How Did We Get Here?

You could make almost any prediction about AJ Burnett’s start tonight and I would agree it could happen. Two-hitter? Yup, could happen. Ten runs allowed in the first? Yup, could happen. The fact is we don’t know. All we know is Joe Girardi better have the bullpen warming up in the first and go from there.

The bigger picture question is how did the Yankees end up starting AJ in the biggest game of the year (so far)? Part of it is bad luck- ie rain on Friday. Part of it is poor planning- they did let AJ make 32 starts this year. Part of it is a lack of faith in some of the younger guys- Phelps and Warren, part of it is the wheels coming off for one of the older guys- Colon.

There are a lot of reasons for why we are here and a pretty clear path to avoid it in the future. The Yankees need to stop trying to import a pitching staff and start trying to grow one. For every CC Sabathia or David Cone we have seen a Carl Pavano or Jose Contreras. Sure, free agent signings are not going to stop in the Bronx, but they need to get closer to a model where they use them to supplement the team and not create it. That is the foundation you can build a dynasty on. Let’s face it, if AJ made the same amount of money Kei Igawa did, he would have pitched in Scranton this year. The only reason he didn’t is because the Yankees still owe him more than $30 million.

Teams around the league are getting better and better at developing and keeping young pitchers. The Rays will add Matt Moore to an already impressive rotation next year. The Mariners locked up Felix Hernandez and the Angels took Weaver off the market. The choices on the starters market are going to become worse and worse while the lack of inventory will only drive prices up. The Yankees can outbid anyone, but at what point does it become self-defeating?

The Yankees have done a great job of flooding the upper levels of their system with arms. Now they need to start using them. Ivan Nova went from afterthought to Game 2 starter. Next year, he is obviously a big part of the rotation. Guys like Phelps, Noesi and Warren need to get a look, not to mention Betances and Banuelos. Before the Yankees spend another dime on free agent starting pitchers, they need to think about all the arms they have in the system. Some of them will work out, some won’t. But chasing the increasingly smaller fish in an even smaller pond is a path to defeat.

More faith in a guy like Noesi during the season may have allowed him to be an alternative at the end of it. We will never know if 2011 would have turned out differently and as of right now the Yankees are still alive. But win or lose tonight, they should take a long look this offseason at what they have done in the past and vow to change it in the future. Just because they have the money to spend doesn’t mean they need to spend it.