When Michael Pineda had an impressive debut on the mound last week, I will admit that my mind already started slotting him into the Yankees rotation. His injury layoff probably dictates that he should have a few more innings under his belt before we all get too excited, but it's awfully hard not to. Obviously Pineda's revival would set David Phelps as the odd man out in the rotation, and other teams have apparently noticed that as they have been scouting Phelps as a trade possibility to bolster their own starting staffs. But make no mistake, this isn't a similar situation to the Yankees catching surplus. The Yankees should hold onto Phelps unless a team absolutely blows their doors off.
The team is fortunate enough to have a couple of options for an emergency starter/swingman. Vidal Nuno and Adam Warren have made the most of the opportunities they have been given at the major league level, but they have six starts between them and neither of them have peripherals as good as Phelps (8.4K/9 1.06 HR/9). He's the best insurance policy in the Yankees system if Pineda falters at any time during the season, which would not be shocking considering he hasn't pitched in 2 years. I honestly won't be completely comfortable not having a proven quality starter behind Pineda until 2015, even if he manages to maintain a clean bill of health for the majority of the year.
Phelps also serves as insurance for a bullpen that has a handful of talented arms but some short resumes. He's got good enough stuff that he could serve as anything from a middle inning reliever to an adequate setup man. If guys like Dellin Betances or Shawn Kelley falter, Phelps could become the best bridge to David Robertson that's currently available. Phelps' ability to be able to transition to the pen without worry only enhances his value and usefulness.
There's also consideration to be made for beyond this year. A capable starter like Phelps that is under team control until at least 2019 is not to be given away on the cheap. Overpaying for back of the rotation guys is how a lot of teams waste their free agency money allotment, so having Phelps around would allow the Yankees to pass on bidding on league average pitchers to fill out the rotation. He could easily slot into Hiroki Kuroda's spot in the rotation should this be his last year. If young, high-upside arms like Manny Banuelos or Jose Ramirez can overcome their injury histories Phelps might not be as necessary down the line, but for now he's a good hedge against the unknown future.
If a team really wants David Phelps, by all means let them offer a great infield piece for him. But I am not to the point where I consider Phelps an extraneous part of the roster. It's not that I don't think Nuno or Warren couldn't fill in as fifth starters admirably, it's just that Phelps has already shown he can and there is a possible opening in that rotation is still too perilously close to materializing. Throw in his quality bullpen work and low cost moving forward, and I think the Yankees should be very hesitant to move Phelps. An insurance policy is only a luxury until something goes wrong, after all.