Andy Pettitte is slated to return from the disabled list tonight to pitch against the Indians. I’m sure this is a happy occasion for Yankee fans, whose chief pastime these days is waiting for old guys to become well enough to actually play.
Mark Teixeira, at 33 a young pup by current Yankee standards, returned Friday in time for the Boston series. So did Kevin Youkilis, the former Red Sox star who is a year older than Teixeira and even further past his prime.
So what if “Youk” is a shell of his old self, or if “Tex” has seen his OPS (on-base plus slugging, for the uninitiated) decline every year since coming to the Bronx in 2009? They’re getting the old gang back together, and old is the operative word!
Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez are expected back after the All-Star break. Considering how well the Yankees played in the first two months of the season, exceeding expectations despite their many physical woes, fans have to be optimistic about their chances in the months ahead.
Well, let’s hope so. Maybe the pinstriped geriatrics will make one last stirring run, with the wondrous Mariano Rivera sawing off some hapless lefty’s bat to clinch the World Series in his final appearance.
But I see trouble on the horizon (and there’s also those four straight losses to the Mets in the rear-view mirror). At a time when hot young starting pitchers are popping up all over baseball, the Yankees are virtually devoid of young arms and dangerously reliant on an old, fragile rotation.
They’ve done an admirable job staying in the AL East race. Hiroki Kuroda, who is 38, has been a revelation. It’s hard to imagine where they would be without him. The rest of the rotation is showing cracks, however.
CC Sabathia went winless in a recent five-game stretch. His velocity has dropped 4 mph since he came to New York in 2009. Sabathia is a gamer, more craftsman than power pitcher, but the wear and tear might be getting to him. Pettitte, who turns 41 in two weeks and leads active pitchers with 249 wins, hasn’t started more than 21 games since '09.
Phil Hughes is a wreck. The former golden boy of the rotation is 2-4 with a 5.37 ERA after getting bombed by the Red Sox on Saturday. Hughes has allowed 12 home runs in 58.2 innings. He’s 26; how long must Yankee fans wait?
Every contending team in the majors has one or more pitchers Hughes’ age. Among baseball’s ERA leaders as of Sunday, six of the top eight were 25 years old or younger. Patrick Corbin is 23; Shelby Miller 22; Matt Harvey 24; Matt Moore 23.
Go down the list a bit and you run into Chris Sale, 24; Stephen Strasburg, 24; Alex Cobb, 25. You get the picture.
Strikeouts in baseball are up for the sixth consecutive season. What’s going down, along with batting averages and runs per game, is the age of the top pitchers. Meanwhile, there’s not a Yankee pitcher under the age of 32 among the top 90 rated hurlers in major league ERA.
It would be one thing if they had a young stud on the verge of breaking through, like Michael Wacha (Cards), Gerrit Cole (Pirates), Kyle Gibson (Twins), Dylan Bundy (Orioles) or Zach Wheeler (Mets), to name just a few.
The Red Sox aren’t exactly on the cutting edge here. But at least they have two top minor-league pitching prospects in Allen Webster and Matt Barnes. Clay Buchholz, who entered Sunday night with the best ERA in the game, is 28, which would qualify him as a whiz kid on the Yankees’ staff.
Who are the Yanks’ presumed saviors? Good question. Baseball America doesn’t have a Yankee pitcher among its top 100 prospects. The first Yankee hurler to show up on scoutingbook.com’s list is Manny Banuelos at No. 165.
Banuelos, a 22-year-old Mexican lefty, has great stuff. He was one of the “Killer B’s,” a trio of promising pitchers who were going to breathe young life into the rotation: Banuelos, Dellin Betances and Andrew Brackman.
Banuelos had Tommy John surgery and is out for this season. Betances, 25, went 2-2 with a 6.00 ERA in Scranton this year and was moved to the bullpen. He’s out of options after this season. Brackman, the Yanks’ No. 1 pick in the 2007 draft, also had Tommy John surgery. His career with the Yanks amounted to 2.1 innings. He’s now in the White Sox system.
Well, there’s always Michael Pineda, the prize righty the Yanks got from Seattle two years ago in the Jesus Montero deal. Pineda still hasn’t pitched for the Yanks due to a torn labrum in his shoulder. But he’s reportedly throwing well in extended spring training and could be ready late this month.
God knows, the Yanks could use him. Pineda would give them a vital asset in today’s game: A rising starter in his early 20s. And if he flames out, maybe they can revert to their tried-and-true methods of the good old days.
Wait for the other teams to find and develop hot young pitchers, then buy them up in free agency.