MLB Rumors: Top 10 Candidates to Fill Out the Back End of the Yankees Rotation

Chris SbalcioCorrespondent IJanuary 31, 2011

MLB Rumors: Top 10 Candidates to Fill Out the Back End of the Yankees Rotation

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    ST. LOUIS - SEPTEMBER 5: Starter Chris Carpenter #29 of the St. Louis Cardinals pitches against the Cincinnati Reds at Busch Stadium on September 5, 2010 in St. Louis, Missouri.  The Cardinals beat the Reds 4-2.  (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
    Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

    The New York Yankees entered the 2010-2011 offseason with their sights set firmly on acquiring free agent lefty, Cliff Lee.  However, in the midst of a bidding war with the Texas Rangers for his services, the Philadelphia Phillies swooped in and stole Lee right out from under the Yankees' and Rangers' noses, much like the Yankees did to the Boston Red Sox in the 2008-2009 offseason with Mark Teixeira.  Nobody had seen them coming, but all of a sudden it was over, and the prize of the free agent market was gone. 

    What was worse was that the rest of the market for starting pitching help, an area that the Yankees are in desperate need of a boost in, was almost nonexistent.  The two best options were the former Cy Young Award-winning, but recently injury-plagued Brandon Webb, and Carl Pavano, who was not likely to return to the Bronx after less-than-stellar tenure in the Bronx from 2005-2008.  The only options left now are to make a trade for a starter and forfeit some of the organization's prospects, sign one of the remaining free agents, or fix the rotation from within by promoting prospects.  Almost none of these options will be too appealing to Yankees fans, but desperate times call for desperate measures, so here are ten pitchers that I believe are viable candidates to fill out the empty slots in the Yankees' rotation.

10. RHP Bartolo Colon (Spring Training Invitee)

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    Bartolo Colon won the 2005 AL Cy Young Award with the Angels
    Bartolo Colon won the 2005 AL Cy Young Award with the AngelsJim McIsaac/Getty Images

    So this is what Brian Cashman was talking about when he preached "patience."  Good, I was starting to worry there for a while that he had no idea what he was doing.  I mean, of all the "formerly-great" pitchers available on the free agent market, Colon was surely the most attractive option.  Who would want to take a risk on Brandon Webb, or Jeff Francis, or Justin Duchscherer when you can sign a sure-thing like Bartolo Colon?

    I hope none of you thought I was serious and was agreeing with my sarcastic rant.  That would be embarrassing.

    But seriously now, the Colon signing was a bit of a head-scratcher for me.  There's variety of more-attractive options still out there; Freddy Garcia, Jeremy Bonderman, and Kevin Millwood being the most prominent.  However, at the same time, Cashman did a nice job of covering his back in case Colon doesn't appeal to the Yankees during Spring Training.  His salary is only for $900,000, and he only gets paid if he makes the Yankees' 25-man roster out of Spring Training.  So, unless New York is impressed enough with Colon's stuff to give him a rotation spot, all they have to do is have an unpleasant discussion with him at the end of Spring.  And even if he makes the rotation and it doesn't play out the way the Yankees hope, his salary is affordable and easy for them to swallow.  This was a stereotypical, low-risk, high-reward move by Cashman and the Yankees.

9. RHP Chris Carpenter (Trade W/STL)

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    Chris Carpenter won the 2005 NL Cy Young Award with the Cardinals
    Chris Carpenter won the 2005 NL Cy Young Award with the CardinalsChristian Petersen/Getty Images

    Now, we follow up the 2005 AL Cy Young Award winner with his National League counterpart, St. Louis' Chris Carpenter.

    So, obviously Carpenter doesn't fit the theme of "back end of the rotation candidates," but he could be a rotation candidate, so I decided to include him.  Obviously if the Yankees were able to land him, he would slot in as their number two starter behind ace CC Sabathia.

