In 2011, the Yankees’ starting rotation posted the fifth lowest ERA (4.03) in the American League. However, most of the season still had the feel of waiting for the other shoe to drop. Despite featuring a mix of inexperienced youngsters and veteran retreads, the Yankees’ staff was able to survive the year intact, but the offseason is almost sure to bring about change.
It’s entirely possible that the 2012 Yankees could have a completely different starting rotation than last season. Although Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia provided an unexpected shot in the arm during 2011, the chances are high that neither will return next year, particularly because they both seemed to run out of gas in September. In his post-ALDS summation, Joe Girardi stated that while Phil Hughes and Ivan Nova would be given a chance to compete for a spot in the 2012 rotation, nothing would be set in stone. Following an impressive rookie season in which he won 16 games, Nova seems like a sure bet to be one of next year’s starting five, but Hughes still has a lot to prove. At this point, getting rid of A.J. Burnett is probably more of a pipe dream than a realistic option, but after two futile seasons, the Yankees could decide to swallow hard and eat most of his remaining contract in order to facilitate a trade. Finally, CC Sabathia wearing something other than pinstripes in 2012 might be inconceivable, but until his opt out situation is settled, that unpleasant thought remains a possibility.
Even if Sabathia returns and Nova holds on to his slot, the Yankees will still need to bolster their rotation, especially because internal options like Dellin Betances and Manny Banuelos are probably at least a half-season away. Over at The Yankee Analysts, Larry Koestler set about to answer what free agent pitchers the Yankees should pursue and narrowed it down to two choices: Yu Darvish and CJ Wilson. Larry makes an interesting case for both pitchers, but perhaps the decision doesn’t have to be an either/or proposition?
The Yankees will undoubtedly make an offer to C.J. Wilson and probably will participate in the posting process for Darvish, but unlike last year when Cliff Lee slipped through the net, the team should be prepared with a plan B…as in Buehrle. Although lacking the “ace-like” potential of Wilson and Darvish, Mark Buehrle has established himself as one of the most consistent pitchers in the American League. For 11 straight seasons, the left hander has won at least 10 games and thrown over 200 innings (the most among all active pitchers), while posting an above average ERA in all but one season. Buehrle may not have a Cy Young award in his future, but his reliability would help the Yankees round out a rotation that could soon include its fair share of young pitchers.
Most Innings Thrown Over the Last 10 Seasons (2002-2011)
Note: AvgWAR is the average of BR’s and fangraphs’ version of WAR.
Source: Baseball-reference.com and fangraphs.com
Signing Buehrle, or any 33-year old pitcher with over 2,400 innings, to a long-term deal would come with risks, but if the Yankees can ink the left hander for only three years, it may not only be attractive as a plan B, but even as an alternative to a longer, more lucrative contract for relatively unproven commodities like Darvish and/or Wilson. Regardless of what course the Yankees decide to take, if Brian Cashman learned one lesson from last winter, it’s that he shouldn’t put all his eggs in one basket. The Yankees were able to win in spite of taking that approach in 2011, but lighting usually doesn’t strike twice. So, if Wilson and Darvish prove to be elusive, or too expensive, Cashman shouldn’t hesitate to move on to quality alternatives like Buehrle.