Andy Pettitte has retired. That is very sad. We will miss him. Cliff Lee signed with the Phillies. That is very… something else. I guess it depends on the fan.
But these two events, hardly unlikely, and, in retrospect, perhaps foreseeable, are now the crux of a major problem for the New York Yankees. The Yankees, as they stand today, do not have the starting pitching to mount a serious challenge for the AL East crown nor ensure themselves the consolation of the Wild Card.
Since the Yankees made their first spirited run at Cliff Lee in July, there have been 44 trades or signings of credible Major League pitchers (ie, pitchers better than Mitre).
We can whittle that list down quite a bit by eliminating players the Yankees had no chance to acquire – like Javy Vazquez and Matt Garza - and players that were trade chips for bigger pieces – like Daniel Hudson and Joe Saunders. And no need to include the “injury fliers” since the Yanks require immediate help – like Erik Bedard and Brandon Webb. And might as well forget about the dregs, the guys whose marginal improvement over Sergio Mitre isn’t worth the paperwork to execute the contract – like Bruce Chen.
Still, we’re left with over a dozen solid pitchers that changed teams at the exact same time the Yanks were looking. Half of those guys were acquired via trade, the other half by free agency. The better pitchers were all acquired through trade (Oswalt, Haren, Grienke, Marcum, Lilly, Westbrook, Jackson). The free agents, as we have been picking over recently, were not as good (Kuroda, Westbrook, De La Rosa, Francis, Garland, Harang).
But regardless of their relative worth amongst themselves, they are all big-time improvements over the Yanks’ current options. Why aren’t any of them Yankees? I think the Yankees passed on all of those guys because they were saving seats on the 2011 bus. Gotta have a seat open for Cliff Lee. Gotta have a seat open for Andy Pettitte. Never mind that Cliff Lee signing with the Yankees was at best a 50/50 proposition. Never mind that Andy Pettitte was only able to start 21 games in 2010 and would be contemplating retirement for, what, the fourth time?
The Yankees failure to act has now impacted two seasons as their starting rotation was too weak to dispatch the Rangers in the 2010 ALCS. But I have no idea why. When the Yankees run out of seats on the bus, they should just buy a bigger bus. Yankee money is best used to allow them to deal with excess. In this case, the “excess” would have been having six starting pitchers.
If everything went perfectly, they could have had Dan Haren or Roy Oswalt for the 2010 stretch run. Then signed Cliff Lee and had Andy Pettitte knocking at the door looking for one more go around. CC, Lee, RoyDan, Pettitte, Hughes, Burnett. That was the worst case scenario – having an excess of good starting pitching.
In order to avoid this terrible outcome, the Yankees maneuvered themselves into having a rotation with one good pitcher (I have hopes for Hughes, too). How on earth is this 2011 rotation, which was a very foreseeable outcome from opening day 2010, a better scenario than paying for a possibly superfluous pitcher?
The sound strategy from July 2010 through today was for Brian Cashman to go balls out filling two rotation spots. That strategy gives them the best chance to win the 2010 World Series, and sets up their immediate future in the best possible shape.
The Yanks should be primed for a three-peat and a dynasty. Instead, placing themselves at the mercy of these two decisions, they’ll be scrapping for a place at the table.