    There are two main reasons I believe he could become available from the Cardinals.  First of all, there is the issue of Albert Pujols' contract hanging over the Cardinals' heads.  He has publicly stated that if a contract extension is not reached by the start of spring training, then the Cardinals' worst nightmare will become a reality.  Pujols will become a free agent, and every one of the other 29 clubs, including the Yankees and Red Sox, will be gunning for him.  And if you're thinking that the Bombers and Sox don't have the room for Pujols, you're sadly mistaken.  When the best player in baseball is available and willing to sign a contract with your team, you find somewhere to put him.  Unfortunately for the Cardinals, Pujols will demand an insane contract.  He'll be looking at A-Rod's contract as a starting point, and could potentially land a 10-year, $300 million deal.

    With the possibility of having to fork over that kind of money to Albert, the Cardinals may look to cut payroll, and finding a team willing to take on Carpenter's contract ($15 million in both 2011 and 2012) while also bringing them some high-end prospects in return would no doubt be appealing to them.  They NEED to retain Pujols, but don't have that kind of money right now.  The Yankees could help with that.

    The second reason that the Cardinals might be willing to part with Carpenter is because of their pitching coach, Dave Duncan.  Duncan has seemingly been able to take any pitcher with talent and make him a reliable member of the St. Louis rotation.  Carpenter himself is an example of this, as is current rotation-mate Jake Westbrook.  With this power on their side, the Cardinals might be willing to take a chance on someone like .... Bartolo Colon .... to replace Carpenter in their rotation.  It would likely take an impressive package of prospects to land Carpenter, probably including some pitching prospects, but it would be well worth having a pitcher with Carpenter's resume in their rotation.

8. RHP Andrew Brackman (Prospect)

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    TAMPA, FL - FEBRUARY 25:  Andrew Brackman #64 of the New York Yankees poses for a photo during Spring Training Media Photo Day at George M. Steinbrenner Field on February 25, 2010 in Tampa, Florida.  (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)
    Nick Laham/Getty Images

    Andrew Brackman was the 30th overall pick in the 2007 MLB Draft, and signed a $4.55 million deal with a $3.35 signing bonus with the New York Yankees.  So, you would have to assume that the expectations are fairly high for the 6' 11" righty.  In August of 2007, Brackman underwent Tommy John surgery to fix the lingering problems he had been having with his right elbow.  He returned to action in 2009, pitching for the Class A Charleston Riverdogs, and spent the 2010 season with the Class A Advanced Tampa Yankees and Class AA Trenton Thunder.  Late in 2010 he was promoted to the big leagues, but failed to make his major league debut as the Yankees were in a tight division race with the Tampa Bay Rays, which the Yankees lost on the final day of the season.

    However, the big league promotion obviously shows that the Yankees have at least some confidence in Brackman's abilities, and he will surely get a look in Spring Training given the current state of the Yankees' rotation.  He'll have to really impress the coaching staff to make the Major League club, but if he's really shutting down the big league hitters, don't be surprised if New York takes a chance on him.

7. RHP Kevin Millwood (Free Agent)

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    ST. PETERSBURG, FL - SEPTEMBER 29:  Pitcher Kevin Millwood #34 of the Baltimore Orioles pitches against the Tampa Bay Rays during the game at Tropicana Field on September 29, 2010 in St. Petersburg, Florida.  (Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images)
    J. Meric/Getty Images

    Kevin Millwood did not have a year to be proud of in 2010.  He spent his season with the last-place Baltimore Orioles and finished with 4-16 record and a 5.10 ERA.  Yeah, that's really bad, but you really have to take into account all of the factors that lead to those numbers.  As for the 4-16 record, that was almost completely due to the lack of run support, which is to be expected when you're playing for the fourth-worst team in baseball, and especially when you're in the AL East, playing most of your games against the Yankees, Red Sox, Rays, and Blue Jays, all of whom had very dangerous lineups last season.  Now if you put one of those lineups (the Yankees') behind Millwood, how much would that record change?  As for the bloated ERA, I believe that to mostly be due to lack of motivation.  It's hard to push yourself to pitch well when you pretty much expect your team to lose every day.  Playing for contender could really help Millwood.  Just look at his numbers with the 2009 Wild Card-contending Texas Rangers.  I think the Yankees would take a 13-10 record with a 3.67 ERA, especially considering how cheap Millwood should come.

