An already crowded New York Yankees starting rotation may have to make space for another body in June. According to Yankees GM Brian Cashman, Michael Pineda, acquired before last season for former star prospect Jesus Montero, may return to the majors sometime in June. Pineda missed all of last season due to injury and never appeared in a regular season game for the Yankees. In his rookie year of 2011, he posted a 9-10 record with a 3.74 ERA while striking out 173 hitters in 171 innings as a member of the Seattle Mariners and was a member of the American League All-Star team.
As currently constructed, the Yankees know who their top four starters will be. C.C. Sabathia is the Yankees undoubted ace. Hiroki Kuroda, who excelled last season in his first year in the American League, is penciled in as the number two starter. Andy Pettitte will be penciled in behind Sabathia and Kuroda. Pettitte’s season didn’t begin until May last season and also missed two months due to a broken leg. However, when he did pitch, he was remarkable, posting a 2.87 ERA in 75.1 regular seasons innings and then allowing just five runs in 13.2 innings in two postseason starts. Phil Hughes, who tied with Kuroda last season for the staff lead in wins with 16, will be the number four starter.
As for the fifth spot in the rotation, it will come down to a competition between Ivan Nova and David Phelps. Last season, Nova regressed as he saw his 2011 3.70 ERA jump to 5.02 in 2012. However, he did show some improvements, as he struck out 55 more hitters in 2012 than in 2011 and in only five more innings pitched. In his rookie season, Phelps impressed the Yankees, posting a 3.34 ERA in 99.2 innings. In 11 appearances as a starter, he posted a 3.77 ERA, winning two games and losing two.
There are two scenarios in which Pineda could crack the rotation, granted that he is healthy and performing well in the minors. The first would be if neither Nova or Phelps can hold onto the fifth spot. The loser of the fifth spot battle in Spring Training would probably have the first crack at the fifth spot if the other fails. However, if both fail, that would create an opening for Pineda.
The other scenario is if the Yankees trade away one of their starters, with Hughes being the biggest candidate. As Hughes enters the final year of his contract, the Yankees may elect not to sign the right-hander to a long term deal as they try and stay under the $189 million threshold for the 2014 season. Unless they trade away Hughes for another starter, an opening would be created in the rotation that could go to Pineda.