How do you replace a legend? The New York Yankees were already facing the daunting and impossible task of replacing Mariano Rivera at the back of the bullpen and are now going to have to somehow replace Andy Pettitte in the rotation. General manager Brian Cashman will certainly have his hands full this off-season as he tries to replace two retiring legends and bring back Robinson Cano and Hiroki Kuroda as the Yankees try to rebound from a season that will almost assuredly result in the team missing the playoffs for just the second time since 1995.
Even though Pettitte has been more of a middle of the rotation type of pitcher recently he has shown he is still capable of leading a staff for short stints as he has down the stretch this season. In August, Pettitte pitched to a 3.04 ERA while going 3-1 over five starts. In September, Pettitte has pitched to a 3.24 ERA although in four starts he has one loss and three no decisions. He has been the Yankees’ best pitcher over the last two months when the Yankees needed every win Pettitte did his best and kept his team in it.
It is that kind of grittiness that has defined Pettitte throughout his career and that is what Cashman will have to replace somehow. The problem facing Cashman is pitchers like Pettitte are extremely rare. There are only a handful of pitchers in all of baseball with the attributes Pettitte has displayed throughout his career so replacing him will be nearly impossible.
Cashman’s job would be much easier if C.C. Sabathia rediscovered the success that made him one of the best pitchers in the game over the last six years. It would also help if Hiroki Kuroda, despite his struggles down the stretch, were to re-sign. It would also help if Michael Pineda were healthy next season and pitched to the potential he showed in 2011 with the Seattle Mariners but he can’t be counted on at this point after two wasted years spent on the disabled list.
The free agent market isn’t exactly teeming with top starters either. Masuhiro Tanaka and Matt Garza are the best free agents available and Tanaka will require the Yankees to win the posting process and there is a chance the Yankees could be gun shy since Kei Igawa burned them a few years ago.
Most likely, the Yankees will look at what they have on the roster or in their system. David Phelps, Ivan Nova, Pineda, Brett Marshall, Adam Warren and even Manny Banuelos might be given shots to earn a roster spot in the rotation to save money. Banuelos is a longshot since he needs to stretch his arm out after being out for the season this year and missing a large chunk last year. He just doesn’t have the miles on his arm for him to be a pitcher at the MLB level.
It will be impossible for Cashman to replace Pettitte in the rotation at this moment. The Yankees have to have some of their own pitchers step up and perform up to their ability next season starting with Sabathia while hoping one of their younger pitchers like Phelps, Nova, Pineda or Warren is ready to firmly take hold of a rotation spot. One cannot replace a Pettitte and the kind of pitcher he was in big games but one of the young pitchers will need to give the Yankees similar performances in the middle of the rotation and even that might be asking too much.