Less than two weeks into spring training and the 2015 Yankee starting rotation is down one already, though perhaps losing projected fifth starter Chris Capuano might not have rated high on the preseason fear list of Yankee fans. Losing a replacement level starting pitcher is not generally a disaster, although the injury is unfortunately timed; April and May might well have been the months where the Yankees could have used Capuano the most. The precious few off-days means no room to skip the fifth spot in the rotation. A little later in the year and Ivan Nova might have gotten healthy enough to be back into the major league picture, or someone like Bryan Mitchell might have inserted himself into the conversation with strong performances in Triple-A.
As it stands, Adam Warren and Esmil Rogers are the likely leaders in the clubhouse for the fifth starter spot, with Chase Whitley as a potential outside candidate. Indeed, if it does come down to Warren or Rogers for the fifth spot, the loser of the battle might make the odd spot start as the sixth man. After all, when it came up before the start of spring, it wasn't about the depth of options available, but rather a desire to scatter in additional days off early in the year for the key members of the Yankee rotation, and there is no reason for that motivation to have changed.
Unsurprisingly, the Chris Capuano injury has led to renewed discussion about the Yankees trading for Cole Hamels, who was linked to a move to the Bronx for most of the offseason. On the face of it, however, attempting to link Capuano's injury with a Hamels trade feels tenuous. Trading valued prospects to acquire the privilege of paying Hamels $94 million over the next four years is a blockbuster move. Blockbuster moves aren't usually made in response to losing $5 million dollar placeholders for a month, or even two.
Perhaps this should be one of the more unusual cases though. To start with, the Yankees might already be enamoured with Hamels, they were apparently the team who came closest to acquiring him from the Phillies during the offseason. Evidently not close enough, but as spring continues the front office will have the advantage of making increasingly more educated decisions on the ability of the franchise to compete in 2015. It's early yet, but there might be reasons for optimism in the coming weeks. If Masahiro Tanaka and Michael Pineda continue making spring starts and hopefully stay healthy, as Nathan Eovaldi ideally continues making progress with his split-finger fastball towards having a strikeout pitch and as Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira and Carlos Beltran hopefully keep playing games without disintegrating, admittedly not a tiny if, some optimism could be warranted. After all, the bullpen is living up to expectations, and the Yankees could well have a track crew at the #9, #1 and #2 spots in the lineup with Didi Gregorius rolling back up to Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner. As long as the spring vibes remain positive, considering Brian Cashman is talking postseason expectations already, perhaps he might be more inclined to look upon this team as one that can contend for a Wild Card spot at very least. For such a postseason push, adding Cole Hamels to the top of a rotation could make all the difference.
It's unlikely of course that the presence of a healthy Chris Capuano would have been much of a blocker in keeping Cashman's hand off the trigger before, but it could have played some part if he felt that the team could survive with a known, if mediocre, innings-eater in the fifth spot at least until the trade deadline. Should Warren and Rogers look unconvincing of meeting even that bar as starting pitchers, the front office might consider the possibility that the extra marginal gain from bringing Hamels on board in the first half makes a deal slightly more palatable. The knock-on effects of keeping Warren and Rogers in middle relief and as spot starters helps address depth there as well. These are at best marginal changes to the likelihood of a trade, but depending on how interested the Yankees already were internally, it might be the final nudge to push the trade over the line.
The Yankees shouldn't trade for Cole Hamels just to replace Chris Capuano, and of course, they won't. However they might want to consider trading for Hamels anyway, and it just happens there is a rotation spot already open for him. It is worth remembering that the Phillies certainly won't freely hand Hamels over, they don't need to dump payroll for financial flexibility and Hamels could be the sort of player who can bring fans to the ballpark to watch a losing team. It will take a quality package of prospects to make this trade happen.
This wouldn't be a painless move for the Yankees, should they choose to make it. In a tight postseason race, though, it might just end up being a winning move.