The start of the baseball season is less than a month away. Every weekday until opening day, we'll be counting down, from No. 20 to No. 1, the most important Yankees players for the upcoming 2010 slate. Today, No. 19, pitcher Chad Gaudin.
One gets the impression the Yankees don't think very highly of Chad Gaudin. After all, last year's unconventional three-man playoff rotation was designed, essentially, to keep Gaudin from making a start in a game that mattered. Gaudin made the playoff roster, officially working out of the bullpen, but really as an emergency starter should anything terrible have happened to someone more important. Nothing terrible did happen, and Gaudin threw just one inning in the postseason — a pressure-free ninth in a 10—1 victory in Game 4 against the Angels.
Yet if the Yankees are serious about someone other than Joba Chamberlain or Phil Hughes filling the fifth spot in the rotation this season, Gaudin's suddenly in the mix to become an important part of this team. In fact, if neither Hughes nor Joba wins the job — and we still think that's a big if — our money's on Gaudin. Alfredo Aceves has been more effective out of the bullpen, and though the Post yesterday put Sergio Mitre ahead of Gaudin on the fifth-starter leader board, that's based on a limited number of early spring appearances. By the end of the month, Mitre might not even be on this team, but Gaudin probably will be.
More likely than not, though, Gaudin will be back in the bullpen, where, like lefty-specialist Damaso Marte, he'll have a defined job — as the staff's long man. Truth be told, most weeks he won't be as valuable as Aceves, David Robertson, Chan Ho Park, or whichever middle-relievers they end up carrying. But his versatility (he was 1–0 with a 3.19 ERA in six starts for the Yankees last year) means he could end up with a bigger role, even if he doesn't crack the rotation out of camp (or at least he could have a bigger role until they can find someone better). If we've learned anything about starting rotations by watching this or any team, it's that the one on opening day doesn't usually last for very long.