The New York Yankees opened spring training with some questions surrounding their starting rotation. Who will be the fifth starter? Will we ever see the old C.C. Sabathia? Will Ivan Nova build on his success from last season? What can we really expect from Masahiro Tanaka? Some of these questions have been answered. Michael Pineda seems like a lock to be the fifth starter to open the year. Nova and Sabathia have looked good so far. Tanaka has looked as good as billed.
So, the rotation seems set to open the 2014 season. More than likely, it will look something like this.
Opening Day Starter: C.C. Sabathia – It doesn’t seem there are many people who expect Sabathia to return to his form as a dominant, number one starter. He is however, a proven front-end starting pitcher. His name alone might be the reason he pitches opening day, but whether or not he can re-invent himself as a quality pitcher with diminished “stuff” remains to be seen.
Number 2 Starter: Hiroki Kuroda – The 39-year-old pitched very well for the Yankees for much of last season, before faltering in the latter months of the year. Kuroda may not be the second best pitcher on the staff, but like Sabathia, his track record will earn him the second spot in the rotation.
Number 3 Starter: Ivan Nova – Nova had a wonderful season last year despite a slow start. He was hands-down the best Yankee pitcher in the second half. If Nova, still just 27, continues to improve and remains consistent, he will undoubtedly, become a front-of-the-rotation guy in the coming seasons.
Number 4 Starter: Masahiro Tanaka – When the Yankees signed Tanaka to a 7-year, $155 million dollar contract, they said they looked at him as a solid number three starter. Seems like a pretty expensive third starter to me. There is no doubt that the Yankees’ brass envisions Tanaka as the ace of the future. He has looked like that kind of guy this spring. My colleague, Matt Mirro touched on why its more beneficial for Tanaka to start in the fourth slot rather than the third to open the season.
Number 5 Starter: Michael Pineda: Pineda was arguably the biggest question mark of the spring. Everyone knows what Pineda did in 2011. He was a flame-thrower and an All-Star. An ace for years to come, Pineda was a phenom. The past two seasons have made people reconsider their views of the 6’7″ righty. He has been riddled with injuries and has not pitched in the majors since the Yankees made the blockbuster trade that sent then-top prospect, Jesus Montero to the Emerald City. Pineda has flat-out dominated this spring, and looks poised to return dividends to the team that wagered quite a bit on him.
So, we know what the rotation will look like opening day. But what will it look like in September, when the Yankees hope to be making a run at the pennant? In my opinion, it will look quite different. I have revised the order, as well as projected year-end numbers.
Number 1 Starter: Masahiro Tanaka (16-7, 3.50 ERA) – I might catch some flak for this one. I believe we may see Tanaka experience some growing pains early in the season, as he adapts to Major League batters. I think by the All-Star break however, that will be but a memory. Look for Tanaka to show Yankees’ fans what he is capable of, what he has shown Japanese fans for years; that he is a legitimate ace and guy that can carry a team when needed.
Number 2 Starter: Michael Pineda (15-9, 3.45 ERA) – Although it was just one season, Pineda showed the ability to be an ace. Judging by what he has done this spring, the only thing that will derail him is another major arm injury. Look for Pineda to be a key pitcher for a post-season run.
Number 3 Starter: Ivan Nova (16-11, 3.85 ERA) – Nova looks ready to break out. He has the stuff, and looks like he is poised to show people he can be an above average starter for a full season. Nova should lead the Yankees in starts and be the rock in the middle of the rotation, as well as an innings eater.
Number 4 Starter: C.C. Sabathia (14-12, 3.95 ERA) – While I expect the big fella to have a bounce-back year, his days as a front-end starter are behind him. Sabathia should be able to get by as a guy that pitches in the low 90’s, and uses his knowledge and smarts to get guys out. His leadership will be paramount to the success of the younger starters.
Number 5 Starter: Hiroki Kuroda (9-11, 4.85 ERA) I don’t think Kuroda, in what is likely his last year in MLB, will have a story book ending to his career. Father time will catch up to the elder-statesman of the Yankees’ staff. I don’t expect Kuroda to be healthy all year and cannot believe he will be much of a factor down the stretch, healthy or not.
I realize that some of these predictions are a little bold and its a long baseball season. A lot can change between now and September, but do not be surprised to see the New York Yankees rotation that ends the 2014 season look a lot different than the one that starts it.