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Can Ivan Nova be part of the answer?

1/18/2011 - New York Yankees
Ivan Nova is likely going to be a key part of New York's rotation in 2011. Getty Images

For much of the offseason, Plans A, B and C for the New York Yankees' rotation appeared to be Cliff Lee; he's now a member of the Philadelphia Phillies.

For the Bombers, then, the plan seems to be CC Sabathia, Phil Hughes, A.J. Burnett, and ...

... what are the options and how do they compare with likely-to-retire Andy Pettitte?

Despite his age and injuries, Pettitte still projects very well for 2011. According to ZiPS, his 2011 line would be 11-7 with a 4.13 ERA in 150.1 innings, enough to make him a solid fourth starter and about two wins better than replacement. That's not on the level of the best No. 4 starters in baseball (Cole Hamels and Madison Bumgarner), but it's more than most teams get out of the spot.

If Pettitte retires, Ivan Nova is the first option after a decent breakout season in 2010. Nova has a good, lively fastball, but a lack of solid secondary pitches and less-than-dominating results in the minors (a K/9 usually around 6) left him pegged by most in the scouting community as a future No. 3 starter at best. Nova brought himself back into the conversation with a solid season for Scranton and some adequate starts in the majors. ZiPS projects him at 7-8, 5.29 in the majors right now, just above replacement level.

The next likely internal option is Sergio Mitre. Mitre was a former Cubs prospect (and Marlins starter), but his sinker has never really proven effective in the majors, and Tommy John surgery resulted in Mitre's becoming a reclamation project for the Yankees. Mitre's bullpen performance was his first real taste of success at the major league level, and given his career record as a starter (13-25, 5.48), it's very risky to go into a season counting on him as a starter rather than an emergency fill-in. As a starter, ZiPS projects him with a 5.24 ERA in 14 starts. Given his record and injury history, the Yankees should simply leave him in the bullpen.

Dellin Betances is the team's best pitching prospect, for good reason. But despite a successful recovery from elbow surgery, he has pitched in only three games at Double-A, and April 2011 is simply too soon to plan for him to be in the Yankees' rotation. Betances' ZiPS projection is much better than that of Nova or Mitre (a 4.61 ERA in 16 starts), but it's smart not to rush a pitcher who has thrown 100 innings in a season only once. Betances could very easily blow through the minors in 2011, but his arrival should be later in the season.

After Betances, the team's options become a bit cloudier. Manny Banuelos is a name we should hear a lot about in the next few years, but like Betances, he is more of a 2012 option. Andrew Brackman is finally healthy and has a major league contract but may be best suited for the bullpen, at least in the short term.

The team's best option may be a pitcher GM Brian Cashman has already eliminated from consideration: Joba Chamberlain. Chamberlain was the product of a lot of justified hype, and while his record as a starter in 2009 (9-6, 4.75) was considered a disappointment, that was still just about league average for a starting pitcher (the average ERA of starting pitchers tends to be about 4 percent higher than league average). This is one old argument that should be revived -- while putting Chamberlain in the bullpen can be justified when you have five solid starters, it's a different story when you're seriously considering Sergio Mitre for the rotation. As a starter, ZiPS projects Chamberlain at 8-5 and 4.19 with a WAR of 1.8. These numbers don't match Joba's previous hype, but he may be the pitcher with the best chance to replace Pettitte.

When you add it up, having Pettitte and Chamberlain as the No. 4/No. 5 starters represents about a four-win gain over Nova and Mitre. In a division with a Red Sox team that should be healthier -- and that added Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez in place of Adrian Beltre -- four games may be the difference between fighting with Boston for the divisional title or fighting with Tampa Bay or another team for the wild card. While late owner George Steinbrenner was a polarizing figure in baseball history for obvious reasons, he also created an organization that, more than any other team, never wants to settle for second-best. Unless the Yankees can get creative at the back end of the rotation, they might not have a choice in the matter this year.

Dan Szymborski is an editor of Baseball Think Factory who also contributes to ESPN Insider.