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Michael Pineda And The Yankees' Rotation

By the time you read this, you will have already drafted. Probably. If you haven't, you already know to downgrade Michael Pineda in your rankings (I'd put him somewhere near Chris Carpenter) and hope that someone else takes him in the fifth round.

Most of us, though, are playing in leagues that already had their draft (thanks a lot, early opening games in Japan) and Pineda is owned in 77% of Yahoo! fantasy leagues and 96% of the deeper CBS leagues. Chances are, if you don't have him, someone in your league does. So, what should you do about it?

Let's start with the injury itself, called alternatively "right shoulder inflammation" and "tendinitis." Obviously, this is not good, but it was better than some of the other possibilities, affording GM Brian Cashman a sigh of relief as the MRI showed no problems with the labrum or rotator cuff. Cashman also said, "we'll probably keep a ball out of his hands 10, 15 days." Of course, picking a baseball back up isn't the same as returning to the rotation; Pineda will have work to do before he gets on a mound and rehab starts to make before he pitches in the Majors again.

CBS Sports estimates that he'll be out until "at least mid-April," which is technically true, but sounds way too optimistic: early to mid-May seems more likely if there are no major setbacks. Additionally, the Yanks are sounding like they intend to be extra-cautious with their talented new pitcher and have little immediate need to rush him back. I wouldn't be shocked if his return were more like midseason.

Perhaps as worrisome as the injury itself are manager Joe Girardi's comments from before Pineda was placed on the DL: that he might have started the season in Triple-A anyway. Whenever Pineda returns, it seems likely that someone else will have to lose a rotation spot to accomodate him.

Even worse for Pineda's owners, his return will likely come after Andy Pettitte's comeback date of May 1. The Yankees and Pettitte wouldn't have gone to all the trouble of a big comeback if he was going to be a long reliever or a lefty specialist -- he'll either be in the rotation or back with his family. Though he's inexplicably absent from Yahoo!'s player universe, he's already owned in 31%  of CBS leagues. It's too early to say with much certainty what Pettitte's value will be, but league average with Yankee-level run support has fantasy value. It may not be better than what Pineda would give when he returns, but that won't stop Pettitte from blocking him in the rotation unless he's just awful. I wouldn't say Pettitte's worth a draft pick or an immediate pickup, but his comeback road needs to be watched. 

So, what do you do with Pineda if you already own him? How do you take advantage of the situation if you don't? First of all, don't panic and trade or release Pineda. He's still better than anyone but CC Sabathia in that rotation; if he comes back strong, you'll still have the pitcher you drafted. Unfortunately, you might be stuck with little or nothing for your investment, but Pineda's hardly the only pitcher to give you that risk.

Picking up Pettitte won't help Pineda's owners immediately, but other Yankees might fit the bill. Obviously, Sabathia is already owned in your league, and Hiroki Kuroda probably is. But Ivan Nova (owned in 50% of Yahoo! leagues and 78% of CBS leagues) and Phil Hughes (19/65) might be available, and Freddy Garcia (5/11) probably is. One of those three will be losing his rotation spot to Pettitte, and another may lose it when Pineda returns, but all are secure for April.

If you do own Pineda, any of the three could be good for a few spot starts in April. Personally, I like having any Yankee pitchers I can get onto my team because their strong lineup and bullpen make them great targets for wins. Garcia and Nova don't add many strikeouts, but in deeper leagues, beggars can't exactly be choosers.

Even if you don't own Pineda, this seems like a great opportunity to grab Hughes -- especially if you're in a Yahoo! league. I'm not exactly sold on his great spring meaning he's back to the 2010 version of himself, but I'd use a waiver claim to take that chance. More importantly, because Hughes has the highest ceiling of the three, he's got the best chance to stay in the rotation through the returns of Pettitte and Pineda. If he's pitching well, it will probably be really well. If he's not ... well, you'll drop him before the Yankees will. Nova and Garcia, on the other hand, just have to be their average selves to be worth bumping to the bullpen or minor leagues. They could easily be less valuable to the Yankees than to your fantasy team.

Finally, this could be a nice time to buy low from a frustrated leaguemate. If you can get Pineda cheap, stash him on the DL, and pick up another Yankee as insurance, you'll have turned someone else's problem in to a big opportunity.


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