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With Pettitte retiring, how screwed are the Yankees?

Feb 3, 2011, 1:00 PM EDT

CC Sabathia

I’ve been putting off thinking about the Yankees rotation until we knew for sure what was going on with Andy Pettitte. He’s too good a pitcher and can make too big a difference to make any kind of pronouncement without knowing his status.  Now that he’s apparently retiring, however, let’s ask the question:  Is the Yankees’ rotation good enough to get the job done?

I’m going to give a qualified yes.  It will be worse than if Pettitte was there, obviously, but a team with this rotation can compete, make the playoffs and make some noise.  That is, if everything breaks right.  The quick version:

  • Sabathia: Arguably the best pitcher in the AL. No issues there.
  • A.J. Burnett: The biggest wild card in all of baseball?  If he’s 2009 A.J., things are fine. If he’s 2010 A.J., it’s panic time.
  • Phil Hughes:  I don’t know too many people who think that he’s not the real deal and that he won’t progress nicely. If healthy, he’s more than good enough to be a #2 or #3 starter on a championship team.
  • The wild card #4:  Ivan Nova, Freddy Garcia, Bartolo Colon or Sergio Mitre are currently in the mix.  I wouldn’t bet much dough that any single one of them will have a solid, 30-start season, but I wouldn’t bet against at least one of them being solid. Does that make sense?  In my mind it makes sense.  It will take a lot of work, monitoring and gambling on Joe Girardi’s part, but if he reads the signs from spring training correctly, plays the hot hand and is eager to use the pen when necessary, any of the four of those guys — or more likely, some combination of them — may work out well.
  • Fifth spot:  The fifth spot in a rotation is almost always a crap shoot. Even one of the #4 guys who isn’t on-point can cover this competently if need be.

The optimistic spin here:  the Yankees rotation is no worse today with Petitte’s retirement than it was yesterday with him not yet committed.  The worry: there is no margin for error here. If Burnett has another lost season and if there is an injury to either Hughes or Sabathia, it’s time for a full-blown freakout.

  1. uyf1950 - Feb 3, 2011 at 1:06 PM

    Craig, you pretty much hit the nail on the head. I would just mention you have not included in your analysis perhaps the Yankees are able to make a trade for at least a solid #3 starter sometime during the spring (if not by opening day). While obviously Pettitte coming back would have been very, very nice. I by no means think this is a disaster of epic proportions. It’s more like a hiccup that I’m sure the Yankees will overcome.

  2. larryhockett - Feb 3, 2011 at 1:07 PM

    Pettitte comes back mid-season ala late career Clemens, makes a fortune for a short season of work. Yankees fans and most media hail his un-retirement as more or less the second coming of the Messiah.

  3. bigharold - Feb 3, 2011 at 1:12 PM

    Burnett is the key. As stated if last year’s Burnett shows up it could get ugly.

    On the other hand, if you look at the competition in the AL east it’s certainly not all doom and gloom. The O’s will be tougher and the Jays will cause problems but neither is a real threat to contend for the division. The Rays have many issues and could contend but likely will slide a bit. The RS rotation is no better off than the Yankee rotation. They, at least on paper, have two good starters and three question marks. Their pen is better than last year but that is not saying much considering last year and it’s still not as good as the Yankee pen.

    The Yankees job just got tougher but they are more than capable of winning the division. This coming season looks to be a great one.

    • uyf1950 - Feb 3, 2011 at 1:14 PM

      Perhaps I’m a little bias, but that was/is an excellent post and analysis.

      • bigharold - Feb 3, 2011 at 1:21 PM

        The one thing that sems likely this year is that the AL east won’t send two teams to the playoffs, .. and that isn’t a lock.

        With the O’s, Jay’s and Rays giving the Yankees and RS fits at times I can’t see either team dominating. There doesn’t seem to be door mats in the AL east which translates in to a tough and exciting season.

