Handicapping the fifth starter spot

The Yankees continuing to monitor Kevin Millwood's availability, but they have still not signed him. My colleague Wallace Matthews asked GM Brian Cashmanthis morning if the Yankees have a strong interest in Millwood.

"Define strong," Cashman said.

He would not detail how close anything is with Millwood, but the Yankees will only sign Millwood on their terms. Pitchers with plus 5.00 ERAs last year don't give themselves too much leverage no matter how despearate a team may be.

Now, let's look a little deeper into the rest of the rotation. We know the first three spots (CC, Hughes and A.J.). After that Ivan Nova has to lose the No. 4 spot. The Yankees have a tremendous amount of faith in a guy with three career decisions. But it is hard to find anyone in the organization uttering major concerns about Nova. They know he still needs to do it.

The fifth spot is more interesting. Freddy Garcia is the favorite. If he can get his fastball up to 88-89, he likely has enough guile to pitch five or six innings per outing and throw to a mid-four ERA. He has five pitches and he won 12 games last season.

His biggest competition (sorry) is Bartolo Colon. Colon is not in shape, but the Yankees won't care if he can pitch. They are taking a flyer on him, but he needs to really standout to win the job.

One little tidbit from Garcia this morning that could open a crack for Colon to sneak through is that Garcia says he usually doesn't pitch well in spring training. Sergio Mitre also needs to be lights out to be the fifth starter. Mitre is the favorite for the long-man job, because he would likely be more durable than either Colon or Garcia.

The young, darkhorse candidates to win the fifth starter spot are Andrew Brackman, Adam Warren and David Phelps. Brackman is the one who will excite Yankee fans the most. He is the 6-foot-10 righty, whom the Yankees saw vast improvement from last year. Still, he probably needs to get those big parts all working together more consistently to be ready for the bigs.

Meanwhile, theYankees top prospects, Dellin Bentances and Manny Banuelos, are both slated to start the year at Double-A Trenton. From there, we shall see.