My newest column for Yahoo:
I previously wrote that the Yankees off-season was quite different than in years past, but one thing has remained constant, there's not much competition to earn starting or back up jobs.
That's what happens when you have a roster filled with aging and/or established stars at nearly every position. Four-fifths of the starting rotation is set - CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda, Andy Pettitte, and Phil Hughes man the one through four sports - leaving the fifth and final opening as the lone opportunity for any would-be starters.
The two names at the forefront of said competition are Ivan Nova and David Phelps. One would think the Yankees would like Nova to re-establish himself with Phelps ready to step in if an injury occurs. The 26-year old Nova burst on to the scene in 2011 when he went 16-4 with a 3.70 ERA. He even added a post-season victory when he finished out Game 1 of the ALDS.
Though he won 60% of his decisions (12-8) in 2012, Nova was not close to the effective pitcher he was the prior year. His ERA ballooned to 5.02, he went from allowing less than a hit per inning to 1.5 per inning, and his WAR dipped from 3.0 to 0.4.1
To make matters worse, Nova had some inflammation in his rotator cuff in August. He had also suffered from a sore arm in his short start in the final game of the 2011 division series with Detroit. You can bet Joe Girardi is more concerned if Nova's confidence will rebound from his off year than if his arm is completely healthy.
Phelps did a nice job as the long man out of the pen, and had some success in his 11 starts. (3.76 ERA, 1.256 WHIP, 8.5 K's per 9 innings). He faltered a bit in September and didn't look good in the post-season, but the Yankees have high hopes for the University of Notre Dame product.
The Yankees would better off with Nova reverting to his 2011 form and Phelps working either as a long man or pitching every fifth day for Scranton in Triple-A. The Yankees have a lot of confidence in Phelps' "stuff" and he could step in a starting role next year when it is likely that either Kuroda and/or Pettitte retire. (Phil Hughes could also walk as a free agent). The Yankees also hope that Michael Pineda, who missed all of last year with shoulder surgery, could be a factor in the last quarter of this season.
Just like the rotation, the starting infield is set with Kevin Youkilis, Derek Jeter, Robinson Cano, and Mark Teixeira manning their positions from left to right. Jeter, of course, is counting on the ankle he broke during the post-season to be completely ship-shape by opening day.
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