At the beginning of the offseason, the fifth starter competition was completely wide open, at least according to the Yankees brass. The guys vying for the spot were Michael Pineda, David Phelps, Adam Warren, Vidal Nuño and even Manny Banuelos had an outside shot at the job. As spring materialized, we began to realize that this really was a two horse race, and the Yankees had fitted one of them with golden horse shoes. Let’s talk about the two fellows that manager Joe Girardi will most likely give the job to, and what will become of them.
The Yankees have all but announced that Pineda has won the fifth starter role, although official word won’t come until this weekend. However, I could have told you Pineda was the favorite to win the job from day one. For one thing, the Yankees thought they were getting a stud potential number one guy when they Traded their top prospect, Jesus Montero, to the Mariners for him two years ago, so you know they want him to succeed. If Pineda is healthy, and somewhat effective, you know they’re going to want him in the role, right?
Luckily, for the Yankees, Pineda showed up to camp in shape and ready to win the job. So far this spring, he’s done nothing but get people out. Through four games and three starts, he’s pitched 15 innings and allowed only 2 runs on 14 hits. Even better than that, he only has 1 walk and 16 strike outs. He’s not quite throwing gas like he did as a rookie in 2011, but he’s gotten the ball up there as high as 94, and his slider has been filthy all spring long. If he can throw in the low-mid 90s, and back it up with that slider, he’s going to get people out. He’s been great, and he really has earned the spot. It will be nice to see him contribute to the major league team this year. If for some crazy reason, Girardi goes with Phelps, I’d expect Pineda to go to AAA to stay stretched out as a starter.
David Phelps is an interesting cat too, and he’s been almost as good as Pineda this spring, but I don’t think he’s done enough. First of all, Phelps doesn’t have the buzz around him that Pineda does. He’s the nice guy that the hot chick keeps around as “just friends” while she waits for the guy she really loves to come a-knockin’. Sure, she’ll hook up with the friend when she’s drunk; but at the end of the day, she’s going to prom with Michael Pineda. It’s what happens when you’re a 14th round pick and don’t have any “wow” pitches.
Phelps has been a part of this pitching staff, as a starter and a reliever, for the last two years. In that time, he’s pitched 55 games (23 starts) and racked up 186.1 innings of 4.11 ERA ball. Now, he was much better his rookie year than last year, but he’s shown enough talent to make me confident that he can help the Yankees. So far this spring, he’s started five games and put up a 2.75 ERA in 19.2 innings. He’s walked only 4, and struck out 14, and only really had one bad outing. Unfortunately, the Yankees really like Michael Pineda. Sure he’s been mean to them the last two years, but he can change! Plus, if Pineda let’s them down again, they’ll always have Phelps waiting in the pen.
That is, of course, unless the Yankees decide to trade Phelps for some infield help. It’s no secret that the Yankees need a young infielder to back up, and potentially take over for, both Derek Jeter and Brian Roberts. Phelps is only 27, has shown the ability to get major league hitters out, and won’t be a free agent until 2019. The Yankees also have Nuño and Banuelos waiting in the wings at AAA. That being said, Pineda’s shoulder is no sure thing, Nuño is unproven and Banuelos hasn’t been able to stay healthy in his young career.
Do I think they should trade Phelps? Not yet. First of all, Phelps can get major league hitters out. Second of all, with Pineda’s shoulder, and the rash of injuries going around the league this spring, they might be better off holding onto Phelps for the time being. However, if come July they know Pineda’s arm is healthy and Nuño or Banuelos are ready to contribute, maybe they can use Phelps and other prospects to get a missing piece type player. They could also hold onto him and have him compete for the fifth starter role with Banuelos next spring.
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