      • uyf1950 - Feb 3, 2011 at 1:35 PM

        BigHarold – I am going to disagree with you about the wild card not coming from the AL East. While you might be correct that it isn’t a lock. I see it as a darn good chance chance. I see both the Yankees and the Sox in excess of 90+ wins. I’m sure other will disagree. But I really don’t see any team in the AL Central posting more then 90 wins and I certainly don’t see 2 teams in either the Central or West posting 90+ wins other then the possible winners in each division.
        As for the Yankees they won 95 games last year and for the most part from Aug. 1st through Oct. 3rd they played pretty poorly. I don’t see that as being the case this coming year. The bullpen a weak spot last year is a strength this season. Vazquez is gone and beside he only won 10 games last year and pitched pretty poorly for most of the season. You are correct about AJ being a key. My hope and expectation is with the Yankees NEW pitching coach, AJ will have a better year in 2011. Perhaps I’m being overly optimistic but I still see 95 wins for the Yankees in 2011. May be a little more if AJ can really turns things around and get his ERA to right around 4.00 or a little less.

    • Gabriel - Feb 3, 2011 at 4:07 PM

      The Yankees rotation is not NEARLY as good as the Red Sox. Lester. Bucholtz, Beckett, Lackey, Dice-K and Wakefield for insurance is simply much better than Sabathia, Hughes, Burnett and two #5s. The Yankees hitting should be very good until an injury strikes-their bench is one of the worst in all of baseball. The Red Sox are clearly the the class of the division. (and league). Yankees are about the same level as the Rays in talent but I could see a team like the Angels or White Sox getting the wild card as well. The Yanks have the money and prospects to trade so you can’t count them out, but this was a terrible off-season for them.

      • bigharold - Feb 3, 2011 at 5:44 PM

        “The Red Sox are clearly the the class of the division. (and league).”

        Thank You for the annual the RS are the best team in the, (circle one), division, .. AL, .. MLB rant from the Nation. That’s exactly what was said last year and the year before and….

        I was afraid I was going to miss it.

      • Ari Collins - Feb 3, 2011 at 7:15 PM

        Actually, the Red Sox haven’t been this good on paper pre-season since… the ’03/’04 offseason, maybe? I certainly can’t remember a time Boston had four guys who project to have a shot at the MVP.

        That said, I don’t know how you’ve missed the inanity of people proclaiming the ’11 Red Sox the best team in franchise history or the best team in ML history. Cool it, guys. They’ve got a 95-98 win team on paper, and that should be more than enough.

        Anyway his point was just that, without Pettitte, the Yankees have very little depth. If one of Boston’s top two gets hurt, there’s Wakefield. If one of New York’s top two gets hurt, alluva sudden you have 3 #5s on the team. Four if Burnett can’t turn things around. Basically they’ve taken last year’s rotation and replaced the 2nd best starter (Pettitte) and the 5th best starter (Vazquez) with their 6th and 7th best starters. And replaced their #6 and #7 starter with.. Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia. But, umm… at least the bullpen’s better!

      • Gabriel - Feb 4, 2011 at 6:31 AM

        Bigharold, I am not a Red Sox fan, but they are the best team in the AL just as the Phillies are the best team in the NL. I don’t think you’ll find any non-Yankee fans who disagree with that. The Red Sox has 89 wins last year with just horrible injuries. Pedroia, and Youkilis missed about half the season and Ellsbury missed basically the entire year. These are not expected injuries like you can argue the injuries to Martinez, Beckett, and Cameron were. If you just have those guys relatively healthy they would have easily passed the Yankees last year and the Red Sox have improved this year and the Yankees have gotten worse.
        Back to the rotations…
        1)Lester versus Sabathia-call it a wash. Both top-5 pitchers in the AL
        2)Bucholtz versus Hughes-Not close. Bucholtz was second in the league in ERA.
        3) Beckett versus Burnett-Both had bad years, but Burnett has never really been particularly good and Beckett is a better bet for a comeback.
        4)Lackey versus whoever-Massive edge for Boston even if Lackey was disappointing last year.
        5) Dice-K versus whoever-See above

  4. BC - Feb 3, 2011 at 1:12 PM

    They’re toast – to the point where they’ll stuggle to be in playoff contention. You heard it here first.

