Yanks need A-Rod and Hughes to perform

Tyler Kepner on big changes afoot in the Bronx:

    After a flurry of roster moves Saturday, the Yankees found themselves with another makeshift third baseman, a jumbled bullpen and two top pitching prospects in their plans.
    Phil Hughes, the team's top minor league starter, is not with the Yankees yet, but he will start on Tuesday in Detroit for Chien-Ming Wang, who is on the disabled list with weakness in his hips. Mark Melancon, the team's top relief prospect, joined the Yankees to replace Brian Bruney, whose elbow has landed him on the D.L.

    Angel Berroa was promoted to take over at third base for Cody Ransom, who is out with a severe quadriceps injury. And the right-hander Dave Robertson also joined the bullpen, which has nine members for the moment.

So the season comes down to -- as perhaps we have always know it would -- the health of Alex Rodriguez.
Rodriguez is one of the very best players in the majors. Berroa is one of the very worst. It's been nearly five years since he's been a good enough hitter to play shortstop, and with the possible exception of 2003 he's never been a good enough hitter to play third base. We usually downplay the impact of any particular player, but over the course of the season we're talking about about an eight-game difference between the two-headed BerroaRansom Monster. More, probably. The Yankees have plenty of talent on their roster, but they don't have enough talent to make up eight wins.

Then again, maybe they do. Nobody in the American League Central or the West figures to win more than 88 games this season. The Red Sox do, of course. So do the Rays. But if one of those clubs should falter, it won't be at all impossible to grab the Wild Card with 88-90 wins. And I'm sure the Yankees could do that even with Angel Berroa playing 125 games.

More from Kepner:

    One pitcher who is not joining the bullpen is Joba Chamberlain, who has no record and a 3.94 earned run average in 16 innings over three starts. Girardi said Chamberlain was more consistent with his velocity on Friday and there was no reason to shift his role.

    As for Wang, who is 0-3 with a 34.50 E.R.A., Girardi said he would continue to pitch at extended spring training in Tampa, Fla., while doing exercises to strengthen his hips.

    "This is all caused by the foot injury, we believe,” Girardi said. "The lack of use caused a weakness in his hips. Stability and strength of the hips becomes very important in your mechanics, and we need to get that right.”

Wang's being replaced in the bullpen by Phil Hughes. According to Allen Barra, Hughes' ascendance is overdue:

    If the Yankees organization had just a single person with vision, it would be understood that Hughes is worth taking a chance on, that he has the potential to be the Yankees' future and that he is giving the Yankees absolutely no return for the enormous investment they've put into him simply by filling few extra seats for his starts in Trenton.
    What you can't help wondering is why, up to now, it wouldn't have been possible to prepare him for a slot in the starting five with some on-the-job training in the bullpen? Why, exactly, did we have to wait to see if Wang's arm fell off before Hughes was given a chance to pitch?

Well, yes. But it's only April. Barra -- or "Allen," as I call him -- believes the Yankees should have given Hughes the job already instead of re-signing Andy Pettitte. Most teams, yes. But the Yankees? The Yankees, like the Red Sox, have the luxury of great depth. Let's say you don't re-sign Pettitte or you discover that Joba Chamberlain can't withstand the rigors of throwing 100 pitches every five days. What if you discover both things?
Hughes has gone through some rough times. After an injury cost him three months in 2007, he came back strong that fall, only to suffer through an awful and winless 2008. One can hardly blame the Yankees for wanting to give the kid -- he's still only 22 -- a chance to win some games in Triple-A before throwing him to the American League wolves once again. More to the point, I think the Yankees knew they would need him at some point this season. They probably didn't figure it would happen so soon. But after all he's gone through, maybe now is exactly when he's ready.