Lack of depth in Yankees’ system, losing Kuroda and Pettitte could force team into unwanted decisions


The New York Yankees could find themselves in a major predicament if they are unable to sign both Hiroki Kuroda and Andy Pettitte this offseason. Typically, the allure of a soon to be 38-year-old right-hander and a 40-year-old lefty wouldn’t be so strong, but the Yankees have painted themselves into a corner with the lack of development (and luck) of Major League ready starters in their system combined with their desire to limit spending now heading toward 2014.

In a perfect world, either Dellin Betances, Manny Banuelos or Michael Pineda would have been ready to help the Yankees rotation in 2013 (Pineda would have been in the rotation in 2012 had he not suffered an injury at the start of Spring Training). Betances flat out stunk this past season to the point that he was demoted to Double-A Trenton. Banuelos finds himself recuperating from Tommy John surgery which will keep him out of the 2013 season. Pineda’s recovery from microscopic surgery to repair a tear in his right labrum could keep him out until mid-season.

The Yankees need Hiroki Kuroda back next season or else they could be forced into otherwise unwanted options. (Image: Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports)

Betances is the real issue. He’s 23 and going in the wrong direction. He was shipped from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre (SWB) after recording a 6.39 ERA in 74 2/3 innings walking about one hitter per inning (69 BB). The thought obviously was to get him straightened out against inferior hitters. Unfortunately, it didn’t get better for the right-hander, it got worse. His ERA in 56 2/3 innings was 6.51 and batters hit a whopping .319 against him. His control showed no improvement as he walked 53 hitters. He was shut down in August with shoulder soreness. It’s hard to say whether that has something to do with his performance, but the long and short of it is he’s vastly underperformed so far. His stock has plummeted and he’ll need a highly successful 2013 season to get consideration from the Yankees for a spot in 2014.

Banuelos started just six games in 2012 for SWB before he was determined to need surgery. Fortunately for the Yankees, Banuelos turns just 22 in March, so he’ll be a 23-year-old should he return in 2014 without complications. He’ll likely need to move his way back through the system when he returns essentially wiping out any chance he once had of joining the Yankees rotation in 2014. He’d been able to refine his three best pitches over the last couple seasons and averaged nearly a strikeout per inning in his minor league career. Many pitchers come back stronger after Tommy John surgery and the Yankees will hold out hope that is the case with Banuelos.

When Pineda came over in the Jesus Montero trade with the Seattle Mariners, he figured to be a part of the Yankees rotation for some time. He had a slow start in the spring and then it was determined he had a tear in the shoulder that required surgery. Yankees general manager Brian Cashman has already indicated that the team will not rely on Pineda in 2013. If he makes it back they will consider it a bonus.

The ineffectiveness of Betances and the injuries to Banuelos and Pineda have forced the Yankees to go strong after Kuroda and Pettitte. I’m not suggesting they shouldn’t, but the Yankees could find themselves in a world of trouble if Kuroda signs elsewhere and Pettitte chooses to retire. If both scenarios happen the Yankees are sure to be shopping for arms they may not necessarily want in their stable for the long term due to the financial implications involved with the better rotation arms available in the free agent market this winter.

David Phelps can likely handle a number five spot in the rotation, but the Yankees might be better served with him in a swingman spot for 2013. Ideally the 2013 rotation would be CC Sabathia, Kuroda, Pettitte, Phil Hughes and Ivan Nova in the fifth spot if they stick with players in the system. Nova is coming off a poor 2012 season, but there is still a chance he can turn things around and has proven he can have moments of productive pitching at the Major League level. Nova is better served in as a starter versus a swingman so he can focus on one thing. His head is part of his issue and yanking him back and forth between the bullpen and rotation will only hurt his progression. The Yankees have Adam Warren in the wings, but he is an unproven commodity and it would be unfair to expect much from him early on. There isn’t a soul in the minor league system ready to jump into the rotation mix in 2013. There are plenty of arms who may be ready in 2014 and beyond, but the Yankees will have to look outside the organization if they lose Kuroda or Pettitte.

Getting Andy Pettitte back in 2013 is a high priority for Brian Cashman. (Image: Noah K. Murray/THE STAR-LEDGER via US PRESSWIRE)

Should the Yankees not have either Kuroda or Pettitte the team could be forced to make moves which would be hindered by the 2014 payroll limits. Any rotation option the Yankees could go after who would possess the abilities of Kuroda and/or Pettitte will cost not only more cash than the two veterans, but will likely want multiyear contracts. This could force the Yankees to look for other one-year options who will not be as likely to succeed as Kuroda or Pettitte. I recently looked at a couple scenarios in which the Yankees can maneuver the $189 million competitive balance threshold in 2014, but neither allows for a huge signing in the rotation. Either option provides for a number two/three type starter which may be pushing the envelope. Any choice they make has implications on spots required to be filled in the field.

So, expect the Yankees to throw more money at Kuroda than they already did in providing him with a qualifying offer of one-year/$13.3 million. It will hurt if he gets a two-year offer from anyone which will boost his guaranteed salary to points the Yankees may balk at. The Yankees are willing to go slightly higher in a one-year deal with the hopes that Kuroda wants just one more MLB contract before he retires in Japan. Pettitte will either pitch with the Yankees or retire, so there is no known competition for his services. If the Yankees are able to get both back they’ll escape a situation which could force a move they would not otherwise consider. If one or both are missing from the 2013 rotation, the Yankees could be relying on young still unproven arms or mediocre veterans in the market.