's back woes this week are not serious by any stretch of the imagination, but they do underscore a concern the Yankees must have heading into the season.
With three of their five projected starting pitchers representing injury risks ranging from minor to major, will this rotation be able to withstand the long-term loss of a key arm like Pettitte?
Let's take a quick look at the Yankees depth chart of moundsmen and try to determine who will emerge with the greatest value this season.
Pettitte's back, which will cause him to miss Friday's start, isn't a major setback, but should ensure that Chien-Ming Wang
will take the mound on Opening Day on April 2. Wang won 19 games with a strong ERA last year and finished second in the AL Cy Young race, but his rate of 3.14 Ks/9 was actually worse than during his rookie season. The fact that he was more hittable last year wasn't a good sign either. Those wins make him attractive, especially in a 4x4 league, but in a strikeout league, you will probably have to overpay for him and may wind up having a reliever with more Ks.
After seriously contemplating retirement this winter, Petttitte has returned to the Yanks and so far this spring, everything had gone swimmingly until he hurt his back doing squats on Monday. Pettitte said he felt "pretty locked up," and had to skip his bullpen session on Tuesday. Although he felt much yesterday, the Yanks have decided to err on the side of caution and skip his scheduled start today. The 34-year-old southpaw wasn't pleased about missing his outing, but says as long as he gets in one more start this spring, he'll be ready to throw 80-something pitches in his first start of the regular season. He's had plenty of elbow issues in his career, but has managed to top 200 innings in each of the past two seasons. However, last season Petttitte struggled until about the time Roger Clemens
showed up. And don't forget that Pettitte wasn't exactly a Cy Young candidate in the latter half of his first tour of duty with the Yanks, recording an ERA over 4.00 in five of the last six seasons he spent in pinstripes.Mike Mussina
also has a chance to start on Opening Day, but whichever slot he takes up in the rotation, he'll likely wind up as the Yankees' most valuable starter, assuming he can avoid arm troubles. Moose enjoyed a nice recovery last season after two down years and I absolutely love the control he showed in 2006. I doubt he duplicates his efforts in 2007, but the results will probably still be good enough to make him the most attractive fantasy option in the Yanks' rotation.Carl Pavano
, one of the worst free agent signings in recent memory, has been slapped around quite a bit this spring, but Manager Joe Torre doesn't seem concerned at all. He just wants to make sure the perpetually-injured Pavano is capable of taking the ball every fifth day. But if you're looking for a guy who's going to be on a short leash this season, Pavano's your man. At 31, he's hardly an old man; it just seems that way. Kei Igawa
, the Yanks' consolation prize from Japan after they lost the Daisuke Matsuzaka
sweepstakes, is currently penciled in as the No. 5 man in the rotation. He probably cinched the job over Jeff Karstens
after throwing five shutout innings on Tuesday. Like Pavano, Igawa may not be long for the job if he doesn't start showing a lot more than what he has this spring.
The two most likely candidates to earn jobs as injuries or ineffective hit are Karstens, who's really opened some eyes this spring with his improved velocity, and Philip Hughes, the organization's top pitching prospect, but a kid the Yanks would rather not rush. Many would like to see Karstens break camp with either Pavano's or Igawa's job, but that's not going to happen. It's just economics. If you throw in Igawa's posting fee, New York has $86 million invested in those two arms, so they're going to get every opportunity to fail (not that Pavano hasn't already had plenty of chances to do). Karstens will probably head back to Triple-A (although there's some talk he could stick as a long reliever/spot starter, a job Darrell Rasner
is also in competition for), but he will be a factor this year at some point, and should make a very attractive waiver wire pickup when he does get the call to join the rotation.
Hughes wasn't overly impressive this spring, probably somewhat to the relief of the Yanks. If he had been lights out, Hughes might have forced their hand before they were ready. We're talking about a 20-year-old kid who is going to be very special. Send him down to Triple-A and make sure that when he comes up, it's for keeps. That could happen by the All-Star break depending on his results in the minors. By now, Hughes should be long gone in any keeper league and I've seen him drafted as a late-round flyer in plenty of one-year leagues.
Of course, the wildcard here is Clemens. Could he decide to rejoin his buddy Pettitte again? Certainly when he showed up at one of Pettitte's start earlier this spring, the tongues were wagging. Yesterday, however, the scuttlebutt had him headed to Boston to replace Jonathan Papelbon
, who's returning to the pen.
While we're talking about pitching, let's check in on a couple of arms from other teams:
- Sergio Mitre looks like the best bet to break camp with injured starter Josh Johnson's job in the Marlin rotation. Yusmeiro Petit is still is the mix, but Mitre looked great in throwing 44-of-59 pitches for strikes on Wednesday in a Triple-A game, fanning six in 4 1/3 innings. Owner Jeffrey Loria was even watching this one, so Mitre definitely earned some brownie points for his efforts. Coming off a season in which shoulder issues forced him to the DL for almost three month, Mitre enters the season as an unknown commodity, but he's looking like a bit of a sleeper.
- There was some great news Thursday for Jered Weaver owners as he able to throw 60 pitches – including the first 10 breaking balls he's thrown this spring – in a simulated game. Weaver will begin the season on the DL because of biceps tendinitis, but after feeling no pain in yesterday's session, he's on track to make his season debut on April 16. The plan calls for the soph to throw a minor league game on Tuesday and then work every fifth day in rehab assignments until taking the mound for the Angels in Boston next month. It's hard to imagine Weaver duplicating the success he had in his 19 starts in the majors last season, but he's still expected to be among the AL's top starters and considering you likely spent an eighth or ninth round pick on him this year, you can breathe a big sigh of relief knowing that it appears his spring arm issues won't linger.