New York Yankees' Fifth-Starter Competition: Is It Really a Competition?

Nathaniel BallanceContributor IMarch 4, 2010

The Yankees began their 2010 Grapefruit schedule with three pitchers entwined in what the Yankees label a "competition" for the last spot in their rotation.

Chad Gaudin, Sergio Mitre, and Alfredo Aceves each pitched two scoreless innings in their first game action of 2010. 

However, regardless of their performance over the next month, I have a hard time believing the Yankees will break camp with one of those three as their fifth starter.

They're useful guys to have around for rotation depth and bullpen longmen, but they're not really the caliber of pitcher that the defending champ hands the ball to every fifth day.

That being said, the remaining in-house options to fill out New York's rotation are home-grown youngsters Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain.

For the past few years, the Yankees have handled Joba Chamberlain with the utmost care.  They've monitored his innings and shifted him back and forth between the bullpen and the starting rotation.

All this caution might have you believe that the Yankees were building Joba's arm strength up in order to unleash him as a full-time starter in 2010.

But if that were the case, why have a competition at all?  The fact that the Yankees have started the audition process at all sends up some red flags.

Maybe the Yankees aren't as comfortable with Joba the starter as they let on.  Maybe they believe, as many mainstream media writers do, that Joba's stuff and makeup are best suited to a relief role.

If they were completely comfortable with Joba the starter, instead of trading valuable pieces to Atlanta for Javier Vazquez, maybe they would have made Joba the fourth starter and then held a fifth starter competition.

Maybe I'm completely off-base here and the truth is that they just want to make Joba earn a rotation spot, as handing them out to youngsters has bitten the Yanks in the past.

I certainly don't think that just over a full season of starts is enough of a sample size to accurately evaluate a pitcher as young and as talented as Joba is.  However, the Yankees undoubtedly have much more information about and experience with Joba than I do and are much better equipped to make decisions regarding his role.

Maybe this competition really is one.  Maybe Sergio Mitre has the same chance to be the Yankees fifth starter as Joba Chamberlain.  Maybe Phil Hughes and Alfredo Aceves are neck-and-neck in this race.

But on the other hand, perhaps the Yankees have already made their minds up and will hand Phil Hughes the fifth spot, and work around monitoring his innings just as they did for Joba the past few seasons.

The acquisition of Vazquez and the amount of decent options gives the Yankees the ability do just that.  And I wouldn't be surprised in the least if that happened.


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