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Figuring Out The 2015 Yankees Starting Rotation

With spring training just around the corner, the Yankees are playing with fire in a big way by going into the season with this rotation and all they can do is pray that the guys they have in place hold up.

Tanaka

A few days ago there was a poll on ESPN asking which starting pitcher for the Yankees has the best chance to throw 200 innings this upcoming baseball season. The five available selections obviously were: A) Masahiro Tanaka, B) Michael Pineda, C) C.C. Sabathia, D) Chris Capuano and E) Nathan Eovaldi. Not the most promising of choices, but the best bet easily has to be the recently acquired Eovaldi, who general manager Brian Cashman nabbed in a trade with the Miami Marlins a few weeks back.

Though blessed with a fastball that averaged 96 mph, the soon to be 25-year old whiffed just 6.4 per nine in 199 2/3 innings last year while getting roughed up for a 4.37 ERA. His 3.37 FIP and .327 batting average on balls in play suggest, some of that was bad luck. He still offers upside, but he did allow the most hits in the National League last season. The next likely candidate to possibly eat up 200-innings for the Bronx Bombers is terrifyingly, 36-year-old swingman Chris Capuano, who re-signed with New York via a one-year, $5 million deal. After making 28 relief appearances for the Red Sox, drawing his release and taking a detour through the Rockies’ organization, Capuano made 12 decent starts in pinstripes. He wasn’t spectacular by any means, but was plenty serviceable and finished the year with a 4.35 ERA in 97 1/3 total innings. For the moment, the southpaw will occupy Ivan Nova’s spot in the rotation while he recovers from Tommy John surgery, which should keep him sidelined until at least May.

With Hiroki Kuroda (who threw a team-high 199 1/3 innings) heading back to Japan,  Brandon McCarthy (who posted a 2.89 ERA in 14 starts after being acquired from the Diamondbacks in early July) signing with the Dodgers, and both Shane Greene and David Phelps traded, the Yankees will be without pitchers who accounted for 91 of their 162 starts last season. By comparison, their four returning starters combined for only 45: Tanaka was limited to 20 after a small tear in his ulnar collateral ligament was discovered during the summer; Pineda made only 13 because of a back injury that sidelined him for more than three months and a suspension for using pine tar while pitching; Sabathia took the ball a measly eight times due to degenerative problems in his right knee and the recovering Nova made just four starts before going under the knife.

None are anything close to locks to make 30 starts and it will take a whole lot of good fortune for the rotation as constructed to hold together in a way that allows New York to be a postseason contender. Of course, a dominant Tanaka would at least offer fans reason to believe, but it’s hard to imagine him making 30 starts – even 15 seems like a stretch.  To the surprise of many, the Yankees didn’t hedge their bet on his aching elbow over the winter and in an era when Tommy John surgery has become the commonplace solution to a torn elbow ligament, the decision to dare to avoid it is quite a gamble. All the more so considering that Tanaka relies heavily on a split-finger fastball, a pitch that puts excessive pressure on the forearm muscles and ultimately the elbow.

If/when his elbow gives way, he’ll be out for a year. Meanwhile, Sabathia claims that he is 100-percent healthy and his surgically repaired right knee is continuing to feel good through his rehab. But keep in mind that he’ll turn 35-years old this July, has posted a 4.87 ERA since the start of the 2013 season and has already pitched over 2,800 regular season innings. There there’s Pineda, who turned 26 in January and had a 1.89 ERA, 0.83 WHIP and a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 8.43 in 76 1/3 innings last year. But he hasn’t made it through a complete season since being traded to the Yankees back in 2012, and has logged less than 250 innings since debuting for the Mariners in 2011.

Other in-house options include Bryan Mitchell, who made a brief cameo last year and Chase Whitley, who profiles more as a reliever. The Yankees have also told both Adam Warren and Esmil Rogers to prepare as starting pitchers heading into spring training. After falling short of the postseason again — the first time the team has done so in back-to-back seasons since 1992-93 — New York avoided the temptation of another huge shopping spree.

The Yankees spent the winter swearing that they would not get involved in the high end of the market for free agent pitching, and they stuck to that promise, sitting out the pursuits of Max Scherzer, Jon Lester and James Shields. Now that Shields is officially a San Diego Padre, the free agent market is pretty much barren of starting pitching. Two intriguing names that do remain available are Brandon Beachy and Franklin Morales. Beachy’s talent has never been in question — the concern teams have is whether or not he can stay healthy for a full season after coming off a second Tommy John surgery, and the former Red Sox Morales is plenty familiar with Yankee Stadium.

Another name out there is 36-year old Barry Zito, who spent last season at home after a seven year stint with the San Francisco Giants. He had dropped to an average of 83 miles per hour in 2013, but can he be any worse than Scott Baker or Kyle Davies. In an effort to add pitching depth New York recently added the two journeymen, but Davies hasn’t pitched in the big leagues since 2011 and Baker had a 5.47 ERA in 25 appearances for the Rangers last season.

With spring training just around the corner, the Yankees are playing with fire in a big way by going into the season with this rotation and all they can do is pray that the guys they have in place hold up. Otherwise it might be a long season in the Bronx.

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