New York Yankees: Could Failure to Trade for Starting Pitcher Prevent a Repeat?

Teddy MitrosilisAnalyst ISeptember 21, 2010

OAKLAND, CA - AUGUST 06:  Cliff Lee #33 of the Texas Rangers pitches against the Oakland Athletics at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum on August 6, 2010 in Oakland, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

On the night that the New York Yankees unveiled a seven-foot tall monument of their late owner George Steinbrenner, the American League leaders won their 91st game of the season by beating the Tampa Bay Rays.

With 12 games to play, New York leads Tampa Bay by 1.5 games in the A.L. East and leads the Minnesota Twins by one game for the best record in the league. 

New York leads the league in runs scored, is third in homers, second in walks, first in OBP, and second in OPS.

On the mound, the Yankees rank in the upper-half of the A.L. in ERA, walks, and strikeouts.

So, what's the problem?

Well, there is no problem exactly.

New York is a juggernaut, much like the team that beat the Philadelphia Phillies last year to win the World Series.

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Prior to the season, the club made two moves that got The Bronx talking. One worked out OK, the other not so much.

New York traded for Curtis Granderson in hopes that he would help it upgrade defensively in center field as well as bring some additional pop to the top of the order.

Granderson has done that.

His 21 homers have been nice even if his OBP is lacking for a player with his skill set.

The other deal—bringing in Javier Vazquez—hasn’t paid off for New York. After having a tremendous 2009 with the Atlanta Braves, the Yankees thought they were getting an All-Star caliber pitcher, a guy they could lock into the middle of their rotation.

Vazquez hasn't been that, but rather a weak link in a solid rotation.

Vazquez's walks are way up and his strikeouts are way down compared to a season ago. Sure, some of that has to be credited to moving from the National League to the A.L. East, but the point is that Vazquez isn't who New York thought it would get.

And that's the issue we are getting at with these Yankees. No, Vazquez isn’t the problem, he’s just part of the problem. 

How Deep Is the Starting Rotation?

If there's one thing that may stifle New York's chances of repeating as World Series champions, it's lack of depth in the starting rotation.

The rotation is the one area the general manager, Brian Cashman, didn't address at the trade deadline this summer.

Cashman wanted to upgrade his bench, and he wanted to get some bullpen help.

Adding Lance Berkman and Austin Kearns to the bench worked fine, although both of them have been relative non-factors. Kearns has struck out in more than a third of his at-bats while Berkman has yet to hit a homer since coming to New York via Houston.

When the Yankees made their title run last year, a large part of it was due to Phil Hughes and his transformation of the bullpen.

Hughes became the set-up guy to Mariano Rivera, and he excelled in that role. Hughes pitched so well that he even hinted he would be open to becoming the closer when Rivera decided to walk away from the game.

No need for that.

Rivera has pitched as well as ever, and the Yankees put Hughes in the starting rotation full-time this season, a role that he has grown accustomed to and has had some early success in.

That left a void in the bullpen.

With Joba Chamberlain struggling and the Yankees not entirely comfortable with handing all of the responsibility to David Robertson, Cashman went and got Kerry Wood.

The epitome of a high-risk, high-reward move, Wood brought his power stuff to New York and has been phenomenal because he has been able to stay healthy. Wood has a 0.39 ERA with 26 strikeouts in 23 innings, his fastball and slider as toxic as ever.

But, boy, the bullpen may need to be that good if New York’s rotation can’t roll out four consistent guys come October.

Look, it's not as if the Yankees' rotation can't dominate any team on any night. It can. The upside there is tremendous. But the questions, you may say, are plentiful. 

CC Sabathia…Then What?

You have CC Sabathia. He's a horse who manager Joe Girardi can count on two or three times per series in the playoffs and a guy who you could stack up against any other pitcher in baseball and like your chances. So, the Bombers at least have that much.

But that's where the certainty ends.

Andy Pettitte had a phenomenal first half, but then missed extended time after the All-Star break due to a leg injury and is just working his way back now. How will his leg(s) and arm hold up when the furnace gets cranked up in the postseason? Are his body and arm in the proper condition to handle that stress?

We don't know.

A.J. Burnett will get the ball, but that's because of his upside, which is magnificent, and the fact that the Yankees need to justify the mega-dollars they handed him two winters ago along with Sabathia.

But which Burnett New York gets is anybody's guess.

And then there's Hughes.

Hughes has good stuff and looks like he has settled into being a starter, but there’s something entirely different about starting in the playoffs when your team is facing elimination, a level of nerves Hughes has never encountered.

That's where Cashman may have whiffed at the deadline by not securing a Cliff Lee or a Dan Haren.

The Yankees went after Lee hard, but they reportedly didn't want to empty the farm system for a guy they could go after five months later in free agency.

Yankees' catching prospect Jesus Montero was the deal-breaker, and then the Texas Rangers stepped up and offered the Seattle Mariners a package built around Justin Smoak.

With that, Lee went to Texas.

And what about Haren?

He would have been great, too, but it again came down to prospects versus dollars for New York.

Cashman didn't want to split with many premier prospects if he had to pay Haren's contract entirely, which would have been in excess of $30 million.

Cashman reportedly was willing to part with Joba Chamberlain, but only if the dollars made sense.

It didn't happen, and now Chamberlain is back to throwing bullets out of the bullpen.

Some shine came off Lee when he got hammered around during August, and some people questioned his health and whether or not he was "breaking down."

I don't buy it. I'd still love to lead my rotation with Cliff Lee in the postseason.

The Yankees have the talent to win a title again this year.

Who knows, maybe their starting rotation will be the cog that gets it done.

Or maybe New York will just hit its way to victory.

But unless Pettitte pitches like he did in the first half and Burnett pitches up to his ability, Cashman may have plenty of time to wonder this winter why he didn't pull the trigger on another starting pitcher.

Follow Teddy Mitrosilis on Twitter. You can reach him at tm4000@yahoo.com.