Stuck in the middle with you, Freddy

TAMPA, Fla. -- The team with a longer history of excellence than any in the history of professional sports opted for mediocrity. Freddy Garcia has made the New York Yankees' starting rotation.

Manager Joe Girardi made the expected announcement Saturday morning before the Yankees' game against the Pittsburgh Pirates, that Ivan Nova had earned the No. 4 spot in his rotation behind CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett and Phil Hughes.

And Girardi made the announcement just about everyone knew was coming but many couldn't quite figure out, that despite having been outpitched every step of the way this spring, it would be Garcia in the rotation, Bartolo Colon in the bullpen.

"The innings that Freddy logged, the wins last year, he stayed healthy all last year," were Girardi's stated reasons. "Bartolo is a guy that we think can do a lot of things in our bullpen or if we needed him in a spot start. We just think Bartolo's a lot more versatile in that role."

In a nutshell, Colon's "versatility" doomed him to the purgatory of long relief. Garcia's ordinariness gets him a spot in the rotation.

True, it's only for the No. 5 spot, a nonvital position on any team and one that is generally unnecessary until the second weekend of the season. (This year, it appears Garcia will have to start as early as Wednesday, April 6, to keep the rest of the starters on rotation).

And just as true, a team with a lineup as high-powered as the Yankees', which led baseball in runs scored last year, can probably survive the average outing of the very-average Mr. Garcia.

But this is a team that has always sought to avoid mediocrity at any cost, and in this case, it has actively sought it out. In fact, it was Garcia's very mediocrity that won him this job the minute they signed him to a minor league contract on Feb. 2, and virtually ensured that as long as he emerged from spring training with all four limbs intact, there was no way he could lose it.

"We had seen what he had done last year," Girardi said of Garcia. "He won 12 games, threw 160 innings, he had bounced back from his injury pretty well. We actually felt that he had a chance to get better because he was another offseason removed from his arm issues that he had. But you still want to see it in spring training. For his standards, he had a great spring."

For the record, Garcia's numbers were 1-1, 5.93 ERA, 13 hits and nine earned runs in 13 2/3 IP, 12 strikeouts, two walks, opponents' batting average of .250 and a WHIP of 1.10. The previous two springs, his ERA was over 10.00 -- 16.71 in 2009 with the Mets -- and his OBAs over .400. So by his standards, it was quite a spring.

But compare those numbers to Colon's: 1-0, 2.40, 10 hits, 17 K's, 1 walk in 15 innings pitched, an OBA of .192 and WHIP of 0.73. Clearly this spring was no contest, in more ways than one.

Colon was the better pitcher who never had a real shot at winning the job.

"Bartolo was the wild card in all of this," Girardi said. "I didn't really have any expectations for Bartolo. I had no idea what to think, what he was going to do. You didn't know his velocity was going to be as high as 93, that he'd have that much movement on his fastball, that he'd be able to pick up a cutter in a day. And it happened."

In other words, no one on the Yankees banked on him being as good as he was. But aside from making Girardi's life difficult by simply refusing to go away, Colon was apparently never under serious consideration for a starter's role.

In a way, it's understandable. The No. 5 starter is generally nothing more than a sponge for innings, a guy you hope will keep you in the game and give you enough length to rest the pen. He's the first guy you skip when the games get important. He's the last guy you turn to when you want to halt a losing streak or win a playoff game. It might not make a bit of difference in the Yankees' destiny this year if No. 5 is Freddy Garcia, Bartolo Colon or Buddy Carlyle.

And it's not about what's fair or unfair; Bartolo Colon is a big boy who has made a lot of money in baseball and had plenty of success. Nothing particularly bad has happened to him here; in fact, this has to be a wonderful day for him, to have made the roster of a team that should be in World Series contention after having been out of the major leagues for 18 months.

In fact, the Yankees' plan for him, to use him as a two- or three-inning man out of the pen and drop him into the occasional spot start, worked quite well in their championship season of 2009 with Alfredo Aceves in the role.

This is more about a way of thinking that has always been alien to the Yankees. They held a supposed "competition" between a former Cy Young Award winner who showed signs of regaining much of his former excellence and a once-formidable power pitcher who is now getting by on mirrors but no smoke.

And they chose the latter simply because it was the safe choice.

Guaranteed mediocrity over potential excellence? Not what the Yankees were built on and not what they have always represented.

But for now, that's the way they are going. They better hope their season doesn't follow suit.