As we all know by now, beloved Yankee hurler Andy Pettitte has re-signed with the team following a year of living the retired life. The allure of once again donning the pinstripes proved too strong for the veteran left-hander to resist.
A veteran of 13 big league seasons as a Yankee and an additional three years with the Houston Astros, Pettitte's short-lived ride into the sunset saw him turn back partway into his journey.
This surprising development has been met with nearly unanimous approval by Yankee fans, but it certainly raises questions that didn't exist a few weeks ago.
Over the course of the offseason, the Yankees had made moves to solidify a rotation that had been a source of genuine concern in recent seasons. The club traded premium prospect Jesus Montero to the Mariners in exchange for a potential ace in Michael Pineda. They also signed Japanese veteran Hiroki Kuroda as a free agent, following his four successful seasons pitching for the Dodgers.
Of course, the starting staff performed admirably last year, despite its patchwork nature. CC Sabathia led the rotation, performing his duties as staff ace with typical aplomb. He gave the Yankees precisely what they needed from him, dependability, innings and victories.
Fellow veteran, A.J. Burnett, was typically inconsistent, looking like an ace at times, and a minor leaguer in other starts. He remained healthy, while making 34 starts, but the Yankees needed far better than 11 wins and a 5.15 ERA from their No. 2 starter. Mercifully, Burnett was unloaded to Pittsburgh and he is no longer the Yankees' concern.
Phil Hughes, long-expected to develop into a rotation stalwart for the Yankees, took a significant step backwards after winning 18 games in 2010. While the club hoped he could build upon his breakout season from '10, Hughes instead struggled with lost velocity and mysterious health issues which forced him to miss a significant portion of the 2011 campaign.
Saving the season for the rotation was a trio of pitchers who most couldn't have expected to pitch like they did.
Yankee farm hand Ivan Nova matured on the game's grandest stage and became a formidable force in their rotation. Then 24, Nova won a rotation spot in the spring and shocked many by winning 16 games with a 3.70 ERA.
Perhaps most surprising were the successful seasons posted by two unlikely hurlers. Veterans Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia, both plucked from baseball's scrapheap after struggling with injury and ineffectiveness in recent seasons, pitched far beyond expectations in 2011. Both exhibited superb command and survived on veteran guile in the unforgiving AL East.
Colon made 26 starts and won 8 games with his 4.00 ERA, while only walking 2.2 per nine innings. Utilizing primarily variations on his fastball, Colon pitched far better than his 8-10 record suggests.
Garcia started 25 games, going 12-8 with a 3.62 ERA, as he kept opposing hitters off balance with a dizzying array of offspeed pitches. Though he didn't strike out many, his command was impeccable and his veteran savvy was enough to win him a return engagement in 2012.
With Colon and Burnett having moved elsewhere, CC, Nova, Hughes and Garcia remain to battle newcomers Pineda and Kuroda for slots in the rotation.
Already, the numbers mean that one man will find himself on the outside looking in to start the year.
CC is clearly guaranteed a spot, with his incredible consistency and durability offering peace of mind atop the rotation. He has won 59 games in three seasons with the Yankees and is signed through at least 2016.
The number two spot will likely be manned by Kuroda who will be making his American League debut this year. Last season in Los Angeles, Kuroda pitched 200-plus innings, won 13 games and posted a 3.07 ERA. His veteran presence in the two slot will provide more comfort than the erratic Burnett. Kuroda has pitched extremely well during Spring Training, owning a 2.91 ERA, a 1.06 WHIP and a 5/1 strikeout to walk ratio.
Phil Hughes has been outstanding during spring as well, pitching confidently while compiling a 2.03 ERA and a 0.98 WHIP. His stuff has been sharp and he has appeared to regain the velocity that escaped him last year. Once considered a future cornerstone of New York's rotation, Hughes is approaching 26 and may be running out of time to claim a long-term spot in the Yankee starting staff.
Currently, the buzz around Spring Training is that Nova and Pineda are embroiled in a battle for the fifth spot, as Girardi is said to prefer the veteran presence of Freddy Garcia at the expense of one of his young hurlers.
Following a strong exhibition season, Garcia has made a strong case to be included when camp breaks. He posted a 2.92 ERA and a 1.14 WHIP over his first four spring outings. Considered by many to be the prime candidate for the long relief role, Garcia has reportedly emerged as a favorite to man the fifth slot.
Pineda, despite concern over missing velocity earlier in spring, has rebounded nicely and has looked solid thus far. With a 3.31 ERA and 16 strikeouts in 16.1 innings he has seemingly found his velocity in recent days. Stories have mentioned him as potentially destined for a stint in the minors to begin the season.
Nova's spring struggles would make him look like the likeliest candidate to stay behind at Scranton, but the team may be unwilling to mess with the confidence of a young pitcher who won 16 games for the club in 2011. In 19.2 innings, he has struck out 14 to only one walk, but has allowed 23 hits and five home runs along with a 6.86 ERA. Of course, numbers in spring are always suspect, but they must at least be acknowledged.
A surplus of quality arms is always preferable, even if it means that you must face difficult decisions regarding personnel.
The picture will only become more cloudy once Pettitte reaches game shape. After only a few weeks in Yankee camp, the hurler is likely a month or two away from being ready for the rigors of the big leagues, but he is virtually assured a rotation slot once he is.
An All-Star in his previous farewell season, Pettitte adds further legitimacy to an already strong crop of arms. If he can even approach his 2010 form, he would be a welcome addition to any rotation. During 2010, he went 11-3 with a 3.28 ERA as he turned back the clock and delivered a performance on par with some of the best of his youth.
With 240 career victories and another 19 wins in the postseason, Pettitte is a proven winner and will force his way into New York's staff once he reaches pitching shape.
This will of course displace someone, but the Yankees have experienced enough injury woes and mysterious under-performances to justify stockpiling arms. They will likely have April and May to evaluate the performances of all involved before being forced to make any decisions.
The specter of a sophomore slump for Nova lingers, while there is the possibility that either Kuroda or Pineda experiences difficulty with the enormity of pitching in the Bronx.
Andy Pettitte represents a known quantity, with 13 years as a Yankee and the most victories in baseball postseason history.
As the calendar prepares to bid farewell to March and Opening Day looms near on the horizon, the games are about increase in intensity and meaning.
With only a week left before the Yankees open the 2012 campaign, the dwindling days of spring carry increased significance for several Yankee hurlers, especially Nova and Pineda.
While the surplus of arms is undoubtedly a welcomed change from recent seasons, it guarantees that there will be difficult decisions looming in the very near future.
Giradi and Brian Cashman will certainly take that risk rather than the perpetual hunt for capable arms that has plagued them over the last few years.