Who will the Yankees tab to replace Ivan Nova?If Nova misses significant time, the Yankees have several options for their rotation
Nova was to be re-examined by team physician Dr. Christopher Ahmad in New York on Monday, and while there is no official word on a course of action or rehab, the fact that many UCL tears result in Tommy John surgery means the Yankees likely will have to plan for more than just the two starts Nova is guaranteed to miss over the next two weeks.
Vidal Nuno made a spot start on Sunday - one brought about because of a doubleheader earlier in the week - and impressed Joe Girardi with five shutout innings, but the skipper had said prior to the game that "we have to look at every possibility right now."
So, then, who would be the best fit if Nova were to miss significant time? Based on the current makeup of the Yankees' 40-man roster and Triple-A staff, we've listed five possibilities below as to how the Yankees could replace Nova going forward.
The "incumbent": Vidal Nuno
On the surface, Nuno's 6.75 ERA looks inflated…and it is, because all seven of the earned runs he's allowed this season came in a "take one for the team" outing on April 8 in relief of an ineffective Nova. However, the lefty is stretched out after 67 pitches in that appearance and 69 over five scoreless innings Sunday, and has shown (albeit in a limited sample size) that he can do the job in the majors, posting a 1.64 ERA, 1.000 WHIP, and 13 strikeouts in 22 innings over four career starts. Nuno would give Joe Girardi a second lefty in the rotation and would fit nicely in Nova's No. 3 slot, as he is more of a "crafty lefty" than a power lefty like CC Sabathia and would be a huge change of pace in the spot ahead of Masahiro Tanaka.
The major-leaguers: David Phelps or Adam Warren
Phelps and Warren were both candidates for the fifth spot in the rotation this spring, and while both have settled into key roles as set-up men - Friday's outing is the only one out of nine where he has allowed a run this season, while Phelps has not allowed a run while striking out seven over his last six appearances - it's more likely Phelps would be the one called back to the rotation if needed. Overall, Phelps has 23 career starts to Warren's three, has experience as both a "full-time" starter and as a replacement so he knows the role, and he was stretched out later into spring training. Added to that, so far this season, Phelps has two outings of two innings or more while Warren's 1 2/3 innings on Sunday was his longest appearance of the season, so Phelps might be easier to "re-stretch" as well. Anything can happen, so we've left Warren in here, but if it were either of them, we're 99 percent sure "Phelpsie" would get the call.
The minor-leaguers: A six-pack of 40-man options
The Yankees have six minor-league pitchers on the 40-man roster, but all of them, Greene included, seem to have a caveat. Bryan Mitchell, who was up Sunday as an emergency arm, has no experience above Double-A and has a 5.14 ERA there so far; Manny Banuelos is still working out the post-Tommy John surgery kinks at Class-A Tampa and has been limited to three innings in his first four outings; Nik Turley has yet to pitch this season because of spring arm issues; Jose Campos is in that same boat but has no experience above Class-A and could be headed to the bullpen full-time; and Jose Ramirez, who missed all spring with an oblique injury, has not yet appeared in an official game but is known to be moving to a relief role once he is back.
That said, since all of them have already "burned" an option year, could a combination of any or all of them be the answer? The Yankees have used piggybacking before - remember Dan Giese as Joba Chamberlain's shadow in 2008? - and while it's not necessarily the sexiest option, it could be one nonetheless; the Yankees had enough confidence in Mitchell and Greene to at least bring them up, and because they're both lefties, Turley and Banuelos could be worth a look if they return to form at some point in the near future.
The dark horses: Non-roster options
With Greene and Turley out of the picture so far, Scranton/Wilkes-Barre has used seven different starters through the first 16 games, and the Yankees could look to one of them to fill the void. Bruce Billings has been the "ace" so far, going 3-1 with a 2.74 ERA in four starts and going seven innings in each of his last two, but Brian Gordon (1-1, 2.30 in three starts) has also been very good, Chase Whitley (1-1, 3.72) has improved in each of his three starts, and after signing a minor-league deal late in the spring, Alfredo Aceves finally debuted with five scoreless innings last Friday. Three of the four (as well as Chris Leroux, who made his season debut last Wednesday) have Major League experience and both Gordon and Aceves have made starts for the Yankees in the past, so it wouldn't be an extraordinary stretch. They would need to open a 40-man roster spot to do so, but realistically, that would likely simply be a transferring of Nova to the 60-day disabled list.
The unknown: External options
Pitching is always at a premium, and you never know who is available - but even if their catching depth has taken a hit with Francisco Cervelli's injury, the Yankees do still have a surplus in other areas. You can't expect (although you also can't rule out) a blockbuster trade, but could the Yankees use one of those areas of surplus to their short-term advantage? This possibility could fall into three categories: a veteran arm on a minor-league deal somewhere else (examples could include Chien-Ming Wang, who is with the Reds' Triple-A affiliate in Louisville, or Scott Baker, who is with Texas' top farm club), someone who is simply an odd man out of a major-league rotation (like Boston's Chris Capuano or, eventually, someone on the Dodgers), or, as time goes on, a pending free agent on a non-contender looking to sell (the Cubs' Jason Hammel, who pitched well last week at Yankee Stadium, could be an example here). Brian Cashman has long said that his job is to "continually look for something better than what we have," so no matter where he finds it, the GM won't be shy about going to get it if he has to.