With the recent signings of Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia to go along with Sergio Mitre, and a few attractive options in Triple-A, I'd say it's high time we take a look at each option and see who the best fit really is for the Yankees' 5th starter.
Now this comparison assumes that Andy Pettitte is not coming back, at least to start the season, and Ivan Nova is the current 4th starter. Obviously if Pettitte decides to return, he takes a spot in the rotation as the #2 or #3 guy and Nova becomes the 5th starter, rendering all of this moot. This also assumes that Brackman, Betances, ManBan, and Stoneburner are not going to be considered because of innings limitations for 2011.
Pros- Had some success in 2010 (although mostly as a reliever); pitched to a decent ERA and WHIP in 2010; high groundball rate; low line drive rate; has leg up on everybody else by currently being penciled into the 5th spot.
Cons- FIP doesn't correspond with ERA and WHIP (which means some luck was involved); huge home-vs.-road splits that show Mitre pitches worse at The Stadium than on the road; more success as a reliever than starter in 2010 (.598 OPS against as reliever vs. .835 OPS against as a starter); generally considered to be replacement level at best.
Pros- pitched well in 2010 (28 Ks, 6 BBs, 1.93 ERA in 37.1 IP in 7 starts); pitched on a team coached by Tony Pena; low-risk Minor League contract.
Cons- put up the above numbers in a Dominican winter league (which probably sucked from a talent level perspective); hasn't pitched in the Majors since '09; hasn't thrown more than 100 innings in the Majors since '05; quality of stuff is completely unknown (but assumed to be nil); huge injury risk; questionable fitness level at best; old as fuck.
Pros- Threw 157 innings last year in the AL; low walk rate; has pitched well at Yankee Stadium in the past; wants to be a Yankee; low-risk Minor League contract.
Cons- Didn't pitch very well in 2010 (4.64 ERA, 4.77 FIP); doesn't miss bats; high home run rate (doesn't translate well to homer friendly Yankee Stadium); stuff is almost non-existent at this point (87 MPH fastball).
Pros- Solid stuff (90-93 MPH fastball, good changeup); great command of fastball; low walk rate; smooth delivery; innings limit shouldn't be a problem after throwing 160.1 innings in 2010.
Cons- No reliable off-speed pitch; doesn't command off-speed stuff as well as the fastball; no experience at Major League level (possibly Ivan Nova situation in going through a Major League lineup multiple times).
Pros- Solid stuff (93-95 MPH fastball, 90 MPH 2-seamer, good curve); good control; gets groundballs; innings limit shouldn't be a problem after throwing 158.2 innings in 2010 and no fewer than 151 in each of the last 3 seasons.
Cons- No definite strikeout pitch; off-speed stuff and command isn't good; no experience at Major League level (see concern above for Noesi).
Given all of that, I actually wouldn't mind seeing Hector Noesi be given a shot as the 5th starter in 2011. His stuff and command is probably better than Mitre's right now and plays up to more success at the Major League level than Phelps' right now. He has rocketed through the Yankees' system, so they clearly think highly of him, and if you're the Yankees and you're already assuming that you're going to get replacement level performance at best from your 5th starter, why not have it come from a young prospect who could use the experience and conceivably improve as the season (and his career) moves forward?
Noesi and Phelps (and likely Brack, The Beast, ManBan, and Adam Warren) will all get a look during Spring Training, but hopefully it's more than that. Given their age and dwindling performance, I just don't see Colon beating out younger guys with better stuff and brighter upsides for a rotation spot, or even beating out Mitre for that matter, and I think the only thing Garcia has going for him is the experience and the fact that he threw a lot of innings last year. It will be interesting to watch, for sure, but when it comes down to it, out of this group I would rank who I would want in the 5th spot to start the season as follows:
(Thanks to River Ave. Blues and especially Mike Axisa's prospect profiles for info and stats on these guys)