The New York Yankees continue to try and fill up the vacuum at the back end of their rotation by saying the team has a "strong" interest in signing free-agent Kevin Millwood. GM Brian Cashman seems to be compensating for the loss of Cliff Lee by accumulating rehabbing or fading bodies and tossing them into a brawl for the No. 4 and 5 spots. Who said the MMA and cage-fighting were illegal in New York?
Millwood is a workhorse who has averaged almost 190 innings per season over the past six years. That average would have been second among Yankee starters last year.
The big right-hander's asking price may be too high. Millwood is coming off the last year of a five-year $60 million contract but it is substantially more than the Yankees laid out for Freddy Garcia and Bartolo Colon this winter.
The Yankees have already signed veteran right-handers Garcia (one-year at $1.5 million plus performance bonuses) and Colon (one-year at $900,000) to minor league deals. Millwood would probably be asking for a major-league contract.
As a journeyman pitcher, Millwood had his best years when he came up with the Atlanta Braves. He pitched for the bottom-dwelling Baltimore Orioles last year and finished with a record of 4-16 with a bloated ERA of 5.10.
While Cashman continues to stockpile arms for the No. 4 and 5 starters, manager Joe Girardi may have narrowed the competition to only the last spot.
Girardi has been praising Ivan Nova's all week and it sounds like the 24 year-old rightie is leading the pack after starting only seven games last season. Nova was 1-2 with an ERA of 4.50.
"I would think it gives him a better understanding of what he has to do to stay here," said Girardi. "He faced pretty tough teams in our division last year. He pitched in the toughest month of the year when, we're trying to win our division. He knows what it takes, but you still have to go out."
Could Girardi's subtle endorsement of Nova leave only the No. 5 position as the real battleground and Millwood's signing would make things tougher?
It is too early to say who's leading who, since the Yankee pitchers are still only working out of the bullpens, but the odds are good that the 35 year-old Garcia could fit the bill. Last year's record of 12-6, an ERA of 4.64 and and 157 innings in 28 starts for the White Sox would get Girardi's heart fluttering if he could repeat those numbers for the Yanks.
"He [Garcia] finds a way to get it done," said the optimistic manager.
The jury is still out on the inconsistent Sergio Mitre and Bartolo--who was inactive last year--and a group of kids who are on the outside looking in. Girardi already said he doesn't want to push the young players until they "are ready to perform."
Cashman can't discount the possibility of No. 3 starter, A.J. Burnett, flaming out again. Millwood's numbers--even on a worse team--were almost as good as Burnett's.
If Nova has a breakout season, Millwood could be an important acquisition if not only for insurance puposes, but it could move the kid up a notch.
Girardi said, "The chances the fourth and fifth stater roles will be answered sooner than later are not very good. I think we will spend all spring evaluating everyone in camp."
If no one rises to the top, expect the Yankees to go after the best pitcher on the market come the July trade deadline. This time he won't pull a Cliff Lee and get away.