    • yankeesfanlen - Feb 3, 2011 at 1:17 PM

      Now BC, that’s not right. It would mean coming in third in the East, which is not going to happen. Furthermore, who in the Central or West is going to have the record to be a wildcard contender?When was the last time this even happened?

      • Cold weather Stupid Bowls need to be banned! - Feb 3, 2011 at 2:08 PM

        The Rays are the cream of the crop in the AL East, Boston spent like the Yankees and will beat them for the wild card this year.

        Manny and Damon along with the rest of the young Rays will bring the WS title to St Petersburg this season.

        On another note – the Phillies will manage to implode themselves this coming season as well.

      • Jonny 5 - Feb 3, 2011 at 2:39 PM

        Actually your wires are crossed a bit. Boston will probably take the East, with the Rays battling the Yanks for the card, that is if one of the other AL’s don’t make a good run to beat them both to the WC, it’s not like they’re battling withing particularly strong divisions.

        And the Phills will not implode………………. “There are 30 major-league teams, and I’m in Philadelphia because I feel like this is the best team,” Lee said.

        Read more: http://www.philly.com/philly/sports/phillies/20110203_Inside_the_Phillies__Phillies__Cliff_Lee_appears_at_the_auto_show.html#ixzz1CvVZbHyr
        Watch sports videos you won’t find anywhere else

      • yankeesfanlen - Feb 3, 2011 at 2:54 PM

        Jonny, I know you were answering cold weather, but as to your argument about the AL Central and West not being in strong divisions, that’s exactly why they won’t have enough wins for a wildcard. The division winner always backs in and usually doesn’t equal the top 3 in the East.
        As for CW’s comment on the Phightins’- that doesn’t happen, that’s the Metropolitans job.

      • Jonny 5 - Feb 3, 2011 at 4:44 PM

        I agree Len, but the key word is “usually” And honestly the Rays and the Yanks aren’t going to come close to their 2010 record in my estimation. Leaving that WC spot more vulnerable imo. And that’s just a maybe on my part. Because you just never know what’ll happen.

        Think about it. 6 more games dropped by both teams from last years record and the WC spot is wide open. I think 6 games below last season is reasonable for the hits both teams took. I could be way off here, but I see it as opening up the competition some. I think it’ll be a death match to the end in the AL to get that WC spot.

      • yankeesfanlen - Feb 3, 2011 at 6:56 PM

        Jonny- If the Universe had won six games LESS last year (89), they still would have been tied with the Nation. Not to worry though, they’ll win 98 this year.
        Offensively they will score better because Tex has to improve, Derek Sanderson Jeter has to prove himself, Granderson was great the last 6 weeks, Gardner gained experience, Swish is Swish, and leave ARod alone (42 homers)

    • Jonny 5 - Feb 3, 2011 at 2:48 PM

      BC, That is not the NY vs. NY hate i expected from you sir. You’ve let me down…. :(

      • BC - Feb 3, 2011 at 3:45 PM

        The Yankees will still win 15 more games than the Mets, I’m thinking about 88-90. Boston and Tampa will fight it out for 1-2. Only way the Yankees get in is if Boston’s starting pitching goes kerflooey or Tampa’s bullpen craters.

  5. yankeesfanlen - Feb 3, 2011 at 1:13 PM

    The most telling aspect of how this turns out will be AJ. That’s what we get for throwing big money at someone who always beat us, but seems unable to beat everyone else (in the division) consistantly and effectively. If we go on the basis that he can win 8 games before the ASB and only blow up 2 or 3 times, that will settle a number of questions.
    I think Hughes will be lights-out this year, and with Sori and Mo we just have to make 7 innings. It’s quite possible to be within 4 games of the top by the break, and then no problems.

    • uyf1950 - Feb 3, 2011 at 1:18 PM

      yankeesfanlen, I think the Yankees only need the #4 and #5 starters to make it through 5 hopefully 6 innings if they wind up being some combination of Nova, Garcia and Millwood if the Yankees sign him. Discounting Joba, don’t forget Robertson, Logan and Feliciano are in the pen.

