Sunday, January 15, 2012

Whither the Fifth Starter?

This post is semi-syndicated from The Yankee Analysts.

I cannot fathom a scenario in which A.J. Burnett is a Yankee come the spring … a palpable scenario, at least. Over the past two seasons, a total of eighty-six starting pitchers have tossed at least 300 IP. Of those, Burnett ranks 85th in ERA, 84th in FIP, and 69th in xFIP (progress!). The pseudo-heroics of the 2009 World Series are a distant memory at this point in time, and his "electric stuff" and "potential" would be more impressive if he was 25 instead of 35.

Why, then, would any other team take him? He has demonstrated the ability to remain durable over the last several seasons, and he can likely be had for pennies on the dollar ... in a market where Chris Capuano and Aaron Harang were signed for two years and eight figures. Additionally, Derek Lowe was moved for a fringe prospect and roughly $5 MM in savings. Carlos Zambrano was moved for a solid back of the rotation type and a bit of salary relief. This, at the very last, tells us that Burnett is movable – and not necessarily at the rate of a true sunk cost.

The real issue should be the roles of Garcia and Hughes. At this juncture, I’d prefer to see Garcia starting. While his upside is certainly limited, I believe a reasonable baseline would see him as a fine fifth starter. I don’t see much of a deviation, either, barring injury. That sort of dependability is worth quite a bit more than most realize, and it is a welcome addition to any rotation.

What of Hughes, then? I would like to see him building up arm strength in the minors. He has certainly had success at every level, but it’s worth noting that he has very few innings in the upper minutes. It’s a good venue for him to refine his curve and command, and it would allow him to step into the rotation in the event of an injury or ineffectiveness. I suspect that this will not be the case, and that Spring Training will award him every opportunity to join the rotation ... or end up in the bullpen. In my mind, though, that would be a mistake.

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