When the Yankees failed to sign free-agent left-hander Cliff Lee, general manager Brian Cashman immediately launched a Plan B to fill holes in the starting rotation. The Yankees not only lost out on Lee, but veteran left-hander Andy Pettitte chose to retire. To fill in those two spots in the rotation behind CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett and Phil Hughes, Cashman signed 34-year-old Freddy Garcia and 37-year-old Bartolo Colon. In addition, the Yankees signed 36-year-old Kevin Millwood and 31-year-old Carlos Silva to minor-league contracts. Youth movement? Hardly. But let’s see how these moves are shaping up:
FREDDY GARCIA (1-0, 1.29 ERA)
“Chief” as Garcia is called was part of a group of four pitchers vying for two spots in the Yankees’ rotation in spring training. In truth, he was the least impressive of the group of three after Sergio Mitre was traded in mid-March.
Yet, he was handed the No. 5 spot in the rotation on the basis of his 2010 season in which he was 12-6 with a 4.64 ERA in 28 starts with the White Sox. Garcia had won 12 or more games in seven of eight seasons between 1999 and 2006 before injuries limited him to 23 starts over the next three seasons. But his bounceback season in 2010 convinced Cashman to give him a chance to make the team this spring.
The early returns on the 2011 are promising. Garcia threw a two-hit shutout over six innings in his first start against a good-hitting Texas Rangers team on April 16. He walked two and struck out two and looked in command throughout.
This first effort does not prove that Garcia will continue to pitch this well throughout the season. But it does show that the right-hander still has some gas left in the tank and he could ride the Yankees’ offense to another season of 12 wins or more in 2011.
BARTOLO COLON (1-1, 3.50 ERA)
Colon, who won the American League Cy Young Award in 2005, was actually more impressive than Garcia in spring training. However, because he had not pitched in the major leagues in 2010 there were concerns about his durability.
After all, Colon is carrying at least 265 pounds on a 5-foot-11 frame and he had not made more than 18 starts in any season since 2005. He was 3-8 with a 4.19 ERA in 12 starts with the White Sox in 2009 and he was released.
The Yankees decided to sign him after his winter league manager, Yankee bench coach Tony Pena, recommended him on the basis of his ability to throw his fastball at 94 miles per hour and remarkable control.
As a result of his hot spring, the Yankees traded Mitre and placed Colon in the bullpen to begin the season. But when 24-year-old right-hander Phil Hughes faltered in his first three starts and showed reduced velocity, the Yankees opted to put Hughes on the disabled list and Colon was chosen to taken his spot in the rotation.
All Colon did in his first start was give up just two runs on five hits and two walks and he fanned seven in 6 2/3 innings against a very good hitting Toronto Blue Jays team. In 18 innings this season, Colon has walked five batters and struck out 20. That is a pretty impressive ratio for a Plan B pickup off the scrap heap.
Again, one start does not make a season. But Colon is showing that he is able to command the strike zone and get outs against tough teams. It is pretty obvious the Yankees need him, too.
KEVIN MILLWOOD (1-0, 0.00 ERA at Double-A Trenton)
Millwood was baseball’s biggest loser in 2010 and we are not talking about weight. For a very bad Baltimore Orioles team Millwood was 4-16 with a 5.10 ERA in 31 starts. That earned him a ticket to free agency this winter and there were no takers.
The Yankees were interested but Millwood insisted on a guaranteed deal to make the roster. The Yankees declined. With spring training coming to a close, Millwood relented and signed a minor-league deal with the Yankees contingent on him being released if he is not called up to the majors before May 1.
The clock is ticking and the Yankees have just nine days to make an assessment on Millwood. On the one hand, Millwood was very impressive in his first start for the Trenton Thunder. He went seven innings, gave up one hit, walked four and struck three.
There also is the fact that the Yankees have another 24-year-old starter who is struggling. In his first three starts, Ivan Nova was unimpressive and he lost a game in relief to the Blue Jays on Tuesday.
In four appearances, Nova is 1-2 with a 7.63 ERA and his latest start was skipped. Nova will likely get another start before a final decision is made. But the Yankees might call on yet another aging right-hander like Millwood to bail out a struggling 24-year-old kid in Nova.
Tick, tick, tick.
CARLOS SILVA (No Record)
Silva has pitched for the Phillies, the Twins, the Mariners and the Cubs since 2002. He was 14-8 with a 4.21 ERA in his first season as a starter with the Twins in 2004.
However, he has struggled since he was 9-8 with a 3.44 ERA in 27 starts in an injury-shortened 2005 campaign. After going 24-29 in two ill-fated seasons with the Twins, Silva signed with Seattle.
In 2008, he was 4-15 with a 6.46 ERA in 28 starts and after an injury-plagued 2009 season in which he was 1-3 with an 8.60 ERA, he moved on to the Cubs and picked up some helpful instruction from then-pitching coach Larry Rothschild.
Silva actually pitched well for the Cubs in 2010. He was 10-6 with a 4.22 ERA in 21 starts before a right elbow strain shelved him. Silva did not make the Cubs’ 2011 roster, he turned down a demotion to the minors and he was subsequently released.
But Rothschild thinks he still can pitch and the Yankees have offered him a mior-league contract. Currently, the Yankees have Silva pitching in extended spring training in Tampa with the hopes he can begin pitching in the minors soon in an effort to get back to the major leagues.
He is likely a month or even two away from promotion but the Yankees have nothing really to lose in giving him a shot.
It is obvious what the Yankees are doing with Garcia, Colon, Millwood and Silva. They no longer are Michelins but they are solid patched up tires who carry the Yankees further in the pennant chase in 2011.
Cashman knows that teams are not going to shed quality starters in April or May — not when every team believes it has a chance to compete. But teams do fall out of races. Those teams also will look to cut salary in the summer. That is what Cashman is counting on.
Cashman has played this game before. In 2005, the Yankees rotation was riddled with injury and Cashman was forced to fill spots in the summer. He called up a rookie by the name of Chien-Ming Wang. He traded for a veteran right-hander from Colorado in Shawn Chacon and he called up a journeyman right-hander named Aaron Small.
Those three pitchers combined to go 25-8 in 38 starts and the Yankees ended up winning the division title. Small was 10-0 with a 3.20 ERA. So sometimes bargain-basement hunting for pitching has a silver lining.
The Yankees are also bidding for time for their young pitchers. They would love for Hughes and Nova to claim spots in the rotation and hold them. But if they can’t the team can’t just fold up their tents and write off t
he 2011 season either.
he 2011 season either.
They have very high hopes for a trio of pitchers in the minors: 25-year-old right-hander Andrew Brackman, 23-year-old right-hander Dellin Betances and 20-year-old phenom lefty Manny Banuelos. Rather than rush those guys to the majors, the Yankees are going to let them develop at their own pace.
Brackman possibly could be promoted this season but the Yankees would rather he build his arm — three years removed from Tommy John surgery — at the minor-league level.
There is a good chance that Banuelos might get promoted to the major-league club in September as a additional lefty in the bullpen. The Yankees believe using him much like they did with Joba Chamberlain in 2007 could be beneficial to him and not tax his arm unduly.
But, until Cashman makes a deal to acquire a quality starter, the Yankees will look to their geriatric quartet of Garcia, Colon, Millwood and Silva to carry them until the cavalry arrives.
These pitchers may be closer to drawing Social Security than votes for the Cy Young Award but they can help keep the Yankees afloat long enough for the team to stay in the race. Cashman, manager Joe Girardi and Rothschild do not have any other expectations of them than that. Anything above that is a bonus.