      • spudchukar - Feb 3, 2011 at 1:23 PM

        I have a better idea. How about we go out and sign 3 or 4 dependable middle-relief guys and forget about #4 and #5 and let them all throw a couple of innings.

      • yankeesfanlen - Feb 3, 2011 at 1:31 PM

        Hey, let’s have THE FAT TOAD in the #5 slot, just for jollies.The long-relief guys just might carry us through innings 4-7. Particularly Robertson.

      • Jonny 5 - Feb 3, 2011 at 4:46 PM

        Somewhere Joba is smiling from ear to ear…..

  6. spudchukar - Feb 3, 2011 at 1:20 PM

    Craig, go back to Maker’s Mark, the Kool-Aid is bad for your noggin’. Every team can present some rosy scenario where if this guy has a career year, and if all the pieces fall into place, and if their manager pulls all the right strings etc, etc. The facts are: a team with a $250 mil payroll is deciding on their #4 and #5 starters from a pool of Garcia, Mitre, Nova and Colon. The Kansas City Royals will be mulling the possibilities of Francis, O’Sullivan, Davies or Chen. I like the Royals choices better.

    • uyf1950 - Feb 3, 2011 at 1:39 PM

      spudchukar – I expect more from you. Ever poster can inflate a teams payroll to try and make a point. You know as well as I do the Yankee payroll in 2011 isn’t $250M.

  7. sdelmonte - Feb 3, 2011 at 1:29 PM

    Should be an interesting season in the AL East, like usual.

    Unless you’re bored with Yanks-Red Sox, annoyed the Rays won’t be as good this season, and root for Toronto or Baltimore.

    • pisano - Feb 3, 2011 at 1:42 PM

      uyf1950… now that the Pettitte thing is settled we can get on with a solid trade or two, uyf1950, I’ve said this in the past and I hope I’m right, but Mitre is the dark horse here. Everyone is selling him short, but if he is sound and he should be after a year and a half the guy is a ground ball machine. Nova is going to surprise people this year. Andy retiring might be a blessing.

      • uyf1950 - Feb 3, 2011 at 2:05 PM

        My friend, I’m not as keen on Mitre, I have no problem with Nova. I think/believe he has a lot of upside. Honestly I really think of the 4 possibilities out there that are currently available for a #5 (Garcia, Mitre, Colon or Millwood if he gets sigend) in order of preference for me it would be: Millwood, Garcia, Mitre and would throw Colon back to the fishes. Then I would see how Brackman has done and if necessary bring him up at the trade deadline. Or better yet put some of these pieces together that Cashman has signed this off season like Maxwell and a prospect or 2 or Joba and work a trade with some team looking for cost certainty for a few years. Just thinking out loud.

      • yankeesfanlen - Feb 3, 2011 at 2:11 PM

        PLEASE save us from Millwood. Although I normally agree with you, I’m thinking either Colon or Garcia, probably Colon, will work through til the deadline.

  8. psousa1 - Feb 3, 2011 at 1:39 PM

    He very well could be back next year. He is going to be in the middle of a sh!t storm this summer, having to admit to his own use and testify against Clemens.

    • bigharold - Feb 3, 2011 at 2:16 PM

      If that is thereason he could come back in July too after he testifies.

      That might be a reason but I don’t think it was the reason.

  9. uyf1950 - Feb 3, 2011 at 1:59 PM

    Does everyone know what’s being lost in all of this? The Rays just signed Lopez to a minor league contract. Therefore depriving the Red Sox of a compensatory draft choice. Where is all the outrage?

    • spudchukar - Feb 3, 2011 at 2:13 PM

      I thought it was cool, pick up a versatile veteran and screw your rivals at the same time. Go Rays.

  10. 18thstreet - Feb 3, 2011 at 1:59 PM

    If you’re a Yankee fan (and I’m not), what’s the case for optimism on AJ Burnett?

    • yankeesfanlen - Feb 3, 2011 at 2:05 PM

      We’ll never really know. It has something to do with Dave Eiland and his pitcher-whisperer style, as well as the unexplained black eye on AJ in August.
      With a new pitching coach we may get his concentration back this year.
      Persaonally, I think his mechanics looked a little, almost indescirbable “off” for most of the season.

