By Neil Keefe
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Up until Dec. 12 I had a dream of the Yankees rotation being CC Sabathia, Cliff Lee, Andy Pettitte, Phil Hughes and A.J. Burnett. It would have been the best rotation in baseball featuring three lefties, two of the game’s elite pitchers, the winningest postseason pitcher in history, a 24 year old coming off an 18-win season, and whatever good Burnett could have possibly added would have been a plus.
On Dec. 13 that dream was crushed. It was beat up like The Lone Rangers’ demo tape in “Airheads” and then destroyed like the sound system at Rebel Radio in which the tape was going to be played on.
The dream rotation that would have complimented the best offense in baseball and, on paper, would have made up the difference between coming two wins shy of the World Series and making the World Series turned out be just that … a dream. Now what we have is barely a rotation. It’s more like a bunch of patches for a boat that was damaged when Lee signed with Philly and started taking on water when Pettitte decided that three-plus months with his family wasn’t enough family time.
The dream of Sabathia-Lee-Pettitte-Hughes-Burnett has become Sabathia-Burnett-Hughes-Nova-Colon. One lefty, one 24 year old coming off an 18-win season, one rookie with seven starts in the majors under his belt, one 37-year-old overweight righty that last pitched regularly in the majors in 2005 and now whatever good we get out of Burnett isn’t a plus, it’s a necessity. The dream of making up those two wins from the ALCS has become a dream of staying afloat until the trade deadline.
I thought I was done worrying about the rotation until July 31. I had said all I could say and said it again and then again. I traded countless e-mails and recorded podcasts with Sweeny Murti in an effort to lessen the blow of a disastrous offseason, and to try and break what seemed like an inevitable free fall in the AL East. With the Red Sox building their own vaunted offense and a rotation made up of four potential front-end starters (when all are on), I had to talk myself into Cashman’s 2011 rotation which looked like it was picked out of the bargain bin at one of Blockbuster’s clearance sales.
I was finally able to talk myself into a rotation of Sabathia-Hughes-Burnett-Nova-Garcia like a final shot of Jameson at last call. (It seemed like a good idea at the time). Then the Yankees made Burnett the No. 2 starter (either because of his salary, massive ego or unstable emotions) and now there are reports that Bartolo Colon is likely going to beat out Freddy Garcia for the final rotation spot.
That’s right. Bartolo Colon is a week away from being a New York Yankee. The man who admitted to being about 25 pounds overweight (his estimation) on the first day of pitchers and catchers is going to own one of the 25 possible roster spots on the $200 million New York Yankees. I’ll give you a minute to let that settle in…
I still can’t believe it. I hoped it was just one big, early collaborative April Fool’s joke from the Yankees beat writers, but it’s not. It’s the truth. But in what was the Murphy’s Law Offseason, it only makes sense as every move made by Brian Cashman since the 2010 season ended has been in spite of me, almost as if he’s on a personal vendetta to ruin my summer and make me hate baseball.
When Colon signed with the Yankees, I called the move embarrassing, saying that it was “a joke” that even though it was a low-risk, high-reward signing, it wasn’t worth the humiliation of a press release saying that the $200 million New York Yankees had signed Bartolo Colon (even if it was to a minor-league deal).
I joked that if he made the team I would move to Europe and become a soccer fan. I told Ben Kabak of River Ave. Blues that if Colon recorded an out for the Yankees in 2011, I would finance a night of drinking for him. When my brother called me two weeks ago and said that Colon was going to make the team, I called him crazy, asked him if living in Boston had gotten the best of him and told him it would never happen. I told him that Freddy Garcia was going to be the fifth starter no matter what.
I told him that Garcia was going to make the team because that’s what Yankees fans have been led to believe all spring. We were told that Garcia is as bad a spring training performer as Mark Teixeira is a spring performer. We were told the Yankees liked that Garcia pitched in the majors last year, in the American League and won 12 games in 2010 (one more than Pettitte) for the White Sox. It was going to take Ron Guidry’s 1978 numbers (25-3, 1.74) in spring training for Colon to make it an actual competition and even then, Garcia would still make the team. Or so we thought.
Garcia has been better than his last two springs when he pitched to a 10.38 ERA for the White Sox and a 16.71 ERA for the Mets, but it hasn’t been as good as Colon’s spring. And even though we’re told spring training doesn’t matter and that you can’t take get up or down based on good or bad results, the Yankees are about to hand over their No. 5 spot in the rotation to someone better suited for a Hydroxycut commercial than the AL East.
Sweeny called it March Madness. I call it insanity. How can you actually allow what seemed like a ridiculous idea a few months ago to actually come to fruition? Here are five reasons why Bartolo Colon SHOULD NOT be the fifth starter.
1. Recent Experience
If Andy Pettitte decided he wanted to pitch in 2012 after not pitching in 2011, no one would question it or call it a bad idea if the Yankees re-signed him or another team did. Why? Because the last time Pettitte pitched he was still good. He was better than good. He was an All-Star.
There’s a reason why I laughed when the Yankees signed Colon to a minor-league deal. There’s a reason why no one thought it would work out. Because even though he hasn’t pitched in only a year, he hasn’t been good in his last five seasons. I’m talking about being good enough to actually give the best offense in baseball a chance to win in the best division in baseball.
