Yankees 2004 Outlook, Part 3

The Yankees pitching staff in 2003 suffered from a few problems. A shaky bullpen and inconsistent starts from certain members of the rotation hindered the Yanks this season. 2004 might be a different story however, as some players return from injury and others are put out to pasture. Take a look at all of it in the final installment of our 2004 Outlook.

Roger Clemens: Clemens is retiring. Will he be back? No. Man, that was easy.

Jose Contreras: Contreras will be a starter next season. He won't be bouncing around between the bullpen and AAA or Tampa or whatever, he'll be in the rotation the entire season. Contreras was excellent as a starter in 2003, posting dominating strikeout numbers and a very good WHIP ratio. He'll be using that knuckle-splitter to strike out opponents in the first innings instead of the last as the number three or four starter in 2004.
Projected Stats: 16-8, 3.40 ERA, 207 K, 1.20 WHIP

Chris Hammond: Hammond was actually better than most people had the perception of in 2003, and he'll be even better next season. Hammond was forced into the setup role after the injury to Steve Karsay and the ineffectiveness of Antonio Osuna and Juan Acevedo. As a seventh-inning pitcher/lefty specialist, Hammond will be more effective and will enjoy a third consecutive top-notch season.
Projected Stats:2-2, 2.97 ERA, 40 K, 2 saves, 20 holds

Felix Heredia: Heredia is a free agent now that the Yankees declined his option, but it looks as though it was merely done to cut his salary. It appears as though the two sides are closing in on a two-year deal however, so Heredia will most likely be back in 2004. With a full season to showcase his solid arm, the southpaw should be a good lefty specialist out of the pen for Joe Torre.
Projected Stats:1-2, 3.65 ERA, 52 K, 0 saves, 10 holds

Steve Karsay: Karsay is almost ready to resume throwing off of a mound and is expected to be ready to go by spring training. Karsay was a big missing piece to the Yankees' puzzle this season, and being without a consistent setup man really hurt the team. But the right-hander will be back in 2004, solidifying the back end of what should be a better bullpen than 2003's version.
Projected Stats:5-1, 3.15 ERA, 48 K, 2 saves, 25 holds

Jon Lieber: Lieber won 20 games for the Cubs in 2001, but that was his best season by far. He's a former ace and a solid pitcher, but he'll be a fourth or fifth starter for the Yankees if Jeff Weaver doesn't beat him out in spring training. Lieber has a chance to put up solid numbers, but in his first year back from major surgery, don't expect 20 wins.
Projected Stats:14-10, 4.10 ERA, 150 K, 1.28 WHIP

Mike Mussina: Mussina still seems to be unable to put up that elusive 20-win season. Despite being one of the elite pitchers of the current generation, Mussina has yet to truly take hold and dominate the league for an entire season. I'm not sure if next season will be when he does that, it is more likely that his opportunity for absolute greatness has passed and he'll have to settle for being just excellent. On a team like the Yankees however, Mussina always has the shot to win 20.
Projected Stats:18-7, 3.48 ERA, 210 K, 1.11 WHIP, 0 saves

Jeff Nelson: Nelson won't be back in New York in 2004, unless it's wearing someone else's uniform. With his poor performance down the stretch and his playoff antics in the bullpen, it's safe to say that this is one relieve that the Yankees won't be pursuing in the free agent market. Nelson will land with some other team (maybe the Mets or Boston) and enjoy the same kind of success he did with Seattle for the last few seasons.

Antonio Osuna: He won't be back, don't worry about him.

Andy Pettitte: Pettitte is the number one priority of the Yankees this offseason, and what George Steinbrenner wants, George Steinbrenner gets. The Red Sox and Astros may drive up Pettitte's price, but he'll be back in pinstripes in 2004 and probably signed to a three-year, $45 million deal or something. Pettitte probably won't repeat his 20-win season, but I don't see him getting off to the terrible start he did in '03 either. Something in the middle would suffice.
Projected Stats: 17-9, 3.95 ERA, 195 K, 1.27 WHIP

Mariano Rivera: After posting the best ERA of his career in 2003, Rivera will continue to give AL hitters fits in '04. He looked shaky at some points, and he probably will again next year, but the man had 5 postseason saves, most of which came via two innings, and he had a dramatic three-inning victory against Boston. The man very clearly isn't human, and the Yankees are lucky to have him.
Projected Stats: 3-1, 2.38 ERA, 60 K, 42 saves, 0 holds

Jeff Weaver: Weaver will be fighting for a rotation spot again next season, especially if the Yankees go out and sign a Bartolo Colon or Kevin Millwood. Weaver will need to prove that he's the pitcher that the Yanks thought they were getting when they dealt for him, or his days in New York are numbered. I've still got faith in the guy, and I'm assuming he sticks in the rotation the entire season. But who knows what will come from that.
Projected Stats: 11-12, 4.50 ERA, 160 K, 1.30 WHIP

David Wells: I may be in the minority here, but I just don't see Wells back in pinstripes next year. The Yankees will have at least five starters, six if they sign someone, and there won't be room for an old and injured man like Wells in the rotation. He could fill a Sterling Hitchcock type of role for the Yanks, but it's more likely he'll go and start for San Diego, Baltimore or Toronto instead.

Gabe White: White is an interesting case. If the Yanks re-sign him (they declined his option), he would be a third lefty out of the pen, something that's probably not a necessity. That being said, White is a quality reliever, and there aren't too many available relievers as talented as he is. I'm going to predict that he won't be back, and instead the Yankees will fill his role from within the organization (I know, crazy).

Other names to watch out for:
Scott Proctor: Acquired from LA in the Ventura deal, could be a nice surprise next year.
Bret Prinz: Acquired from Arizona for Mondesi, has a good arm, but may not be able to put it all together.
Jorge DePaula: Looked sharp in a spot start this season, could be a long reliever, could be trade bait.
Ramon Ramirez: Dominated the Arizona Fall League this season and will get a long look in spring training.
Danny Borrell: Yanks' top pitching prospect could finally see some major league action next year.
Randy Choate: Yeah, he's still around. If the sidearmer can finally get his control under… control… he can totally dominate lefties. He'll likely be where the Yankees turn instead of re-signing White.

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