Inbox: How to handle fifth-starter job?

Inbox: How to handle fifth-starter job?

What is your opinion on who should be the fifth starter? Don't you think it's about time for the Yankees to give Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain specific, defined roles? I think it has been somewhat unfair to them to juggle them back and forth.
-- Tyler H., Bethlehem, Pa.

As it relates to the 2010 rotation and Spring Training coming up, I actually believe a little competition should be healthy. The idea that Chamberlain and Hughes can report to camp knowing they will be asked to step up and win a job should be exciting for all the fans to watch -- almost as much as it is for the players.

Hughes spent a morning talking last spring about how he actually preferred having to work for his spot over the situation the Yankees tried in 2008, when it was clear they were going to hand jobs to Hughes and Ian Kennedy and then hope things would work out.

While it wasn't Hughes' plan to fracture a rib that year and miss three months, it can't be a bad thing to have that prize dangling to keep the motivation level high during the spring. That's why it's also good to have contenders like Chad Gaudin, Sergio Mitre and Alfredo Aceves in the mix, though someone in that group is probably going to wind up as the long reliever.

As far as being "unfair" to either pitcher, in an ideal world, the Yankees wouldn't have had to interrupt the development of Chamberlain's 2007 season or Hughes '09 season to put them in the bullpen. But they did it out of necessity, and in part because of those moves, they won an American League Wild Card berth and a World Series, respectively. Trust me, Hughes was very happy with being a big league reliever when his alternative was starting every five days at Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.

It's been written here before, but one interesting variable for 2010 is that the training wheels are finally off for Chamberlain -- the "Joba Rules" T-shirts can only be read one way now, and he will be set free this year. Hughes would still be subject to those pesky innings limitations if he were to be asked to make 30 or so starts.

Is there any consideration into getting Rocco Baldelli? With the market, he could be a sleeper in left field.
-- Rudy Z., Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.

Agreed. Baldelli would make a nice choice for a platoon situation and fits the bill as a right-handed bat that the Yankees could add without breaking the bank. Despite the medical limitations that interfered after he was once a first-round Draft pick, Baldelli can hit -- especially against left-handers -- and for what it's worth, he was also well liked in the clubhouse with the Rays and Red Sox.

The St. Petersburg Times reported over the weekend that the Yankees and Cubs were among the clubs interested in Baldelli, and while general manager Brian Cashman refuted an Internet rumor that had New York already agreeing to terms with Baldelli, he would still be one option on the radar.

Would Javier Vazquez project as the No. 3 or No. 4 starter, behind or in front of Andy Pettitte?
-- John P., Hyde Park, N.Y.

Subject to change in the spring, of course, but on paper, you'd probably have Vazquez as the No. 4 right now. That would let you go lefty-righty from CC Sabathia to A.J. Burnett to Pettitte to Vazquez, and there's some appeal in that.

What about looking to add Ben Sheets at a discount? It seems both Hughes and Joba have been successful in the bullpen, why not keep them there and roll the dice on Sheets?
-- Mike C., Fairfield, Conn.

The Yankees did have some discussions about Sheets last month, but that fizzled when it appeared that there wouldn't be all that much of a discount. Several reports have said that Sheets is looking for between $8 million and $12 million annually, which is more than New York can fit into its budget. The Yanks were not expected to be among the teams attending Sheets' workout on Tuesday in Louisiana.

Why aren't the Yankees even thinking about Xavier Nady? He's a perfect fit and a great player.
-- Vinny F., Staten Island, N.Y.

Right now, it's financial. New York liked Nady, but he made $6.55 million in 2009, and even after the second Tommy John elbow surgery, the salary he's looking for doesn't fit into a narrow window of about $2 million to address the remaining holes.

Have a question about the Yankees?
Bryan HochE-mail your query to MLB.com Yankees beat reporter Bryan Hoch for possible inclusion in a future Inbox column. Letters may be edited for brevity, length and/or content.
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Question:

Is it likely that the Yankees are reluctant to make a long-term commitment to another outfielder because they eventually plan to move Derek Jeter to the outfield?
-- Woody B., Silver Spring, Md.

I'm not sure that you can make decisions like that based upon what may or may not happen several years down the road. The Yankees have said that there are no plans to move Jeter, especially after he put in all that agility training to roll his odometer back. He's better there now than he has been in years.

This will be a topic when his contract expires after this year, but I think it's fair to ask, "How are we sure if Jeter can play outfield, anyway?" We've never seen it. It's probably not a good comparison, but I keep thinking about when the Mets tried Todd Hundley in left field in 1998, an experiment that was horrific to watch. He had no interest in being out there and played as such. Jeter would be more invested in the team, of course, but his heart is obviously into being the shortstop. The Yankees just won a World Series with him doing that, so now probably isn't the time to tell him to stop.

I would like to know what the Yankees are thinking by not bringing Chien-Ming Wang back? When healthy, he is a good pitcher that does not cost much. Is there something that I don't know about?
-- Scott G., Buffalo, N.Y.

The key words are "When healthy." Fair or not, it has to be asked if the Wang the Yankees knew and loved before that June 15, 2008, game in Houston will appear again. Their reluctance to invest heavily in him seems to indicate uncertainty that he'll regain the form that twice made him a 19-game winner.

The Lisfranc injury created a chain reaction through Wang's body that messed with his mechanics, and if you need an example of why the Yankees would be hesitant, watch the tape of that April 18 game against the Indians when he gave up eight runs in 1 1/3 innings -- the one that got him shipped to Tampa to work everything out.

That may be a harsh assessment, because Wang did come back and pitched somewhat better before losing the rest of the season to injury, but it wasn't enough to guarantee him at least $4 million by offering arbitration. He does deserve interest, and New York was among the 15 teams that inquired about him, according to agent Alan Nero, but where that will go remains to be seen.

Why is everyone worried about left field? Some teams have more than one guy who should be hitting ninth. If the Yankees are looking to save some money, Brett Gardner should be their man. Someone is always available later in the season. Having an above-average defender with a lesser bat isn't the worst thing for the World Series champions. Thank you.
-- Brian P., East Winthrop, Maine

No, thank you. That's the point I've been trying to make, but it's fighting an uphill battle against the hundreds (really) of e-mails that have come in outraged the Yankees didn't go get someone like Jason Bay or Matt Holliday. The idea that New York absolutely must roll out the Brinks truck every winter and have an All-Star at every position seems silly to me.

I said this last year when the Yankees were trying to figure out if Gardner or Melky Cabrera should be the Opening Day center fielder -- it was a fun debate, but it didn't really matter one way or the other. If the Yankees missed the playoffs, it wouldn't be because of that decision. It would have been because Sabathia blew his shoulder out, or A-Rod missed the whole season, or Mark Teixeira hated New York, or whatever other doomsday scenario you want to come up with.

The Yankees might very well upgrade the outfield at some point, and they probably will. But if this is the hand they're dealt, and manager Joe Girardi has this outfield to work with on April 4 at Fenway Park, I wouldn't go as far as some of the e-mailers and immediately concede the division to the Red Sox. I assure you, they will win games with Gardner in the lineup.

Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.