Yanks' rotation a question, but it's early

A.J. Burnett. (Sept. 27, 2010)

A.J. Burnett. (Sept. 27, 2010) (Credit: AP)

TAMPA, Fla. - After Cliff Lee spurned the Yankees in December, Brian Cashman downplayed the impact on his team's starting rotation.

He was not as nonchalant after Andy Pettitte's Feb. 4 retirement news conference at Yankee Stadium.

"It's obviously incomplete," Cashman said.

But reiterating his "patience is our Plan B" mantra from December, the general manager said there is no rush to make the fixes he said will be coming.

"It has to make sense," Cashman said of any deal.

And so, with the trade market for the kind of starter the Yankees would like to obtain not having developed yet, they enter spring training with significant rotation questions.

But when he looks at his team collectively, Cashman doesn't see a dire situation.

"I think we have an extremely balanced and strong bullpen and a tremendous offense," Cashman said Friday. "I think we're excellent in the first three spots in the rotation and planning to break in a rookie in the fifth spot, which is not unheard of."

The first two points aren't debatable, but the third is.

There are few worries surrounding the slimmed-down CC Sabathia, who went 21-7 with a 3.18 ERA last year despite pitching much of the season with a small meniscus tear in his right knee that required surgery.

Phil Hughes appears as if he's made the jump to front-line starter, but his 2010 was far from consistent; 11-2 with a 3.65 ERA in the season's first half, 7-6 with a 4.90 ERA in the second.

Then there's A.J. Burnett, coming off a season he referred to as "garbage," which would prompt little argument from fans. Cashman and new pitching coach Larry Rothschild are confident the righthander will bounce back, but the 34-year-old has been wildly inconsistent throughout his career.

The Yankees hope to catch lightning in a bottle with Bartolo Colon or Freddy Garcia and to see the continued development of Ivan Nova, who went 1-2 with a 4.50 ERA in 10 appearances - seven starts - last season.

"Nova's got unbelievable stuff," Hughes said. "It's just one of those things where it [the rotation] might not look that great right now, but you never know. Hopefully, a few guys step up and have good years and breakout years, and I think Nova's a real candidate for that."

Some of the organization's top prospects - among them Adam Warren, David Phelps and Hector Noesi - also will be among those competing to fill out the back end of the rotation.

The more likely scenario, of course, is a trade for a pitcher at some point, whether it be during spring training or after the season starts.

Rotation concerns aside, though, as Cashman said, this is a very good team.

The bullpen, with the addition of Rays closer Rafael Soriano to serve as the setup man for Mariano Rivera, should be among baseball's best, and there's no reason to think the lineup won't continue to put up a slew of runs.

"Obviously, the talk this year has been our rotation's not deep right now, but things always tend to kind of work themselves out," Hughes said. "With the offense we have, you're going to win a lot of games. I think we'll be fine."

Derek Jeter said "worry" is too strong a word to use regarding the rotation.

"Certain guys are going to have to step up," he said. "That's basically how it goes. But I wouldn't use the word 'worry.' "

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