It's no secret; despite the early success of the New York Yankee starting rotation, the team in the Bronx is still in desperate need of pitching help.
With a patchwork group of arms relying heavily on the leadership of CC Sabathia, the Yankees have thus far gotten by on veteran guile and maybe a little bit of good fortune.
Sabathia, the indisputable staff ace, has been reliable as always, delivering solid performances each time out, even if his won-loss record doesn't reflect the quality of his work.
Following CC, A.J. Burnett has been solid, if slightly unpredictable in the #2 slot. Despite his glowing 4-1 record and 3.93 ERA, he has only recorded quality starts in two of his six outings. Make no mistake, the Yankees will take his 2011 production over last year's version, but with the question marks surrounding the remainder of the staff, they need more consistency out of the enigmatic Burnett.
Missing from the equation is last year's rotation revelation, 18-game winner, Phil Hughes. With high expectations entering 2011, Hughes faltered mightily, and is now MIA for an as-yet undetermined length of time. His significantly diminished velocity led the team to assume injury, but a battery of tests has yet to reveal the culprit behind his "dead arm" syndrome.
The Yankees' two low-risk reclamation projects, Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia, have helped the Yankees massively, surpassing any expectations that anyone in the organization could have reasonably held for either pitcher. Colon at 2-1 with a 3.00 ERA, has at times looked like his former Cy Young winning self from 2005, while Garcia has gotten by on savvy to post a 1-1 mark with a 2.00 ERA. It remains to be seen how long each can ride their current waves of personal rejuvenation, but for now, their contributions have been invaluable.
Youngster Ivan Nova, is still searching for consistency, as he has battled to work deep into games so far in his young career. His progress has been promising however, and his most recent starts have been stellar.
There exists a bevy of talented young arms in the various levels of the Yankee minor league system, however none are deemed prepared to help the big league club on an immediate basis. The vaunted trio of the so-called "killer B's," Manuel Banuelos, Dellin Betances and Andrew Brackman all stand to make impacts in the Major Leagues, but are still learning in the minors. Hector Noesi has been impressive over the last few seasons and may stand the best chance of earning a call-up in the near future.
Despite the recent successful run by the Yankee starting staff, it is certain that Brian Cashman and the New York brass have been continually exploring opportunities to strengthen the rotation moving forward.
At this point, barring a miraculous return of Andy Pettitte, the primary opportunity to improve the staff rests in the trade market.
Prior to Opening Day, the Yankees were actively involved in trade discussions on several fronts, but were reluctant to part with the top prospects that teams craved in exchange for pitching help.
One of the most-discussed hurlers that was reported to be available was Francisco Liriano of the Minnesota Twins.
The talented 27-year-old lefty, once a massively-touted phenom, attracted attention from the Yankees due to his abilities and the desire for left-handed hurlers in Yankee Stadium.
During spring training, the Twins had reportedly discussed moving Liriano due to the fact that he will be a free-agent following the 2012 season. With little expectation of resigning him, Minnesota management was hoping to restock their minor league system with premium prospects from an eager trade partner.
Knowing that the Yankees view most of their prospects as trade chips, the Twins had eyes on catching prospect Jesus Montero and lefty Manny Banuelos, but the Yankees have so far balked on trade proposals including either of those youngsters. Of course, Montero had been included in talks for Cliff Lee last season, but the Yankees may be reevaluating his potential worth to the team.
They had preliminarily discussed the possibility of moving for Liriano during the spring, but a pre-season shoulder issue combined with his past injury history prevented the talks from going much further than speculatory.
Fast forward to today. Francisco Liriano, fresh from his no-hitter against the faltering Chicago White Sox, is front page news again. Despite his struggles early in the season, Liriano is being declared back on track due to his one historic outing.
One can be sure that the Twins, who are somehow already 9.5 games off the AL Central lead, were salivating over an opportunity to sell high on one of their most valuable assets if they deem themselves beyond the reasonable hope of a comeback.
This is where a little restraint is necessary. If George were still around, the trade to acquire Liriano would already be in the works.
But, let's not jump the gun and behave in such a short-sighted, reactionary manner.
Yes, Liriano is a great talent, and his 2010 season was much more impressive than his 14-10 record and 3.62 ERA would suggest. His 9.4 strikeouts per nine innings was fantastic, and his minuscule 0.4 home runs per nine innings led the league.
However, prior to his domination of the league-worst White Sox, Liriano was off to his own forgettable April. The no-hitter was only his second quality start of the season, or one less than Ivan Nova's three quality starts. In fact, the other four starts Liriano has made have not been merely less-than-quality, they have been atrocious.
Even in his two "quality starts," his two victories of the season, he has struggled. Of course, a no-hitter is always impressive, but the fact that he walked six batters should tarnish it somewhat. In his other win, while he only gave up two runs in 6.1 innings, he allowed five hits and five walks, walking a tightrope the entirety of his outing.
Currently, Liriano owns a 2-4 record with a 6.61 ERA, a 1.561 WHIP and is leading the AL with 24 walks in only 32.2 innings. He is allowing less hits per nine innings than he has since his 2006 breakout campaign, but his 5.5 strikeouts per nine innings is a career low, and his 6.6 walks per nine is nearly double his career rate.
Of course, it's only May 4, and Francisco has 30 more starts to rebound from his rough start to the 2011 campaign. All the requisite warnings regarding small sample sizes apply here.
This is not to say that Liriano is not a quality pitcher, or that he doesn't have a potentially bright future ahead of him. His prior successes and his talented left arm suggest that both of those remain well within his realm of possibilities.
I only aim to suggest some restraint on the part of the Yankees, something they are not necessarily associated with frequently. Watching a talented pitcher that the organization has coveted for some time can be alluring, but it doesn't make him any more talented or valuable to the team than he was prior to the no-hitter.
The same concerns exist that did in spring when he turned up with shoulder inflammation that shut him down temporarily. There is still the grim reality of his pitching results thus far, two solid starts among four terrible outings.
There is still the possibility that Francisco Liriano can be the ace that he has hinted at throughout his young career. However, the Yankees might be best-served reaching deep within their reserves of self-control and exercising the type of restraint that we don't usually associate with the Bronx Bombers.