      • spudchukar - Feb 3, 2011 at 3:25 PM

        No truer words have ever been linked to describe Burnett “looked a little,… off”.
        Were he a light switch there might be room for optimism, and he is environmentally conscious, because he is seldom “on”.

    • bigharold - Feb 3, 2011 at 2:14 PM

      Burnett had a terrible year last year but he’s not a terrible pitcher. There was no physical reason for Burnett’s flame out last year so one has to conclude that it’s either mechnial or mental. If it was mechanical perhaps a new year with a new pitching coach will make the difference. If it was mental, well again new year new coach. And, no Posada behind the plate. While I never brought into the thesis that Burnett and Posada could sync up at the very least it is no longer an issue.

      Frankly I think Burnett bouncing back is more probable than Beckett’s back holding up or Matasuzaka all the sudden remaining healthy and becoming the piycher he was in 2008.

      Regardless, it does make for a potentially great season of baseball.

      • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Feb 3, 2011 at 3:56 PM

        The problem with Burnett is the same as it was before, is now, and will be in the future. He’s a two pitch pitcher (fball/curve). If he can’t throw the curve for strikes, hitters sit on the fball and it’s a long day for us Yankees fans. If he can throw it for strikes (or get people to swing at it), he can have a great game.

        In the beginning of the year the curve was spinning nicely, then everything fell off the table.

  11. bafong - Feb 3, 2011 at 2:02 PM

    You all need to step back. The Yanks have an awesome lineup. I could win 10 game if I got the run support they will generate. The 4 and 5 starters were terrible last year and they still won 95. No one fears the Orioles, Bj’s and rays

    • yankeesfanlen - Feb 3, 2011 at 2:08 PM

      Since this was about pitchers, I hadn’t adressed this. You’re absolutely right, 950 runs will cover a multitude of sins.

      • Ari Collins - Feb 3, 2011 at 2:59 PM

        So they’re going to score 100 more runs than last year… because of all their offensive upgrades? Because they’re all a year older and… a year wiser?

    • spudchukar - Feb 3, 2011 at 2:10 PM

      Sorry, didn’t mean to inflate, just rounding off to the nearest 1/2 mil, it is above $225 though isn’t it?

      • Ari Collins - Feb 3, 2011 at 3:04 PM

        Actually it’s just under $200M, $194M. Then it’s $158M for the Phillies, $155M for Boston, $131M for the Mets, $128M for the White Sox and Angels.

        Per B-Ref, which is estimating arb cases based on, I believe, the mid-points between the team and agent filings.

        Still 27% higher than anyone else, but not $250M or $225M, no.

      • Panda Claus - Feb 3, 2011 at 3:41 PM

        Then it will be over $200M after they bring in Millwood. Maybe they can trade for Kawakami while they’re at it.

      • spudchukar - Feb 3, 2011 at 4:12 PM

        OK, OK, my bad, I get dizzy when I get to the upper reaches of the numerical stratosphere.

    • spudchukar - Feb 3, 2011 at 2:11 PM

      No one feared the Giants last year either.

    • Cold weather Stupid Bowls need to be banned! - Feb 3, 2011 at 2:13 PM

      No one fears the Yankmees or Dead Sox either bafong. With all the money in the world to buy the best team they can sling together every season – it still doesn’t translate into the title every year.

      The Rays will be the best in MLB this year – youth and experience along with a manager that gets the most out of the low payroll situation. I’ll be there opening day to watch another AL East banner rise to the roof of the pleasantly air conditioned, best stadium fit for its location, Tropicana Field.

    • thinman61 - Feb 3, 2011 at 2:34 PM

      You can’t hit your way to a championship. Plenty of Red Sox “wall ball” teams proved this–over and over again–in the 70′s and 80′s.

  12. Mark - Feb 3, 2011 at 3:06 PM

    I wouldn’t say that Sabathia is arguably the best SP in the AL. He’s not even the best lefty in his own division.

    • Ari Collins - Feb 3, 2011 at 3:30 PM

      +1.