6. RHP Hector Noesi (Prospect)

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    ANAHEIM, CA - JULY 11:  World Futures All-Star Hector Noesi #19 of the New York Yankees throws the ball during the 2010 XM All-Star Futures Game at Angel Stadium of Anaheim on July 11, 2010 in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
    Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

    Hector Noesi rapidly climbed the minor league ladder in 2010, making stops in Class A, AA, and AAA before the end of the season.  In all three levels combined, he posted a 14-7 record with a 3.20 ERA, and displayed great stamina, tossing three complete games.  In Class AAA Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, he did struggle a bit, posting a 1-1 record with a 4.82 ERA, but that may have been an initial promotion-adjustment period.  Either way, Noesi most likely needs another full season in Scranton and, like Brackman, would need to really impress Yankees manager Joe Girardi and new pitching coach Larry Rothschild in order to break camp in New York.  However, if the guys that the Yankees are considering the favorites to take the remaining rotation spots falter in Spring Training, Noesi might just get his shot.

5. RHP Sergio Mitre (Internal)

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    NEW YORK - OCTOBER 18:  Sergio Mitre #45 of the New York Yankees pitches against the Texas Rangers in Game Three of the ALCS during the 2010 MLB Playoffs at Yankee Stadium on October 18, 2010 in New York, New York.  (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)
    Nick Laham/Getty Images

    When I read that the Yankees offered Sergio Mitre a new contract this offseason and non-tendered Dustin Moseley, I almost threw my phone at a wall.  Sergio Mitre, in my opinion, has been given his fair share of chances and should have been non-tendered this offseason.  Is he a good long reliever?  Yes.  Should he be the Yankees fourth or fifth starter?  No.  Last season, whenever I saw Dustin Moseley taking the mound in place of the injured Andy Pettitte, I wasn't thrilled, but I also wasn't counting the game off as a loss.  Even though Moseley's ERA ended up near 5.00, I felt that every time he took the mound, the Yankees had a chance to win the game.  With Mitre, it's different.  I have watched him start games in place of injured pitchers for two years now, and if I was working in the Yankees' front office, he wouldn't have my vote of confidence.  Good news for him, though, is that I don't have a vote and, even better, he already has his manager's vote.  Joe Girardi loves Sergio Mitre.  He would love nothing more than to hand Mitre a spot in the Yankees' rotation out of Spring Training and see a whole year of the stuff that makes me sick to watch.  Knowing all of this, I hope Mitre pitches great in Spring Training and actually becomes a reliable starter for the Yankees.  But I'm not holding my breath, because I've seen the Yankees walk down this road before, and I don't think that they enjoyed it any more than I did.

4. RHP Nick Blackburn (Trade w/MIN)

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    MINNEAPOLIS, MN - MAY 27: Nick Blackburn #53 of the Minnesota Twins pitches in the first inning against the New York Yankees during the game on May 27, 2010 at Target Field in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The Twins defeated the Yankees 8-2. (Photo by Hannah Fo
    Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

    The Minnesota Twins have a plethora of viable options for their starting rotation in 2011, and it seems more than likely that Nick Blackburn will be the odd man out at the conclusion of Spring Training ... if he's still there.

    Blackburn had a terrible year in 2010.  He posted a 10-12 record with a 5.42 ERA and only 68 strikeouts in 28 games (26 starts) for Minnesota.  With the Twins already having Francisco Liriano, Carl Pavano, Scott Baker, Brian Duensing, and Kevin Slowey in their 2011 rotation, it would make sense for them to dump a struggling Blackburn that, barring an injury to any of their starters, will not receive a chance at redemption this season.  If they could get one decent prospect, or even two okay ones in return for Blackburn, the Twins would likely be satisfied.  The Yankees have plenty of small-time talent in their organization that don't figure into the club's future that could be used to acquire Blackburn.  I say roll the dice and hope for a bounce-back year.  After all, Blackburn did post two straight seasons from 2008-2009 with 11-11 records and ERA's hovering around 4.00.  Plus he's good for around 200 innings of work, and really, what more could the Yankees ask for?

