Sunday, July 14, 2013

Steinbrenners Must Decide: Pass or Play

The Yankees need their big man to come through in the clutch.

The All-Star break has arrived and the New York Yankees are slowly fading into the sunset or AL East basement. If not for the underachieving Toronto Blue Jays, the Yankees would already be dwelling in the place where no Yankee has finished since 1990. That team won just 67 games and finished last among seven teams. It's remarkable that entering Sunday's play the Yankees were only six games out of first place.

It's all well and good that the Steinbrenners want to meet a $189MM payroll goal next year, but they have to decide what to do this year. Either make moves, somewhat regardless of salary implications, to try to make the playoffs or sell parts and start to build next year's team.

Injuries and salaries have hamstrung the current squad and the chances of getting those injured players back are getting less and less probable. Mark Teixeira and Kevin Youkilis are already out for the year. Derek Jeter came back after missing the entire season and immediately got hurt with a different injury. Will his second half be a wash or will he contribute? 

Curtis Granderson broke a forearm when he was hit by a pitch, then it was his finger's turn when he came back and got hit by another pitch. He has just gotten the go ahead to take dry swings. A return in mid-August seems to be the likeliest scenario..

Francisco Cervelli appeared to be very close to a return from a broken hand when an old elbow injury acted up. He's also facing possible suspension due to the Biogenesis case.  Speaking of which, Alex Rodriguez is on a slow road back from his second off-season hip surgery and may be hit with a whopper of a suspension. Rumors came out on Sunday that A-Rod was working a plea deal with MLB. Considering this is not yet a judicial matter for A-Rod, the term "plea deal" is awfully strange for this process.

The Yankees need help with their lineup, starting rotation, and bullpen. Hiroki Kuroda has emerged as the ace of the staff with CC Sabathia in a #2 or #3 slot. Sabathia is as competitive as ever, but his fastball and pitch location is not what it was. Andy Pettitte has won a couple of games of late, but has struggled for most of the year and has looked more like a #5 starter than a middle of the rotation guy.

Some of the help for the pitching staff could come from within the organization. Ivan Nova has appeared to recapture his 2011 form, but that is based on a small sampling of work. That being said, his last two starts have produced 17 innings pitched, 17 strikeouts and just three runs (1.59 ERA). He's also limited opponents to eight hits and three walks (0.65 WHIP). Nova has allowed nine earned runs in 35.1 innings (2.29 ERA) over his last six appearances, half of which were starts.

The secret weapon/unknown factor could be Michael Pineda, who has returned strong from career threatening shoulder surgery. It appears that Yankees want to take things slowly with their prized possession, acquired from Seattle in the Jesus Montero deal. After a rehab stint, the Yankees activated Pineda and sent him to Scranton to continue his way back to the Major Leagues. The hard throwing right-hander has had mixed results in his two starts. He allowed two runs and struck out seven over five innings in a win against Lehigh Valley, but gave up a pair of home runs and six runs in four innings in a loss to Syracuse.

Then there's Vidal Nuno, who was impressive in Spring Training and made three starts and a couple of relief appearances in April and May. The southpaw allowed four runs over 17 innings in his starts, but won just one of them due to a lack of run support. Unfortunately, he's been out of action since June 8 with a strained groin.

Among the current starters, Phil Hughes continues to look good one moment and bad the next. Sometimes both at the same time as he did Saturday against the Twins in his final start before the All-Star break. Hughes dominated for much of the game, but allowed four runs and three home runs and took a tough loss. Word is that the Yankees are aggressively shopping him and they should. They need to get near-ready prospects or a Major Leaguer in return rather than wait to see if the draft pick they get as compensation when Hughes leaves, will pan out.

David Phelps started out strong, but has struggled of late and ended up on the DL. Phelps could move back to the pen, possibly sharing a long man role with Adam Warren,  or work on his stuff in Scranton, or return to the rotation.  The Yankees might even try Warren as a starter since he's done such a good job in long relief. A lot will depend on how Nova does while Phelps is out or if Hughes is moved.

Brian Cashman could look at the number of pending free agents to supply another starter as well.  There's quite a list of starters that might be available, but not a lot of quality.

Matt Garza: The Cubs right-hander had a stress fracture in his elbow last season and a latissimus dorsi strain during Spring Training this year. He came back seven weeks later and has been an effective member of the Cubs' starting rotation. Garza is 6-1, 3.17 with a 1.141 WHIP and 62 strikeouts in 71 innings pitched. With his  fastball clocked in the mid-90s, the 29-year old is in demand. ESPN's Bruce Levine has Toronto and Texas as the leading candidates to land the former Tampa Bay Ray. Thus far there has not been any indication the Yankees are interested. (At least if the Yankees did get Garza they can rip that ugly as hell goatee off of him.) Whoever does land Garza will pay a hefty price to land him.

Ervin Santana: This guy is one of the biggest enigmas in baseball. One minute he looks like he's pitching likeJohan Santana (Ervin's actual real name) in his hey day with the Twins, the next he's pitching like Carlos Santana...the guitarist not the Indians catcher. He's had two seasons with an ERA above 4.00 and three season over 5.00. He's also had four seasons under 4.00 and once finished 6th in the AL CY Young voting.
Santana is a streaky pitcher in the way some sluggers are streaky home run hitters. It's hard to tell what you'll get out of him from one start to the next. So far he's not available, but I would expect that to change.

Bronson Arroyo: It's hard to believe that Arroyo is 36-years old. It seems like just yesterday he was a young, brash pitcher for the Boston Red Sox and mouthing off to A-Rod. Arroyo's been in Cincinnati eight years now after Theo's Epstein dealt him for Wily Mo Pena. Yes, Epstein would like to forget that deal ever happened. Arroyo is one shy of 100 victories in a Reds uniform and has been a workhorse, averaging better than 200 innings a season. With the Reds in the thick of a pennant race he isn't likely to go anywhere.

Of the three, the Yankees have the best shot at getting Santana.

Unfortunately, the remaining pending free agents are either not available (i.e. Atlanta's Tim Hudson) or aren't any better than what the Yankees have now (Guys like Jorge De La Rosa and Jason Vargas). Another option for Cashman is try to obtain a pitcher currently on a team that is already out of the pennant race. One such pitcher would be John Danks from the Chicago "almost everything must go sale" White Sox. On the plus side, Danks is left-handed, but he is coming off shoulder surgery and is ridiculously overpaid at $14.25MM a year and has three more years on his current contract. No thanks.

Kyle Lohse is on a horrible Brewers team, but is in the first year of a three year, $33MM contract. Lohse also seems to be strictly a National League pitcher. He wasn't very good or consistent in the AL. Perhaps a pitcher like Kyle Kendrick could become available closer to the deadline if the Phillies decide to rework the team. That is the biggest problem in trying to obtain front line talent. There are just too many teams still in the playoff race, particularly with the addition of a second wild card in both leagues.

For now it looks like the Yankees will have to do some fixing from within. Guys like Nova and Pineda may be better than anything Brian Cashman can up with in the next month.

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