Going into Spring Training the Yankees had, barring some disaster or an unexpected loss of form, 4 of the starting positions firmly fixed. 3 of those were carry-overs from the 2009 World Champs – Sabathia, Burnett and Pettitte.
C.C. Sabathia had been all the Yankees could have hoped for when they signed him as a free agent. In 2008, between Cleveland and Milwaukee, he had achieved 18 wins, 2009 brought him a league leading 19. His ERA drifted out slightly from 2.70 to 3.37 but was well within the margins of what would make the Yankees feel exuberant about having him as their no. 1 starter.
A. J. Burnett didn’t have the best season of his career but the stats show that his 13 wins was the second best year total he’s ever had – which perhaps shows how much reputations can quickly become over-inflated in MLB. His 4.04 was a very slight improvement on his last year in Toronto. However, in 2009 he walked too many and he delivered up too many wild pitches (leading the league in both categories) and the Yankees will be looking for an improvement in his ability to stay around the edges of the strike zone. It was a solid first season to build upon and he was a good clubhouse presence.
Andy Pettitte has been at around 14-15 wins for the last four years and his 14 in 2009 was a mark of his consistency. He is at the tail-end of his career but has once more decided to return and the Yankees are delighted to have this quality pitcher as their number three starter.
The first three starters then are as they were last year and the Yankees could not hope for better on paper but last year the 4th and 5th starter booths were a mess and the team made it a clear goal to improve that. The number four vacancy has led to a return to the past with Javier Vazquez returning to the club. Vazquez was good but not a number one pitcher during his one season with the Yankees in 2004. This time he only has to be the number four. For the last 5 years he has pitched over 200 innings per season. If he can do that again and match the eleven wins that were his lowest total in that five year period then the Yankees will be very happy indeed.
The fifth starter was another question and all five contenders for this slot were on the club in 2009 and didn’t do enough. Joba Chamberlain and Phil Hughes went into Spring Training as the leaders in the race for the role but there was enough anxiety about both of them that three more-seasoned journeymen were giving every opportunity to make the spot their own too. Sergio Mitre (3-3, 6.79 ERA in 2009), Alfredo Aceves (10-1, 3.54 ERA in 2009 but mostly in long relief) and Chad Gaudin (6-10, 4.64 ERA in 2009 were the other possibles.
The goal for the Yankees was to have either Hughes or Chamberlain live up to their billing (preferably Chamberlain) and allow Aceves to continue in the role that he made his own last season. Plan B would see Aceves step into the role. If all else failed they would go with Mitre or Gaudin.
It is a sign of how well Spring Training has gone for the pitching staff that Phil Hughes has been announced as the fifth starter and they feel confident enough about that decision that Gaudin, who started out second bottom of the pile and finished at the bottom, has been cut loose.
1. C.C. Sabathia
2. A.J. Burnett
3. Andy Pettitte
4. Javier Vazquez
5. Phil Hughes
6. Sergio Mitre
7. Joba Chamberlain
8. Alfredo Aceves
Will Carry: 4 on opening day, 5 from the middle of April