3. RHP Ivan Nova (Prospect)

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    NEW YORK - SEPTEMBER 20:  Ivan Nova #47 of the New York Yankees warms up before playing against the Tampa Bay Rays on September 20, 2010 at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx borough of New York City.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
    Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

    Most Yankees fans will recognize Ivan Nova from his short tenure with the Yankees down the stretch in 2010.  He appeared in 10 games, making 8 starts, and posted a 1-2 record and a 4.50 ERA with 26 strikeouts.  He seemed to make a good enough impression in New York, as he is the clear favorite to claim the fourth slot in the Yankees' rotation as long as his Spring Training is respectable.  His numbers in the majors aren't too bad, but even they are a little deceiving.  In the vast majority of his starts, Nova pitched beautifully through the first four innings, but then fell apart in the fifth and sixth innings.  If new pitching coach Larry Rothschild can figure out a way to get another two innings out of Nova, the Yankees could have a reliable number four starter to plug into their rotation.

2. RHP David Phelps (Prospect)

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    Other than the number one guy on this list, this is the man I hope steals the show in Spring Training.  David Phelps began the 2010 season in Class AA Trenton and pitched in 14 games for the thunder, all of them starts.  Over 88 1/3 innings of work, he went 6-0 with a 2.04 ERA and 84 strikeouts.  Impressive, right?  The Yankees thought so too, and promoted Phelps to Class AAA Scranton/Wilkes-Barre where he pitched in 12 games, 11 of them starts.  Over 70 1/3 innings for Scranton, he posted a 4-2 record with a 3.07 ERA and 57 strikeouts. 

    The transition effect is clearly seen, but with combined 10-2 record, 2.50 ERA, and 141 strikeouts, you would have to assume he has earned himself a serious look in Spring Training.  Even if you add another full run to his ERA to take into account the difficulty of the Major Leagues, he would still have around a 4.07 ERA, more than acceptable to the Yankees.  Hell, if they could get a guarantee that A.J. Burnett would have a 4.07 ERA next season, they would take it in a heartbeat.

1. LHP Andy Pettitte

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    NEW YORK - OCTOBER 18:  Starting pitcher Andy Pettitte #46 of the New York Yankees looks at the ball against the Texas Rangers in Game Three of the ALCS during the 2010 MLB Playoffs at Yankee Stadium on October 18, 2010 in New York, New York.  (Photo by A
    Al Bello/Getty Images

    We all thought that this decision would have already been made back in, like, December, or early January.  But, despite "not wanting the Yankees to wait for him," that's exactly what they are doing in regards to the veteran lefty, Andy Pettitte.  He has reportedly been getting himself into "baseball shape," but nobody really knows what that means.  There have been rumors and discussions of a possible "Roger Clemens-like" midseason return for Pettitte, but somehow I have feeling that that isn't going to happen.  I think Pettitte will either just show up unannounced at the Yankees Spring Training complex on February 14th (the day that pitchers and catchers report) and sign a contract, or he won't and will make his retirement statement in the following weeks.  There's no doubt that Pettitte's presence could make or break the Yankees in 2011.  After all, "pitching wins championships," and right now the Yankees don't have enough reliable pitchers.  Pettitte is more than a reliable pitcher.  He would be an ace on many teams, and to be able to pencil in his name behind CC Sabathia's in the Yankees rotation would probably bring a tear of joy into the eyes of most Yankees fans.  If I had to call it, I would say that Andy Pettitte is going to retire, but you never know, so don't give up hope just yet...