      Felix, Verlander, and Lester are better for sure. Maybe Haren too. Price and Liriano and Weaver if you want to go for shorter track records of greater dominance.

      I’d be fine with saying he’s in the top 5, and there’s not a huge difference between any of those guys and Sabathia. Except maybe Felix.

  13. jams56 - Feb 3, 2011 at 3:24 PM

    Since I live in Wilkes barre where the Yankees triple a team is I saw

  14. jams56 - Feb 3, 2011 at 3:26 PM

    Nova pitch a few times he’s good he had a 20 strikeout game last year he just needs to get past the 4th inning with out imploding

  15. tominma - Feb 3, 2011 at 4:00 PM

    Pettitte’s retirement wont screw Yankee pitching! It’s already screwed!!

  16. proudlycanadian - Feb 3, 2011 at 4:18 PM

    Having watched Burnett pitch in Toronto, I believe that we saw the real A. J. last season. He can only be trusted in contract years. The rest of the time he loses his concentration very very frequently.

    • Mark - Feb 3, 2011 at 4:29 PM

      I saw the same AJ you did, and it had more to do with how good his curveball was. Not surprisingly last year his curveball was awful and it made him a one pitch pitcher. He still averaged 93 MPH with his FB which isn’t bad, but you can’t get away with that when everybody knows it’s coming.

      His season hinges on whether or not he rediscovers his curveball. Simple as that.

  17. thinman61 - Feb 3, 2011 at 4:19 PM

    The thing that could really kill the Yankees is lack of pitching depth. They’re already into reclamation projects and call ups to fill out the back end of their rotation. If any of Sabbathia, Burnett or Hughes get injured and have to hit the DL for any length of time, they’ll be in a world of hurt.

  18. baseballstars - Feb 3, 2011 at 8:08 PM

    I think people are underrating the Blue Jays.

  19. marinermousse - Feb 4, 2011 at 2:50 AM

    I find it amazing that the Yankees could not manage to spend $10 or 12mm to protect the $200mm they are already spending by picking up a good 4th arm. They could have done this, even while Pettite was making up his mind as they had TWO black holes for 4 and 5. Several teams, lately, seem to have spent big $$ on areas they are already strong in, and ignore gaping holes elsewhere; resulting in a lack of balance. They have some trading fodder with several very promising catchers in their farm system, but they need to start the season with a decent rotation and not wait till trade deadline or for a Pettite siting in July!!

    It is also possible that if they had offered Pettite $15-$17mm (less than what they were willing to pay Cliff Lee) for the one season, he might have drifted closer instead of the purported $12mm, which put him in the Carlos Silva pay scale.

    • uyf1950 - Feb 4, 2011 at 6:09 AM

      I’d be interested to know who you think the Yankees should have spent “$10 to $12M on for a good 4th arm”. Since Pavano was the only other legit FA pitcher on the market. As for the comment about Pettitte and what the Yankees “could” have offered him a lot of supposition in that comment.
      I think and it’s just my opinion that Pettitte and the Yankees know each other well enough that if money was the issue the deal would ave gotten done, be it at $12 or 15M. My guess and it’s just that, is that there was/is more to Andy’s decision to retire then money and that’s why it took him so long to come to a final decision. But that’s just my opinion.

  20. marinermousse - Feb 4, 2011 at 11:49 PM

    e.g. Jorge de la Rosa, Jake Westbrook, or gambled on one of the better “iffy” arms like Erik Bedard (Duscherer, Young). In addition, several top arms were traded without the Yankees seemingly “in on” the chase. If they were willing to give up Montero + for 3 months of Cliff Lee, then I would think they would have been willing to give up Montero + for one of the decent established arms that were available. I think Cashman blew this one, and perhaps his chagrin at the Soriano signing was the fact that he realized they needed a starter. For a team like the Yankees to move forward with two black holes at #4 and #5 is very dangerous in that division. This is not the post-season where you can ride #1 and #2 (and possibly #3). This is especially true with Burnett not being a lock to turn around. Maybe they can hook up with Cincinnati, as they seem to have 7 viable starters and can use a “catcher of the future” like Montero.

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