Monday, July 19, 2010

Yanks wishing they had Cliff Lee right about now

It's easy to say that it was a bad weekend to be a Yankees starting pitcher. New York won in walk-off fashion on Friday night to honor George Steinbrenner and Bob Sheppard, but C.C. Sabathia allowed 4 runs for the first time since May and walked more than three batters in a game for just the second time this season.

A.J. Burnett continued his recent struggles on Saturday, allowing 4 runs in just two innings in a 10-5 loss. He was shelled for 29 earned runs in 23 June innings but had thrown two consecutive quality starts before this poor outing. He also cut both of his palms raging through the double doors in the clubhouse but should make his next start, for better or worse.

Andy Pettitte has probably been the most consistent Yankees starter all season, so if anything he would break the streak of hard-luck Yankee starters against the Rays, right? But a pulled groin forced him to exit in just the third inning, taxing the Yankees bullpen for the second day in a row. New York is off today and the relievers will get plenty of rest but so will Pettitte, who is projected to miss a month with that groin injury.

The only two Yankees starting pitchers not mentioned yet in this post have had their own issues this season. Javier Vazquez has rebounded nicely from a slow start but is just one bad outing away from Yankee fans unfairly turning sour on him once again. Most of those stubborn, thick-headed fans just can't seem to get 2004's second half out of their minds.

Phil Hughes took the opposite route, starting the season hot with a 5-0 record and 1.38 ERA through six starts. But he has fallen back to earth in his last 10 outings, going 6-2 with a 5.08 ERA. His season ERA stands around 3.65, which seems pretty accurate to me pitching in the AL East. But the threat of an innings limit could push Hughes back to 8th-inning duty towards the end of the season and the playoffs (where he'd be a definite upgrade over Joba Chamberlain), meaning New York will need to find a starter to replace him.

Sergio Mitre will take the ball in Pettitte's stead on Saturday, but he's nothing more than a stop-gap solution. Unlike the rest of the Yankees staff, Mitre won't work deep into games and is fresh off the disabled list, meaning the Yankees will be stoked to get even five innings out of him.

I was against the trade for Lee at the time, because it seemed like the Yankees were going back to their early-2000s way of doing business, selling big-name prospects for older stars. It was when New York started to rebuild their farm system and use free agency (with good contracts like Sabathia and Mark Teixeira, not bad ones like Kevin Brown and Carl Pavano) rather than trading as the platform for bringing stars in that they finally returned to championship glory.

They signed Sabathia, Burnett and Teixeira to big deals last season after years of hanging on to their top prospects like Robinson Cano (who is playing like an MVP), Brett Gardner (who is enjoying a breakout season as well) and Hughes (who isn't glad we wouldn't include him in a trade for Johan Santana?).

The trade of Austin Jackson for Curtis Granderson went against that exact blueprint the Yanks had been following so well and while the early returns have been bad (Granderson has yet to find his swing and Jackson got off to a scorching start in Detroit), I won't look back and say much. Granderson is only 29 and while Jackson is already a solid player, it's hard for me to think that Granderson will hit under .250 all season with no power.

Trading Jesus Montero and other mid-level prospects for Lee would have been great in the short-term, especially considering the recent developments in the Yankees rotation. Sabathia is the only starter on the roster than has my undeniable trust, as will Pettitte when he returns. That third reliable arm (potentially Lee) would have been nice, then allowing Hughes to shift to the bullpen and Vazquez and Burnett to fight for the fourth starter's spot in the playoffs. And the three-man rotation would be unrealistic, considering Sabathia, Lee and Pettitte are all lefties.

Even with these rotational issues the Yankees still took two of three from the second-best team in baseball, so there's not much to gripe about just yet. It should be interesting to see if New York tries to make another move for a starter, but there aren't any great options out there now that Lee has been moved. I'd rather deal for a bullpen arm (Toronto has a few and they are selling) or a veteran that can come off the bench (kind of like Randy Winn was supposed to be before he stunk).

The Yankees don't need to be big players in the trade market like they would have been if they acquired Lee, but they do need to make a move or two to stay the favorites for a World Series repeat. Adding a couple players to fill a niche or two would go a long way towards that goal.

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