If you're looking for a scapegoat as you stare at the Yankees' funny-if-it-wasn't-so-sad starting rotation, you might as well go with Joba Chamberlain. The man's already a human punching bag at this point, so I doubt he'll mind.
Had Chamberlain developed as the team expected, the departure of Andy Pettitte wouldn't feel like such a cataclysmic event. In an ideal world, the Yankees would have entered 2011 with Chamberlain and Hughes already entrenched as established talents to pair with CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett. The only issue — other than getting Burnett back on the grid, of course — would be finding a fifth starter, a problem they'd share with approximately 85 percent of the teams in baseball.
Hughes has held up his end of the bargain, an 18-game winner in 2010 who appears on his way to a productive career. But Chamberlain's struggles have become emblematic of the organization's failure as a whole when it comes to developing starting rotation talent.
Think about it. Between the time Pettitte arrived on the scene in 1995 and now, how many productive starters has the minor league system churned out besides Hughes?
(I'll give you a minute ... or two ... or three.)
Here's what I came up with:
- Ted Lilly was a young lefty with talent dealt away in exchange for Jeff Weaver in 2002. (Obviously, an awesome decision.)
- Chien-Ming Wang wasn't exactly homegrown (he was an amateur free-agent signing in 2000), but he developed into a legitimate front-line starter before injuries derailed his career and wiped out the team's Taiwanese fanbase.
- Chase Wright was pretty great, if you define great as an ability to give up four-consecutive homers at Fenway Park then drop off the face of the planet like Ray Finkle.
- Ian Kennedy was a promising right-hander with attitude issues who was shipped out of town as part of the Curtis Granderson deal.
And then there's this sobering bit of perspective: My buddy Howie pointed out that when Hughes won his sixth career game, he set the club record for victories by a first-round pick.
How is that possible?
As history and World Series flags indicate, this obviously hasn't hurt the franchise all that much. But the business of the game has changed in recent years. Teams now put a far greater emphasis on homegrown pitching talent, and they're less apt to let a young ace get to the open market. Ten years ago, the Yankees would have been licking their chops as Felix Hernandez entered his walk season. Now they'd probably have to give up Jesus Montero, Granderson and a Derek Jeter DNA sample just to get the Mariners in the same room.
The fact that the Yankees were able to get their hands on Sabathia was an anomaly in that respect. And the whiff on Cliff Lee hurts double since those opportunities simply don't come around as often as they once did.
This isn't to say the Yankees have no way of acquiring premium pitching from an outside source, but we're learning you'll probably have to pay outrageously for it. Remember when the Yankees acquired David Cone from the Blue Jays for a bag of baseballs and a signed Alanis Morissette CD? Those days are over.
The Yankees seem to have 400 catchers ready for the Bronx, but it's unclear what kind of pitching talent they have in the pipeline. Potential No. 5 starter Ivan Nova is a mid-level prospect at best. Andrew Brackman, their 2007 first-round pick, is 25 and yet to make any impact. Manuel Banuelos and Dellin Betances are raw prospects with potential, but neither are likely to make a big-league contribution until 2012 at the earliest.
So why haven't the Yankees been able to develop their own starting pitching ... and what needs to be done to change that? These are questions best directed toward Damon Oppenheimer and Mark Newman, the brains behind the Yankees' draft and farm strategies.
Whoever is in charge, it needs to be fixed, or the Yankees are about to become dinosaurs in more ways than one.
Dan Hanzus writes three columns a week on his New York Yankees site, River & Sunset. He can be reached at email@example.com. Follow Dan on Twitter @danhanzus.