Continuing MLBTR's look at next season's probable and possible starting rotations, today we look at a staff that will likely be one of, if not the most, expensive in baseball. The Yankees spent a little more than $63.5MM on their top five starters in 2010, and that total looks to go up next season.
Three spots in the rotation are secure. C.C. Sabathia's 2.34 K/BB ratio is on pace to be his lowest since 2004 and his 3.0 BB/9 is on pace to be his highest since that same '04 season, but while these peripherals are of a minor concern when you have $115MM committed to a pitcher through 2015, Sabathia is still one of the top pitchers in the American League.
A.J. Burnett has had his typical hot-and-cold season, posting a 6.7 K/9 ratio that would be his lowest since 2001. New York fans can expect to look forward to the Burnett rollercoaster of form for the next 3+ seasons.
Phil Hughes' first season as a regular starter got off to a tremendous start with a 2.70 ERA in April and May, though his June and July (5.34 ERA) were a different story. The Yankees are already being cautious about their young star's innings total and have put an unofficial "Hughes Rules" cap of 170 IP on the right-hander for the rest of the season. Hughes may be limited for the rest of 2010, but will be back in full force for next season. He will reach arbitration for the first time this winter, so it's possible the Yankees may explore a longer-term deal to cover his arb years.
The fourth spot in the rotation will depend on the feelings of Andy Pettitte. As he has for the last four winters, the veteran left-hander will decide on whether he wants to retire, or sign a one-year deal with the Yankees. Pettitte can certainly still pitch — he's enjoying one of his best seasons (a 2.88 ERA, 2.37 K/BB ratio in 18 starts) though he's currently sidelined with a groin injury. If Pettitte does return, he'll get a pay bump from the $11.75MM contract he signed last December, but the Yankees surely wouldn't mind giving a raise to a franchise stalwart that can still perform at a high level.
It's almost a certainty that Javier Vazquez won't be back with the Bronx Bombers next season. The only question now seems to be whether the Yankees will offer arbitration to the free agent right-hander, as Vazquez is still hanging onto a Type A free agent status.
Depending on what Pettitte does, at least one spot in the New York rotation is available for 2011. It's widely expected that the Yankees will make a hard push to fill that spot with Cliff Lee when he reaches free agency this winter. (They almost had him at the deadline had their trade with Seattle not fallen through at the eleventh hour.) The Rangers have expressed their interest in re-signing Lee now that their ownership transfer has been settled and certainly other teams will look into the left-hander, but given that Lee will command a contract worth more than $20MM per year, it gives the Yankees the obvious advantage if things turn into a bidding war.
So if Lee (or another free agent starter) replaces Vazquez and Pettitte returns, New York is set. If Pettitte retires, then he will likely let the Yankees know early in the offseason so the club can plan accordingly. With the Bombers' big payroll, there's really no shortage of options for what they could do to fill that fifth spot in the rotation. Free agents with AL East experience like Bronson Arroyo or Ted Lilly could be of interest, or perhaps the Yankees could go after a veteran with something to prove coming off an injury (i.e. Brandon Webb or Aaron Harang) who could be had at a small discount.
With Alex Rodriguez going on the DL today, 23-year-old Ivan Nova has been called up and will be inserted into the rotation for at least one start. Nova has had an impressive year at Triple-A Scranton, posting a 2.86 ERA and 2.4 K/BB ratio in 23 starts. If Nova does well in his late-season audition he could get a chance at more work in September should Hughes get shut down or have a turn skipped. It's hard to see Nova or any other young starter, however, be given a clear shot at a rotation spot next year since the Yankees don't really have any starting prospects who aren't at least a year away from serious consideration.
Sergio Mitre and Dustin Moseley have made spot starts for New York this season and could be re-signed to provide rotation depth for 2011. Both men are definitely backup options and could also be replaced by similar low-cost veteran pitchers that can alternate between the rotation and the bullpen as the situation warrants.