Phil Hughes of the New York Yankees throws a pitch against the Detroit Tigers during Game Five of the American League Championship Series at Yankee Stadium on October 6, 2011 in the Bronx borough of New York City. (Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)
The biggest question hanging over the 2012 New York Yankees as Spring Training swings into full gear is who will emerge as the fifth member of the team's starting pitching rotation? Will it be Freddy Garcia, the 35-year-old veteran who had a resurgent 2011 season? Or, will it be Phil Hughes, the 25-year-old whose awful 2011 season opened led to questions about what the future holds for the right-hander who was once thought to be a future ace of the Yankee staff?
Though they probably won't say it, you have to believe the Yankees would love to see Hughes have a solid spring and earn the job. Garcia was 12-8 with a 3.62 ERA in 2011. That, however, was the first time since 2005 that Garcia had pitched to an ERA below 4.00. Can he do it again? Garcia's 2011 ERA was more than a run below the 4.64 he posted with the Chicago White Sox in 2010, and it would hardly be unexpected to see regression in his 2012 performance.
Hughes was awful in 2011, going 5-5 with a 5.79 ERA, a 1.49 WHIP and allowing batters to hit .277 against him. He spent part of the season battling a mysterious shoulder ailment, and much has been said about the possibility he did not come into spring training in shape after going 18-8, 4.19 in 2010.
With A.J. Burnett gone, Hughes is probably the biggest enigma on the Yankee pitching staff. He will probably never be what many thought he could become when he was called "The Phranchise" just a couple of years ago. Still, based on upside alone I believe you have to hope that Hughes does enough this spring to earn the final spot in the rotation.
Thoughts, Yankees fans?