The State of the Yankees Rotation
The original diagnosis of Ivan Nova’s elbow injury was confirmed yesterday with team doctors recommending Tommy John surgery for the right-hander. The Yankees have few in-house options to take Nova’s place, calling on Vidal Nuno with David Phelps and Adam Warren waiting in the wings — hardly the rotation stalwarts fans expect in pinstripes. In a very tight AL East, the Yankees rotation needed to step up, so the loss of Nova is huge. Without pitching depth to weather significant injuries to the starting rotation, where do the Yankees go from here?
Vidal Nuno received the first shot at starting and performed admirably, logging five shutout innings with six punchouts against two walks. It earned him a little slack on the leash. However, prior to Sunday, Nuno had three appearances on the season: a scoreless ninth inning in a 6-2 ballgame, a lefty-lefty matchup (he walked Adam Lind), and a brutal three-inning stint against Baltimore. Having thrown only 64.2 innings last season, Nuno isn’t the answer and cannot be expected to pitch 125+ innings.
David Phelps and Adam Warren, the other immediate rotation options, have been used in short relief. Phelps has been average. Warren’s been effective working out of the pen. Reading between the lines, the Yankees’ selection of Phelps and Warren for the Major League bullpen (versus leaving one or both stretched out in Triple-A) shows they really don’t consider either pitcher a long-term option for the rotation. Mike Newman’s analysis of the Mets closer conundrum is reflective of the situation here- guys who can be starters should keep starting until they prove they can’t. While all three pitchers have extensive experience starting in the minors, none should be counted on to be the Yankees rotation solution.
When Brett Marshall was designated for assignment in December, it seemed like a straightforward transaction- the Yanks needed to clear a spot on the 40-man roster and Marshall had a rough 2013. The righty was claimed off waivers and the Yankees lost a potential #4 starter and player Newman raved about in Single-A. If kept, Marshall would be filling out the rotation in Scranton Wilkes-Barre, ready to start if needed, and Phelps and Warren would be fine in the pen. While the loss of guys like Marshall doesn’t make or break the organization, the effect of thinning depth is felt at the MLB level.
To make matters worse, the Yankees’ resolve will be severely tested in the form of Michael Pineda. After shoulder issues caused him to miss all of 2012 and 2013, Pineda won the 5th spot in the rotation after he showed he was healthy this spring. However, expecting Pineda to rack up anywhere near 200 innings is foolish. The Yankees know better than to risk the long-term health of Pineda. The most likely strategy is to skip Pineda’s turn in the rotation when possible and keep him in position to contribute in September. A likely suspension for a pine tar hickey will help keep innings limits down though.
The best-case in-house option isn’t in the bullpen or Triple-A. He’s currently building arm strength in A-ball. Manny Banuelos has been on the prospect radar for a long time, yet the diminutive left-hander is only 23. Having logged only 24 innings the last two seasons, missing all of 2013 due to Tommy John surgery, is he healthy enough for a quick ascent? Plus, Banuelos struggled to command pitches prior to injury. With Tommy John, it takes awhile for prior command to return. Banuelos has the raw ability to make meaningful starts for the Yankees this season, but the mention of Banuelos as the best in-house option for this season shows the lack of depth more than anything.
What Happens Next for the Yankees Rotation?
In all likelihood, the Yankees will address their rotation from outside the organization. In need of an innings eater to protect Pineda a pitcher like Freddy Garcia would help. With Garcia close to a deal to pitch in Asia, would he be tempted by a return to the Bronx?
Could a veteran starter be had via trade for a lower-level prospect? The Twins’ Kevin Correia is free agent at year’s end and Minnesota might part with him. Same for Miami’s Kevin Slowey, since the Marlins likely won’t sign the righty to a new contract this off-season. These names aren’t meant as speculation, just example of the type of arms New York can and should be targeting.
The Yankees rotation is in rough shape, but the solution is fairly easy. Nuno is not the guy (neither is Phelps or Warren), Pineda needs some cover, and there’s nothing in Triple-A to inspire confidence. The Yankees need a starter capable of logging innings — good innings are secondary at this point. Whether he arrives through a trade or off waivers (Lucas Harrell seemed like a decent option before Houston outrighted him), too many options exist to expect Vidal Nuno to make it through May as a member of the Yankees rotation.
24 Apr 2014 / Ben Flajole /
Categories: MLB Analysis
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