The 2010 Yankees season ended abruptly in Arlington, TX, with a starting pitching staff left in tatters and there will be work to do on it before the 2011 season begins.
At least one big mystery has been solved. Those of you wondering why CC Sabathia was not his usual self in the playoffs can blame a meniscus tear in his right knee, which was repaired on Friday.
Sabathia’s 21-7 record an 3.18 ERA may be worthy of his second Cy Young Award and he did not lose any of his three postseason starts. However, he allowed 10 earned runs and 22 hits in 16 innings and he did not look anything like the shutdown ace he has been for the Yankees the past two seasons.
Behind Sabathia it is no secret the Yankees would like to add a quality starter and Texas left-hander Cliff Lee will be at the top of the shopping list this winter. The Yankees can pretty much open the vault to bid for his services.
The question is: Will Lee sign?
Having his old Indians’ pal Sabathia will be a great help in getting Lee on board if the money is right.
The Yankees also would love to have Andy Pettitte come back. It was his groin injury, suffered on July 18 against the Rays, that exposed the weak underbelly of the Yankees rotation the rest of the season.
Though Pettitte was able to return in late September and though he pitched the best of all of the starters in the postseason, the starting pitching staff collapsed down the stretch and cost the Yankees the American League East title.
But the Yankees would love to have Pettitte back simply because he pitched his best baseball in years when he was healthy. At the time of his injury, Pettitte was 11-2 with a 2.88 ERA and he made the All-Star team.
The question is will Andy give it one more go at age 38? The Yankees hope the answer is yes.
Phil Hughes, 24, emerged as a potential ace for the future. Winning the No. 5 spot in spring training, Hughes was 18-8 with a 4.19 ERA. But it hardly was as easy as it looked. Hughes was 11-2 with a 3.65 ERA and made the All-Star team in the first half.
However, he was only 7-6 with a 4.90 ERA in the second half. He also pitched poorly in both of his starts in the American League Championship Series. Hughes was bolstered by great run support. He led all major-league pitchers with 7.45 runs per nine innings.
Hughes needs to develop a swing-and-miss pitch that will keep opposing hitters from fouling off his good fastball and running up his pitch counts. But the Yankees still believe that Hughes can become an excellent pitcher now that he will be able to pitch without any restrictions on his innings pitched.
If the Yankees can look to any players that may have cost them a championship season, look no further than Exhibit A: A.J. Burnett and Exhibit B: Javier Vazquez.
Burnett was 18-10 with a 4.07 ERA with the Blue Jays in 2008, which earned him a rich four-year deal with the Yankees. In 2009, Burnett was 13-9 with a 4.04 ERA and he was coming off a strong showing in the postseason.
But 2010 was anything but strong. Burnett has always been a poster child for inconsistency but the Yankees were shocked by how bad Burnett was in 2010.
He was 7-2 with a 3.28 ERA in the first two months. In July, he was 3-1 with a 2.00 ERA. But in the other months, Burnett was 1-12 with a 7.85 ERA. No amount of offense can overcome pitching that bad.
Unfortunately for the Yankees, they are stuck with Burnett and his huge contract for two more seasons. The Yankees can only hope that pitching coach Dave Eiland can find him a consistent release point in his delivery and shorten the lengths of inconsistency.
Fortunately for the Yankees, Vazquez is a goner. Much like Burnett, Vazquez would pitch poorly for a while, then rebound, only to pitch poorly again. He was 10-10 with a 5.32 ERA and he spent most of late August and September in the bullpen.
Vazquez, 34, lost zip on his fastball and his breaking stuff was just too easy for hitters to crush. So the Yankees are not going to bring him back in 2011.
Though Vazquez was a disappointment after his 15-10 season in 2009 with the Braves, Brian Cashman must take the blame for this deal. Vazquez and left-hander Boone Logan came over from the Braves and the Yankees shipped Melky Cabrera and promising left-hand reliever Michael Dunn to the Braves.
The Yankees passed on free agent John Lackey, allowing the right-hander to sign with the Red Sox. Lackey was 14-11 with a 4.40 ERA. Somehow the difference between the salary Lackey earned and the money paid to Vazquez does not seem so great when kept in context of how Vazquez was a major reason the 2010 Yankees did not advance to the World Series.
The Yankees do have some hope on the horizon in 23-year-old Ivan Nova. Nova was summoned as a replacement starter in late August and was 1-2 with a 4.50 ERA in seven starts. The only question for Nova is if his stuff can translate into getting through a batting order three times as a starter.
If the answer is no, Nova could be a candidate for short relief because the Yankees love his composure and competitiveness on the mound. His poise really impressed manager Joe Girardi.
The Yankees also have a contingency plan if Lee somehow escapes them. They may be able to convince the Kansas City Royals to trade Cy Young Award winner Zack Greinke. The 27-year-old right-hander might be on the market if the Royals can get some prospects to rebuild their team for him.
Of course, the asking price might include catcher Jesus Montero, Nova and reliever Joba Chamberlain. But if the Yankees believe Greinke can get them back to the World Series they may be willing to make the deal.
Greinke is coming off a bad season. He was 10-14 with a 4.17 ERA. But there is no doubt he would benefit greatly from the Yankees’ offense because the Royals were unable to support him with many runs in the past two seasons.
It would appear that Cashman will be on the hot seat again this winter. His job is repair this rotation with the best arms he can find.
The Yankees’ hopes for 2011 pretty much hang in the balance.