Sorry, Yankees fans, but Bartolo Colon circa 2011 is the act of a desperate team. I know there has no financial risk, but the guy's got 172 big league strikeouts -- total -- over the past five years. You don't sign that guy if you're all good, pitching-wise, or even close. The Yankees don't have a real starting rotation right now (which is pretty much inexcusable for a team with their budget) and they know it.
Now, there's been some debate in recent days over whether the Yankees can be a playoff team in their current state. I think that's a foolish question for a number of reasons, but the main one is that everything is relative. The Yankees' starting rotation may be thinner than Edwar Ramirez's tibia, but they're absolutely stacked in the lineup and in the bullpen. Their schedule is still stuffed with all kinds of games against the Orioles, the Blue Jays, the empty husk of the Tampa Bay Rays as well as the weak sisters that populate the bottom halves of the league's other divisions.
As long as the Yankees can hit and outpitch bad middle relievers, they'll pile up regular-season wins and make the playoffs without blinking. They may not be as good as the Red Sox this year, but can you find three teams from the Central and West you like to finish ahead of them?
Oh, it's not always going to be pretty. There will be stretches, especially if CC Sabathia gets out of the gate slowly or Phil Hughes takes an unexpected step backward, where the Yankees look like anything but a playoff team. There will be pockets of worry and concern. And a major injury here or there could change everything, as it could with any team. But the Yankees' plan may be to run Sabathia, Hughes and what they hope will be a fixed A.J. Burnett out there and fill in the last two spots with Colon-level flotsam or whoever is pitching well in the high Minors. If that's their hope, they'll have enough to stay afloat at least until the trade deadline.
And that's the next critical milepost for Brian Cashman and the Yankees. Unable to fix their starting-pitching issues in the winter, they'll enter the season confident in the ability of the offense and bullpen to keep them in the mix for the first three months and allow them to work on midsummer fixes. With the Yankees, you can never assume the team you're looking at in February is the team that will be in place for the pennant race. Or even close. The Yankees already know what they'll need come July, and they'll spend April, May and June monitoring which teams are in and out of the races and who might be available then who's not now.
The Yankees know that the teams that have won them championships are the ones that have had starting pitching depth come October, and the teams that have won them 100 regular-season games and lost in the playoffs are the ones that didn't. If they don't fix the rotation in July, and they'll still have enough to outmuscle the weaklings in the head-to-head matchups and make it to the October dance. They'll still be a playoff team.
The problem, for a team that measures success exclusively on whether it wins the World Series, is that while the Yankees as you currently see them would be a playoff team, they wouldn't be a very good one.