If walk years are supposed to bring out some magic mojo in baseball players, Phil Hughes hasn't gotten the memo. No, he isn't terrible, awful, and no-good as we'd like to make him seem at times, but he is currently the weak link in the Yankees rotation. With Michael Pineda completing his third rehab outing in Tampa last night, he is likely two more rehab starts away from forcing the Yankees into a decision – will he join the major league team for the first time as a Yankee, or will he be sent to Triple-A Scranton until September?
There is no way that CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda, or Andy Pettitte are leaving the rotation, obviously. That leaves two spots for Hughes, Pineda, David Phelps, and Ivan Nova to fight for. Nova seems the least likely of the four to find himself in the rotation without some kind of catastrophe happening. Phelps has really done nothing to deserve being kicked out of the rotation, but the Yankees like him in long relief, so his spot seems to never be secure regardless of how well he pitches. The smart money would be that the Yankees would move him back to the bullpen, send Adam Warren, undeservedly, down to Triple-A, and keep both Hughes and Pineda in the rotation if they deem Pineda to be ready.
Unfortunately, that's placing more value on a name than on results. A lot can happen between now and whenever the team believes Pineda is ready to pitch in the big leagues, but if Hughes is still struggling and Phelps isn't, could the Yankees move Hughes to the bullpen instead? Hughes doesn't seem to be in their plans after this season, so they wouldn't have to worry about diminishing his value. Let Hughes' agent worry about that.
All that is, of course, assuming that Pineda represents a better chance for the team to win than Hughes does. That's not a guarantee for a pitcher coming back from a year's vacation and labrum surgery. So far, though, the reports have all been positive. His velocity isn't quite where it was with Seattle, but his arm strength is still being built back up to where it was. If he's sitting 92-93 mph, and possibly hitting 96 mph, there's room to be hopeful.
Hughes is not a bad pitcher for a guy at the back of a rotation. Plenty of teams have worse, for sure. If the Yankees are going to win with a diminished offense, the pitchers are going to have to carry the load, and Hughes has proven that he cannot be consistently counted on to do that. As a free agent to be, it seems like Hughes is destined for a ballpark out west somewhere in 2014. Michael Pineda figures to be a part of the Yankees plans for a great deal longer than this year, and if what's best for Pineda has to come at the expense of Hughes, that seems like an okay trade off.
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