Tuesday, October 8, 2013

2013 Storylines Review: Shoring Up The 2014 Rotation

(Get out of there, Joba.  You're ruining the shot.  Courtesy of the AP)

Yesterday we officially kicked off the 2013 AB4AR "Season Review" series with a look back on how the team's plan to contend on a budget worked out.  If you missed the post yesterday and don't have the energy to click the link and catch up, here's a spoiler alert- it didn't.  The same could be said for the team's efforts to address the 2014 rotation.  To have any chance of contending this season, the Yankees were going to need a strong showing from their starting rotation, and they correctly focused most of their offseason efforts on building up that rotation.  But in addressing the needs of the 2013 rotation, they were also creating a bunch of questions about the 2014 version.  The hope was that a lot of those questions would be answered this year, but the end results have left the Yankees with even more issues to address.

The one thing the team knew they'd have to address regardless of performance was what they were going to do about replacing the elder statesmen of the rotation.  Hiroki Kuroda and Andy Pettitte were both on 1-year deals this year and are eligible to become free agents again this offseason.  Pettitte ended any speculation about his future by announcing his retirement before the end of the season, but Kuroda is still a huge unknown.  He had another great year, sluggish finish aside, and you have to imagine he'd be welcomed back with open arms on another 1-year deal.  He's also going to be 39 and presumably wants to contend for a title before heading back to pitch his final season(s) in Japan.  The Yankees are hardly the team with the best chance to win the title next year, so Kuroda could decide to return to LA or join another contender if that's what he's truly after.

The younger back end of the rotation didn't clear itself up either.  Ivan Nova started the season poorly, got hurt and spent a few months out of the rotation, then came back and pitched like gangbusters down the stretch.  He basically took his strong 2011 finish and weak 2012 and combined them into 1 season in 2013.  He's definitely going to be back next year, and right now he's probably the #2 starter behind CC Sabathia, but he's just as difficult as ever to project going forward.

His enigmatic right-handed partner Phil Hughes was much more consistent in what he did, it just so happened that he was consistently awful.  In a contract year, Hughes turned in arguably his worst full season as a starter to date (5.19 ERA, 4.50 FIP, 1.3 fWAR in 29 starts) and reminded everybody that he is who his previous numbers said he was.  He basically gutted his free agent market value in the process and made it impossible for the Yankees to even consider bringing him back.  Once you get put on tandem 5th starter duty with the likes of David Huff (no offense, Dave), the writing is on the wall.

Back to Sabathia.  Of all the problems in the Yankee rotation, his are the ones of greatest concern.  Coming off an injury-plagued 2012 that culminated in offseason elbow surgery, Sabathia experienced his first taste of age-related regression this year and it wasn't pretty.  He went from ace on his best day/innings eater on his worst to mid-level starter on his best day and below-replacement level at his worst.  He battled issues with fastball velocity and command and turned in his worst ERA (4.78) and fWAR (2.7) values of his career.  Both Sabathia and the team are hopeful that he'll right the ship next year, but right now his status as staff ace is no longer as concrete as it used to be.

Outside of these 5, the Yankees got some minor contributions here and there from other starters.  David Phelps gave them 12 starts of 3.85 FIP-level ball, Vidal Nuno was serviceable in 3 spot starts, and Huff and Adam Warren were alright in 2 spot starts apiece.  The one player who didn't contribute anything may actually be the most important part of the rotation puzzle.  Michael Pineda, almost a year removed from torn labrum surgery, worked a slow and deliberate rehab schedule in the Minors before being shut down for the season in August.  He's reportedly healthy, but there hasn't been much from the team on what the offseason plans are for him.  One way or another, he needs to be back on the mound starting games for the Yankees next year.  3 years of no production all but turns that trade into a loss for them.

Unsurprisingly, the Yankees were not active on the trade market during the season looking for rotation help.  As a result, they're left with this huge batch of questions and a mountain of uncertainty.  They don't know what to expect from CC next year, they don't know who's going to be backing him up as the #2 starter, they don't know when or how much they're going to get from Pineda, and they don't know how they're going to fill the 4th and 5th spots.  There are a few other names on the free agent market who could help, but the budget constraints may force Cash to pass on them.

The Yankees thought they had enough starting pitching for 2013.  Now that it's over, they know they don't have enough for 2014.

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