Thursday, January 1, 2009

Not a Petty Problem

Well, 2009 is here, and the Yankees still have a few questions they need to answer--even if they did the impossible and signed Sabathia, Teixiera and Burnett.

The biggest question, perhaps, is what to do with Andy Pettitte.

If the season were to start tomorrow the Yankees' starting rotation would be:

CC Sabathia
AJ Burnett
CM Wang
Joba Chamberlain
Whoever wins the Phil Hughes/Phil Coke/Alfredo Aceves/Ian Kennedy battle in Spring Training

Assuming every pitcher there remains healthy and pitches up to his potential, that is a pretty solid rotation already.

However, it doesn't take too long to poke holes in the rotation:

1) Can Burnett stay healthy in a non-contract year?
2) How has Wang recovered from his bum foot?
3) Can Joba pitch a year as a starter and not get hurt?
4) Can Phil Hughes, you know, win a game in the regular season?
5) If the Yankees make it to October, can Sabathia actually win in October without being overused?

The reaction that many people are having is that the current rotation is good, but that signing Andy Pettitte to a one year deal would make it just that much better. Perhaps the difference between 90 and 94 wins--94 wins likely being the minimum to make the AL Wild Card.

However, the simple fact is that 2008 was simply not a good year by Pettitte's standards.

His fourteen wins were nice, of course, but his fourteen losses were the most of his career. His ERA, at 4.54 was the second highest of his career (1999, 4.70) and while his strikeouts were up, his runs allowed, at 103, was the highest of his career.

Whether the statistics--poor by his standards--are the result of age or unacknowledged injury, we don't know. However, to hope that Pettitte could come back in 2009 and pull a Mike Mussina (okay, I'll admit it, this entire post is just so I could write that line) would be a tremendous leap of faith.

On the other hand, however, Pettitte has made his desire to pitch well-known and there were rumors that the LA Dodgers had offered him a three-year deal.

For fans that remember the Yankees of the late 1990s (okay, most of us), there is no understating how much Pettitte means to the team or how large of a part he played in the championships of '96, '98, '99 and 2000.

However, the problem with being a fan of the Yankees is that sometimes you get so caught up in the past, that you forget to look at the future.

If the Yankees were to re-sign Pettitte as a fifth starter, it would be hard to argue with the signing--he will make every (or nearly every) start and he will pitch innings. However, the Yankees are perhaps at a point where pencilling Andy in means blocking others--what happens, for example, if Hughes has a stellar spring training and then dominates AAA ball in April and May while Pettitte goes 3-6, 4.50 at the ML level?

It's not an impossible scenario.

The Yankees have done a lot this off-season, but one of their toughest off-season questions is still unanswered.


  1. Ah yes, the vexed matter of the pitching staff.

    While I realize that last year turned out to be a disaster, I have to admit I looked forward to it more than I am looking forward to this year. It would've been so much fun to see the Yanks win with homegrown kids.

    And what about those hordes of talented young pitchers we've been hearing about? Do they now become long relievers or trade bait? Yeah, yeah, you can never have enough pitching etc but are the Yanks planning on Sabathia and Burnett to break down? If so, why sign them? Or maybe Joba will get hurt and provide an opening. Well, that's a pleasant thought. Heck, maybe they'll let Wang go. I would've liked to see him given a long term deal.

    OK, so I'm an ingrate. My team spends hundreds of millions so I can enjoy seeing them win -- and I will -- but I sure hope it doesn't signal the end for the youth movement.

  2. I want Pettitte. But I'm big on nostalgia. I'd want Pettitte if he were missing his left hand, most likely.