Tuesday, February 7, 2012

2013 "Dream Rotation" Scenario Closer Than You Think

I had a dream the other night.  In it, the Yankees were in the postseason and they were just rolling through teams, winning more 3-1, 4-2, and 2-0 games than I could have ever imagined.  Their starting rotation was absolutely stocked and they turned in gem after gem after gem, making the recent postseason offensive struggles a moot point as the Bombers marched through the playoffs on the strength of their pitching and hoisted the trophy for Title 28.  I was in my usual Yankees' playoff position, standing directly in front of my TV in all my 2009 World Series gear, yelling and screaming and jumping around like a moron.  It was a beautiful experience.

Then I woke up, looked around, realized I was still in bed with my sheets and pillows strewn about me, and quickly deduced that it was still early February 2012 and my dream is still over a year away from becoming reality.  But in that realization, I also came to the conclusion that this scenario playing out in October of 2013 isn't that far fetched.  As it stands right now, the Yankees have already made great strides towards bolstering their starting rotation for this season and beyond, and they could very well be on the cusp of building a full-fledged "dream" rotation before the calendar turns.

Consider this.  The Yankees already have at least 40%, and possibly 60% of that dream rotation already.  CC Sabathia is still the ace of this staff, still an elite starting pitcher, and will continue to be both of those things for at least the next couple years.  Michael Pineda, even with the questions about his transition to the AL East and lack of experience, is still a 23-year-old monster right hander with top shelf stuff, a ROY-quality season under his belt, and the ceiling of a #1-#2-type starter long term if he continues to develop his offspeed offerings .  And Ivan Nova, while not having Pineda-like stuff, exceeded all expectations last year and showed some promise as a potential above-average middle-of-the-rotation guy with his floor as a back-end starter being raised thanks to his improved slider and command

And while the Yankees kept the wallet closed this offseason, the free agent pitching class after this season is potentially deep and very talented, headlined by Cole Hamels.  $189 million budget or not for 2014, I think it's safe to say that the Yankees are going to be involved in the bidding for Hamels' services.  It wouldn't shock me at all if the Yankees went all in for Hamels in a manner similar to the aggressive approach they used in 2008 when they pursued CC.  Hamels essentially represents exactly what CC was at the time in '08, a top shelf lefty with swing-and-miss stuff in the prime of his career, and would give the Yankees a legit 1-2 punch at the top of the rotation, while at the same time adding depth to the rotation by bumping Pineda and Nova down a spot.

While Hamels will not come cheap, the last piece of this dream rotation puzzle will.  Dirt cheap in fact.  Manny Banuelos, the top Yankee prospect, and #13 in all of baseball according to Baseball America, will be coming off his first full season in Triple-A ball.  If he bounces back from his walk-plagued 2011 and shows the type of command that made him such a hot prospect, he will have nowhere to go but to the show in 2013.  And with his command intact, Banuelos' ceiling jumps back up to "potential #2/stretch #1" territory as a starter.  There aren't too many teams who can say that about their 5th starter, and even if he didn't pitch lights out in his rookie year, Banuelos would still likely be league average at worst.

Should these chips fall where my extended dream sequence assumes they will, the Yankees could hypothetically be looking at a rotation of a #1 starter, a #1A starter, a #1B starter, and two solid #3 starters, which is also known as "What the Phillies had in 2011."  Now that's if all of these five guys pitched to their highest potential, which is unlikely.  But even if they didn't, the floor wouldn't be very low with a CC-Hamels-Pineda-Nova-ManBan fivesome either, so worst case scenario the Yankees are still better off than they were this past season.  And they would be stocked for the future with their top two still in their primes and the other three still years away from theirs, presumably with room to improve.  Having the trio of Pineda-Nova-Banuelos at an extremely low cost and under team control for years would be the icing on the cake, and help cushion the blow of the Hamels contract .  It's a big dream, yes, but it's the type of dream that the Yankees are perfectly equipped to turn into a reality.

Even if these two scenarios don't play out, even if the Yankees decide the price is too steep for Hamels, even if they trade ManBan for a young cheap bat, it's still not out of the realm of possibility for the Yankees to approximate this dream rotation.  Zack Greinke is a former AL Cy Young winner in his prime, he'll also presumably be on the FA market, and he could come at a discounted price from Hamels' tag thanks to concerns about his SAD.  Someone from the group of Dellin Betances, Adam Warren, and David Phelps could step up, pull a Nova and exceed expectations, and fill out ManBan's spot on the back end.  And even though all signs point to Matt Cain being re-signed by San Fran, the Yankees could wow them with a prospect package and bring Cain in anyway.

In the immortal words of J.P. from "Angels in the Outfield," "Hey, it could happen."  For as long as the Yankees have been trying to stabilize the rotation, to have it end up with stabilized with this kind of talent would be a dream come true.  Right now that scenario is still just a dream, but it's a dream worth holding onto.  If you're going to dream about the rotation, you might as well dream big.

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