Even though he had only hinted at retirement throughout the offseason and had even been throwing in recent weeks, it shouldn't have come as a surprise to anyone that Yankees legend Andy Pettitte has decided to call it a career. After the Yankees lost in the ALCS to the Texas Rangers, before leaving the clubhouse Pettitte made it pretty clear that he wasn't really planning on another comeback.
The Yankees will miss him for not just the iconic appeal to his name that comes with the instrumental roles he played during the latest Yankees dynasty of the late 90's, but also because of the dependability the southpaw has given the Pinstripes over his 13 year tenure with the team. In those 13 years, the Yankees have benefited from a 203-112 record out of their workhorse, with a 3.98 ERA in over 2,500 innings pitched.
It will be a tough hole for the vaunted Yankees checkbook to fill, and after losing out on Cliff Lee to the Phillies, the winter's free agent market has not offered many choices for the Yankees to replace their big game go-to guy, leaving them with two empty rotation spots (the second belonging to Javier Vazquez). Instead of choosing to overpay one of the remaining free agent starters or pursue the likes of Shaun Marcum or Zack Greinke on the trade market, the Yankees have opted to stray from their normal course of action and try to fill their rotation holes with in-house options and bargain bin-type retreads.
All but guaranteed a rotation spot at this point is Ivan Nova, who has shown very solid poise but has hit some speed bumps in his short stint with the Pinstripes. In New York's AAA affiliate last season, Nova pitched to a 12-3 record and 2.86 ERA in 145 innings, with 7.14 K/9, a 1.26 WHIP, and an impressive .248 batting average against. Nova does appear to be a very promising pitcher, but it is not like the Yankees to go into a season expecting one of their farmhands to fill the role of one of their former aces without any sort of insurance plan, so this speaks volumes either about Brian Cashman's ineptitude or just indicative of the sort of talent ceiling the Yankees' front office sees in the kid. Only time will tell us which one is true, but with the presence of CC Sabathia they don't need Nova to be the ace, but rather a third or a fourth starter. This is certainly a role that Nova can handle while allowing the Yankees to take in his growing pains. From a fantasy baseball-related perspective, growing pains or not Nova gets a green light for all types of fantasy drafts this spring.
Because of how bleak the fifth spot in the rotation currently looks for the Yankees, the performance of Nova does not even seem like in issue in comparison. Nova may not be a proven commodity by any means, but because of his high potential Nova will be a much more welcome addition to the Yankees starting rotation than the three guys currently competing for the last spot: Sergio Mitre, Freddy Garcia, and Bartolo Colon.
Mitre has the most experience with the Yankees, working with the team as a reliever and spot-starter in 2009 and 2010. Over those two seasons, Mitre owns a 3-6 record, 5.03 ERA, and 1.35 WHIP in 105 innings, good for a -0.9 WAR, meaning that Mitre is actually slightly worse than an average replacement level player. Because of his experience with the Yankees Mitre figures to have the inside track at the fifth starter's job unless the team brings in someone from outside the organization, but that does not by any means make Mitre a viable fantasy option.
Although the 36 year old Garcia is just a shell of the pitcher he was back in his prime years with Seattle, he might be the most talented pitcher out of these three. In 2010 with the White Sox Garcia posted a respectable 12-6 record with a 4.64 ERA. Additionally, SABRmetrics show that Garcia was a more serviceable pitcher than Mitre last year, because Garcia notched a solid 2.1 WAR to Mitre's paltry 0.6. However, because of his age and serviceability only as a back-end of the rotation type of pitcher, Garcia also does not seem to appear as a real fantasy baseball option in any leagues but the very deepest.
By far the least likely to win the job but still intriguing enough to be worth a mention is 37 year old Bartolo Colon. Colon's career has taken a big 180-degree turn since his 21-8, 3.48 ERA Cy Young Award-winning 2005 season, as the twilight of his career has been derailed by injuries. Indeed, Colon hasn't had a full, healthy season since the aforementioned Cy Young year he had in 2005. He did put together two serviceable partial seasons for the Red Sox in 2008 and the White Sox in 2009, but he only pitched 69 innings two years ago for the White Sox, so it is unlikely that Colon will be able to shoulder a big workload for the Yankees even if he breaks camp.
One interesting sleeper for the position is the 6-foot-10, 240-pound righty Andrew Brackman. Brackman, who was rated the #92 prospect in baseball prior to 2009 but not ranked heading into 2010, posted a 3.01 ERA and 7.8 K/9 at AA last year. Currently 24, Brackman is reaching that age where he's too old to still be considered a prospect, but aside from his good finish at AA last year he has shown little to garner a lot of attention from the Yankees front office. If Brackman gets a chance to crack the Yankees' rotation this year, which by all means he should, he's worth a shot as a late draft pick in keeper leagues, but in year-to-year fantasy baseball leagues don't bother with Brackman unless he gets on a tear.
Finally, while the Yankees have not indicated that they intend to take this course of action, some reporters have articulated that they feel the Yankees are waiting until the trade deadline, when they should be able to acquire a more serviceable starting pitcher from a team that has fallen out of playoff contention. While this is very likely, the trade deadline isn't until July, which means the Yanks still need a guy to cover the fifth spot for the first four months of the season. And I'm all for speculation, so here's some food for thought: what if, by the time the Yankees can open serious trade talks for a useful pitcher, they're so far out of the AL East race that it doesn't make a difference?
It could be a tough year coming up for Yankees pitching.