02/11/2003 09:00 am ET
Yankees Spring Training preview
Club to enter camp with surplus 'done by design'
By Mark Feinsand / MLB.com
Spring Training rundown
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NEW YORK -- For the second consecutive year, the Yankees find themselves heading to Spring Training with too many starters
for their five-man rotation. While some people classify having seven starters as a problem that the Bronx Bombers must solve,
general manager Brian Cashman believes that the situation is a positive.
"I'm very comfortable with the pitching staff as it is," Cashman said. "We didn't accidentally get there. It's been done by design."
The Yankees head to Tampa with seven starters, including six from last year's roster. Roger Clemens, Mike Mussina, Andy
Pettitte and David Wells figure to begin the spring penciled into the rotation, leaving Jeff Weaver, Jose Contreras and Sterling
Hitchcock to fight it out for the final spot.
Last spring, the Yankees went to camp with three starters -- Wells, Hitchcock and Orlando Hernandez -- vying for the final two
spots behind Clemens, Mussina and Pettitte. Hitchcock broke down with a back injury, making the decision easy for manager
Joe Torre and pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre, but they may not get so "lucky" this year. Or will they?
While Cashman insists he doesn't need to trade one of the starters before the season to clear up the rotation picture, that
option always remains a possibility.
"We're comfortable with the depth, though we're certainly willing to trade from the strength that we have if something makes
sense," Cashman said. "If something shakes out and presents itself, we'll recommend a move. If not, we're willing to go to
Spring Training with the depth that we have in the rotation."
Considering that Clemens is 40 and Wells is 39, the Yankees figure to hang on to at least six starters in case either breaks
down. Pettitte is also coming off an injury-riddled season, so there is always the possibility that he could spend some time on
the disabled list this season. New York is prepared to handle an injury in the spring -- or to jump at the chance to deal with
"Naturally, injuries happen. We hope they don't happen, but they can take place in our camp and in 29 other camps," Cashman
said. "We'll be poised and ready to either act by making a move to take advantage of someone else's situation, or to utilize the
depth that we have to avoid a problem in our camp. We look at it as something positive, and we're embracing it."
Barring an injury to one of the four incumbent starters, it's hard to imagine that both Weaver and Contreras will make the
rotation, though each makes a compelling case. New York invested $32 million over four years in Contreras, but Torre has
repeatedly talked about how much he likes Weaver.
When Weaver was dealt to the Yankees last summer, he started a few games before being moved to the bullpen -- with the
assurance that it was only for the rest of 2002. Despite this winter's trade of Hernandez to Montreal, a spot in the rotation hasn't
opened up for the 26-year-old Weaver, now that the Yankees have brought back Clemens for his run at 300 wins and signed
Contreras as a free agent.
"I think a great deal of Jeff Weaver," Torre said. "I think he's going to be a big-time pitcher. He handled [his time in the bullpen]
very well last year, but I think his future is as a starter."
Cashman hopes that his players will be more concerned with what is best for the team than their own statistics.
"Most of the people that we've had here the last few years have been team-oriented," Cashman said. "That's what it's all about
when you're trying for that big prize. One day you can tell someone that it isn't working out, then a week later that person could
be pitching in a vital role. In this game, things change very quickly."
Regardless of which starter wins the final spot in the rotation, the Yankees will be well stocked with capable arms. Cashman
believes that however the rotation shakes out, his players will respond professionally and be ready to go when the season
opens on March 31 at SkyDome.
"We have to go out and take every day one at a time, put together a program in Spring Training that gets these guys ready both
physically and mentally for the grind of the season," Cashman said. "If everyone is healthy and with us by the time the bell rings
for Opening Day in Toronto, hopefully we'll be in a position where everyone accepts their roles. Those who end up in the
bullpen will be there by losing out in a battle on the field."
Torre, who will be able to reach back to his experience last spring in dealing with this situation, said he won't begin to handicap
each pitcher's odds as Spring Training rolls on.
"I certainly want to treat each and every one of those guys like starters, and that's what I'll do in Spring Training," Torre said. "We
have to make it work, whatever it is. I don't know what I'm going to do, but we'll do something and make it happen."
Like his manager, Cashman isn't interested in prognosticating what the rotation will look like come April.
"We're just looking to get down to Spring Training and see how it shakes out," Cashman said. "No one has any predictions on
what it's going to look like, other than that we have a lot of quality players that we're going to have a chance to make decisions
Mark Feinsand is a reporter for MLB.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. This story was not subject to approval by Major
League Baseball or its clubs.