Bartolo Colon is a Cy Young winner, but in the five seasons since he went 21-8 with a 3.49 ERA, he’ s 14-21 with a 5.18 ERA. His last full season was his Cy Young year in 2005 and he has made just 47 starts over the last five seasons. This is definitely a guy we should let Garcia leave for.
2. Trust Factor
Colon has made $70 million in his career, and he comes to spring training trying to win a job. You would like to think that he would come to camp in shape, right? Nope. Colon came into camp looking like he hadn’t missed the McDonald’s breakfast since Adam Sandler and Steve Buscemi reminded the world when McDonald’s stops serving breakfast in “Big Daddy” in 1999. You want to put 20 percent of the schedule into the hands of a man who didn’t care enough about trying to earn a job to get in shape? I didn’t think so.
I already don’t trust Burnett and while Nova looks good in spring training, once again it’s spring training. Right now I have to rely on a 15-game loser and a rookie that has started seven games in the league and pitched in 10. Add Colon, who hasn’t been a regular starter in the league the last five seasons, and we have a serious problem.
At some point this Colon experiment is more about saving face as a fan base more than anything else. There’s an ad in the Daily News that has been running for Yankees tickets. It’s a picture of Mariano Rivera and under Rivera it says, “A Proud Tradition. A Legendary History.” Which of those things does Colon fit under?
If Colon ends up being Aaron Small 2.0 then I will use this space during the season to write a public apology. Until then, I can’t believe that him making the team is anything but a bad idea. I’ve spent six weeks rooting against Colon and now I’m eight days away from having to root for him. I haven’t been this conflicted since trying to figure out if I should be rooting for Billy Costigan or Colin Sullivan in “The Departed”.
4. This Is The AL East
I’ve already tried to line up the rotation for the second weekend of the season, which is the first series at Fenway. It all hinges on that off-day after Opening Day and whether or not Joe Girardi skips the No. 5 starter the first time through the rotation and goes back to Sabathia or if he gives Sabathia the extra day of rest. Why do I care about this? Because when you have a five-man rotation that has two capable starters, you want to make sure you see AT LEAST one of them starts at Fenway, or it’s going to be a long weekend. I’m planning on going to Boston for those three games. If Colon is pitching one of them, I won’t be going to that one.
It’s nice that Colon’s been impressive in Tampa in March when teams play their scrubs and starters play three innings. It’s not going to be so nice when the Red Sox have the bases loaded in the bottom of the first at Fenway with no outs and two runs already in, and Bostonians screaming in my face that the Yankees suck and that I’m a scumbag for liking them. That’s not going to be so fun.
This is the AL East. This isn’t the NL East. I’m sure Javier Vazquez will probably dominate the NL East again this year because it’s like pitching on a different planet. And I’m sure even Colon could experience success there. I know there’s some renewed velocity in Colon’s arm (maybe it’s his winter Wendy’s Baconator diet), but Colon at this stage in his career mixed with four of the best offenses in the league on a regular basis just doesn’t seem like such a good combination.
5. Think About The Decision
Here’s what Brian Cashman told reporters the other day:
“With all these guys … you go through six weeks of spring training, and you see what you see. Listen, we’ve all been deceived in March before, but we’ve also been rewarded with March before. You go through the motions. You put the work in. You see what you see in the games, and you have to make a call. You hope it’s going to be the right call. We might be picking the right guy. We might be picking the wrong guy. You’re just going to have to wait and see.”
We’re just going to have to wait and see?!?!?!?! The right call, according to Cashman’s theory, would be to pick Garcia. At least with Garcia you know what you’re getting. It’s no surprise that he’s been bad in spring training because he’s usually bad in spring training.
With Colon, sure he looks like 2005 Bartolo Colon right now, but THIS IS SPRING TRAINING! If you’re not going to put much thought into results from spring training for some players, how are you about to decide who to give 20 percent of the season starts to based on spring training results? It doesn’t make sense.
It doesn’t make sense the same way that stat freaks can find a way to say that Derek Jeter is no longer valuable or that he should be paid less, but the same people can find a way to support Cashman’s possible decision to give the fifth starter spot to Colon. I feel like I’m taking crazy pills!
If Garcia gets the spot and he ends up being inadequate, then so be it. No one is going to say, “Bartolo Colon should have been the fifth starter!” But if Colon is given the spot and Garcia asks for the release that he’s allowed if he doesn’t make the majors, and Colon is terrible, you’re never going to hear the end of it from the “Garcia Should Be The Fifth Starter” camp.
There’s still a chance Freddy Garcia makes the team and all the time I spent writing this was wasted. There’s also a chance that Bartolo Colon pitches well and is the oversized needle in the haystack that the Yankees hoped they could find when Lee snubbed them and Pettitte decided that he didn’t want to be a part of this Mets-like rotation.
Sweeny Murti, who I’ve named “The Voice of Reason”, told me he might start charging me for my therapy sessions this season, and I can’t blame him. The way we’re headed, there will be a lot more conversations with Sweeny this year than there were last year. I hope he takes Visa or MasterCard.
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