed healthy.
If another pitcher is signed before Andy Pettitte makes his decision on whether or not to pitch again, I would like that signing to be the end of the Andy Pettitte Era (part two) in the Bronx.
We all know and love Andy, but he shouldn’t be kept if another pitcher signs, thus blocking Phil Hughes’ development again.
If I had to bet something of importance on the 2010 rotation, though, I’d put it on the five-man rotation looking like this: C.C. Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, Andy Pettitte, Joba Chamberlain, and Phil Hughes—with Aceves, Kennedy, Nova, and others either working as long men/spot starters out of the pen, or guys at AAA ready to come up when need be.