(2006) – Yankees May Not Have Room for Tanyon Sturtze and Aaron Small

Elvis Elvis

Brian Cashman, Joe Torre, and the Yankees will soon have some very difficult decisions to make about the composition of either an 11-man or a 12-man pitching staff. That is, assuming Carl Pavano will finally be ready to join the Yankees in June.

Also, in June, Octavio Dotel, working his way back from Tommy John surgery, should be giving the bullpen corps a shot in the arm and, if reports from Florida about his stuff were accurate and transferrable to the pressures of pitching on the New York stage, Dotel seems likely to sooner or later assume the role as primary set-up man for Mariano Rivera.

Carl Pavano Is Paid Too Much Not To Be a Starter

Keep in mind that currently the Yankees have the second best ERA in the AL, so they are not exactly desperate for pitching help the way they may have been in past seasons. But when a starting pitcher is being paid $10 million a year, like Carl Pavano is, you must find a spot in the rotation for him. Thus, most likely, he’ll join Randy Johnson, Mike Mussina, Shawn Chacon, and Chien-Ming Wang in the starting rotation soon after rejoining the Yankees.

Yankees Bullpen Has Been Strong

Torre is currently looking at his best bullpen in years. People can joke all they want about Kyle Farnsworth’s intestinal fortitude or the perceived weakness of the bridge to Rivera, but those who laugh are missing the big picture. In Ron Villone and Mike Myers, Torre has two solid lefthanders in the bullpen for the first time since 1998 when the Yankees had Mike Stanton and Graeme Lloyd and won 114 regular-season games. Scott Proctor seems to have finally matured as a pitcher, and at times this season he has been practically unhittable. While Farnsworth has been erratic, he has been very impressive at times, too, and Rivera is Rivera (i.e., don’t worry too much about early-season stats, he’ll be more than fine).

Octavio Dotel Makes the Yankees BullpenVery Deep

Add Dotel to the mix, then work backward. Rivera, of course, is the closer. Dotel and Farnsworth are the primary set-up guys. Myers is the specialist expected to get out one or two good left-handed hitters on the other side. Villone and Proctor are 5th-6th-7th-8th-inning guys, depending on the situation. Six relief pitchers, no weaknesses.


What About Jaret Wright, Tanyon Sturtze, and Aaron Small?

The five starters and six relievers already identified would compose an 11-man staff. However, the guess here is that Torre will keep 12 pitchers, meaning he will keep one pitcher among a group which includes Jaret Wright, Tanyon Sturtze, and Aaron Small. The 12th pitcher will in effect be the 6th starter when such a starter is needed and the long-man out of the bullpen when one of the five primary starters needs to be replaced before the 6th inning.

(2006)   Yankees May Not Have Room for Tanyon Sturtze and Aaron Small

Jaret Wright

Wright is by far the highest paid of the three, which, strangely enough, actually works to his advantage because the Yankees are unlikely to find a team willing to pick up his contract, especially since Wright is perceived generally as a bottom of the rotation kind of guy.

Tanyon Sturtze

I love Sturtze as a competitor. My enduring picture of him is a game a couple years ago when he was fighting off three, lowly Red Sox players in a Yankees-Red Sox brawl. He was left bloodied but still full of fight. He has fire in his belly, and at times he throws very effectively, too. He was great in the long-relief role when he first joined the Yankees, but he is not suited to starting, and the job really calls for a guy who can do both. As much as I like him, it still should be remembered that his lifetime ERA is 5.18, not very good.

Torre seems to be giving him every chance to maintain his spot in the bullpen, or perhaps find his niche, but games like Sunday in Texas do not help Sturtze’s prospects one bit. He came into the game at the start of the bottom of the 7th inning, with the Yankees ahead, 8-3, and he proceeded to walk the first batter, a serious no-no with a 5-run lead. Then he fielded a grounder, tried to get the lead runner, and made a throwing error to second base. Bad play. Bad thinking. With a 5-run lead, just get the easier out at first base. Trade a runner getting into scoring position for an out in that situation. When he walked the next hitter, Sturze left the game with the bases loaded and no outs. And the chances of Sturtze remaining a Yankee after Pavano and Dotel join the team are diminishing daily.

Aaron Small

Small was a great rags-to-riches story last year, but an injury this spring training pushed him back, and he just recently joined the Yankees. He may have saved the Yankees season last year, but pitchers like Small cannot afford injuries or slow starts, and, indeed, Small has labored in his first two outings since recently re-joining the Yankees. If you are Aaron Small, your past contributions tend to be forgotten quickly, and this is the situation in which Small is fast finding himself.

My guess is the Yankees will keep Wright and release or trade Sturtze and Small. That is, if Pavano and Dotel both actually make it to the Yankees.

Still Trying to Pry Scott Kazmir From Tampa Bay

Personally, I stand by my trade proposal of 4/30/06. This is when I suggested the Yankees try to get Scott Kazmir from Tampa Bay in exchange for shortstop C.J. Henry, the Yankees No 1 draft choice in 2005 (who will never play shortstop with Derek Jeter in front of him); one of three talented outfielders at Columbus (Melky Cabrera, Kevin Thompson, or Mitch Jones); one of the Yankees minor-league pitchers; and, only if necessary, Scott Proctor.

What I did not say on 4/30/06, but mean to clarify now, is that I think the Yankees should be willing to part with any starting pitcher in the minors, EXCEPT 19-year-old phenom Philip Hughes. He will be a star in New York in 2007.

It is looking more and more difficult to be willing to let go of Proctor in a trade, but if Tampa Bay needed him (perhaps as a closer) in order to make the deal, then by all means include Proctor and keep either Sturtze or Small in the bullpen.

Either way – with Kazmir or Proctor – the Yankees will have their best pitching staff, 1 through 12, in years.