Saturday, February 04, 2006

A call to arms in the Bronx

When your lineup already features names such as Alex Rodriguez, Gary Sheffield ,Hideki Matsui, Derek Jeter and Jason Giambi, adding a player such as Johnny Damon can only make the machine run more effectively.

But even before the Damon signing, the Yankees weren't very concerned with their ability to score runs. After all, New York's 886 runs last season ranked second in the American League, so putting crooked numbers on the scoreboard wasn't the problem.

The Yankees' success in 2006 will have less to do with their offense as it will with their pitching, as they enter the season with a deep rotation and a brand new bullpen -- each of which has some major question marks.

New York's pitching staff ranked ninth in the AL with a 4.52 ERA last season, its lowest ranking in the last four years. Injuries forced the club to use a total of 14 starting pitchers throughout the course of the season, which was both a blessing and a curse.

The curse? Carl Pavano and Jaret Wright fell short of expectations in their first year in pinstripes, while Mike Mussina battled an arm ailment for the second consecutive year.

The blessing? Those injuries forced the Yankees to send pitchers such as Chien-Ming Wang, Aaron Small and Shawn Chacon to the mound, giving the Bombers three more arms they can depend on without worrying about how the pressure of the Bronx will affect them.

The Yankees enter Spring Training with seven starters vying for five spots, a luxury Joe Torre didn't have last year at this time. All spring, Torre expressed his concern for the lack of depth, and the rash of injuries that followed justified that concern.

With Randy Johnson, Mussina, Wang, Chacon, Pavano, Wright and Small all set to report to camp in mid-February, Torre and Ron Guidry, the team's new pitching coach, will have plenty of options when it comes to the rotation.

"We have a lot of talent, but a lot of questions," said general manager Brian Cashman. "Some regarding age, some regarding health, some regarding how real last year's second-half performances were. How real were Chacon and Small? Is Johnson going to be what he was in the second half? Will Pavano be healthy?"

This marked the first offseason of the new millennium in which Cashman was not shopping for starting pitching, apparently confident to go to battle with the arms already on the roster.
In recent winters, New York has acquired players such as Mussina, Jose Contreras, Javier Vazquez, Kevin Brown, Jon Lieber, David Wells, Johnson, Pavano and Wright, adding at least one arm to the rotation each year.

There was no splashy pitching signing or trade this year, however, as the Yankees chose to pass on names such as A.J. Burnett and Josh Beckett, unwilling to pay the price in dollars or prospects to acquire a new hurler.

But what happens when camp breaks at the beginning of April? Only five of the pitchers can work as starters, leaving two of them to adjust to life in the bullpen. As far as Cashman is concerned, that would be a nice problem to have.

"Hopefully everyone stays healthy and their performance will dictate what happens from there," Cashman said. "Their Major League contracts say 'Major League Baseball player,' not 'starting pitcher.' The competition will decide who earns the right to be in the rotation and who doesn't."

Johnson and Mussina will lead the rotation as long as they remain healthy, leaving the final three spots up for grabs among the other five pitchers. If Wang and Chacon pitch the way they did last season, it would be hard to imagine either of them not landing starting jobs.

Pavano and Wright must prove to the coaching staff that they are back at full strength, the problems of 2005 completely behind them. Pavano, who is entering the second year of a four-year, $40 million deal, would seem to be the favorite to land the final spot in the rotation if he is healthy again. Cashman believes he is, though he needs to see it with his own eyes.

"Until he's throwing off the mound, I guess it will be a question mark," Cashman said. "He's got a full, clean bill of health, but he has to go out there every five days and mow hitters down without complaint."

Whatever decisions are made by the end of camp, the Yankees will have some insurance in the event of another injury or two -- something they didn't have last season when they needed it most.

"It's helpful, but we're hoping we don't have to turn to those options," Cashman said. "We have more depth on paper than we did last year, and hopefully they're quality options. There's a very high ceiling."

- Official Yankee Site


  • I think the pitching will be great this...I am a little concerned though, it seemed like we were supposed to be great with all of our high paid players and we struggled towards the beginning. Hopefully we don't have injuries and we can kick some tail. Looking forward to the season...thus far I think the Yanks are the only team with talent enough to win over 100 games.

    By Blogger Matt A., at 6:29 PM  

  • Yes! One big difference between the '05 Yanks and '06 Yanks is that the '06 Yanks have SEVEN starting pitchers compared to '05's five pitchers. ( Add Wang, Chacon, and Small...and minus Brown) So injuries will not have such a devestating effect on the Yanks this year...

    By Blogger MVB, at 8:02 PM  

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