Toronto, Canada – With a spot in the playoffs all but - the starting rotation.
There are many scenarios to consider and none of them have the Yankees striding into October as favorites. Thank general manager Brian Cashman for not pulling the trigger at the trade deadline, or for not acquiring anything of significance in the offseason after losing out on the Cliff Lee sweepstakes for the second time in a span of five months.
Unless the Yankees claim someone off waivers -- and it's unlikely any waiver move would equate into an upgrade over what they already have -- they will assemble a playoff rotation that goes incredibly south after Sabathia.
What the team must do now is evaluate each pitcher, sans Sabathia, from this day forward. Forget about the expectations that Colon and Garcia have exceeded, and (try) to forget about how dreadful Burnett has been for much of the season. Hughes' stint on the disabled list at the beginning of the year doesn't matter now, and neither does Nova's lack of experience - something that shouldn't prevent him from getting his first postseason start.
Any playoff rotation the Yankees unveil will be full of uncertainty without a true No. 2 arm to turn to. But, what they do have is options.
If the season ended today, Sabathia, Colon, and Nova are the trio that give New York its best chance to win. Colon not only has the "stuff" but he's also been the most consistent arm, along with Nova, among the five vying for a start in Games 2 and 3 of the playoffs. Barring a complete change of fortune, both will be tough to knock out of the postseason rotation. That means Garcia, Hughes and Burnett will be battling for the fourth spot -- unless, of course, the Yankees decide to turn to Sabathia.
The Yankees went with a three-man rotation when they won in 2009 and they shouldn't rule that out this year, just because they have a surplus of sub-par pitchers. There is only one goal for the New York Yankees at the onset of every season, and that's to be world champions.
If nobody steps up, or has the hot-hand heading into October, the Yanks' best move might be a three-man rotation so they can get the ball in Sabathia's hands sooner -- which might happen regardless, if the team faces elimination heading into a Game 4 matchup.
The Yankees may have the worst rotation of any playoff team -- don't let their team-ERA of 3.56 (third best in the American League) convince you otherwise, and, as a result, they need to use the rest of the regular season to evaluate what they have and determine who is peaking at the right time.
The biggest decision the Yankees will have to make is the one regarding Burnett. If he continues to throw like he currently is, there is no way the team can trust him for a playoff game. What he earns is not what should earn him a spot in the postseason rotation, and, on Monday, Cashman assured everyone it wouldn't.
If New York is on the fence about Burnett's role come October, perhaps it should take a look at the defending champions and see how they handled their own overpaid enigma last season.
The San Francisco Giants left Barry Zito, the $126 million man, off the postseason roster and it proved to be a wise decision, as they turned to rookie Madison Bumgarner to fill his void and we all know how the rest of the story unfolded.
Any way the team decides to go will be met with second-guessing from all circles until the Yankees hoist their 28th World Series banner. And with all the question marks in the rotation, that's not likely to happen this season.