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New York Yankees: What Happens When Michael Pineda Returns?

Kim Klement-USA Today Sports

Now that New York Yankees right-hander, Michael Pineda, has started his rehab assignment, it’s time to start breaking down what dominoes may be next to fall as he gets closer to returning.

If Pineda performs the way he’s capable of in his rehab assignment, the Yankees must make room for the 6-foot-8-inch pitcher who made the All-Star team in just his rookie season.

The Yankees rotation is broken up into three sections. Section one is the top tier of C.C. Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda and Andy Pettitte, whose jobs aren’t in jeopardy.

The next tier is David Phelps and Phil Hughes, whose jobs are safe as of now, but performance will dictate their future roles. Obviously, Phelps should have a bigger leash than Hughes, who despite having a strong last outing, has struggled for the most part.

The final tier is Ivan Nova and Vidal Nuno, who are currently in the minors but are next in line to grab a rotation spot if one presents itself.

While there is a chance the Yankees decide to keep Pineda in the minors even after his rehab stint is done, I expect he will be slotted into that second tier at the 4-5 spots in the rotation. Obviously this means either Phelps or Hughes will be in a different role, or in Hughes’ case, possibly on a different team.

At this point, with Phelps looking better and better with every start, I would suspect that Hughes is going to need a very strong next few weeks to keep his spot. The Yankees have shown quite a bit of loyalty, at times too much, to Hughes over the years. I think it’s time for that to change.

Assuming Hughes does lose his spot, the Yankees and GM Brian Cashman will still have more decisions to make. Do they put him in the bullpen or do they trade him?

Hughes has experience pitching out of the bullpen, which he did successfully in 2009. However, in 2009 Hughes was the primary 8th inning man. In 2013, with David Robertson being one of the better setup men in the game, his role would be much less defined or important. It’s anyone’s best guess how Hughes will fare in this role.

Another option for the Yankees to consider, which I’ve written about on several occasions, is for Hughes to be traded. As I mentioned earlier, the Yankees have the depth to withstand his departure. Nuno and Nova can easily replace what Hughes has given the Yankees.

Hughes still has value in certain locations around the league, but the Bronx isn’t one of them. If a team is willing to part with a mid-level prospect or two for Hughes, I believe he’ll be dealt. If they can’t get anything reasonable for the soon to be free agent, it may be in the Yankees’ best interest to just slot him in the bullpen and see how he does.

The Yankees must make the development of the starters who will be a part of the organization going forward priority number one. With Phelps and Pineda being the future of the Yankees staff, they deserve to be in the rotation until they pitch their way out if it and Hughes may be the casualty of that.

Pineda continues on his road back to the big leagues Friday as he starts his second rehab assignment game at Double-A Trenton.

 

Matthew Cermola is a New York Yankees and MLB writer for Rantsports.com. Follow him on Twitter @MCermolaRantMLB and add him to your network on Google.