For comparison: The New York Yankees and Arizona Diamondbacks No. 5 starter competition

Even the richest team in baseball, the defending World Series champion New York Yankees, has doubts concerning its No. 5 starter.

It’s not for a lack of possibilities. The Yankees’ No. 5 starter competition nominally offers Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlain, Sergio Mitre, Alfredo Aceves and Chad Gaudin, though the main contenders are probably Hughes and Chamberlain. Not one of the them offers a reliable starter’s resume.

Hughes posted a 3.03 ERA last season – but like the Dodgers’ James McDonald, he did much better as a reliever. Hughes only started seven games in 2009 and had a 5.45 ERA before going to the bullpen for good at the end of May.

Chamberlain, the 24-year-old who began his career with such domination as a reliever, started 31 games in 2009 but with a 4.75 ERA. Mitre, 29, had a 6.79 ERA in 51 2/3 innings in 2009. Gaudin, 27 this month, had a 4.76 ERA in 25 starts a year ago, averaging 5 1/3 innings per start. Aceves, 27, has a 3.24 ERA in 114 career innings, but relieved in 42 of 43 appearances in ’09.

Ben Shpigel of the New York Times writes that Yankees manager Joe Girardi hasn’t focusing on Spring Training results yet but will do so soon.

At Pinstriped Bible on Friday, Steven Goldman hosted a roundtable on the subject with Cliff Corcoran of Bronx Banter and Jay Jaffe of Baseball Prospectus and the Futility Infielder, offering thoughtful analysis before remembering that no April decision on the No. 5 starter will be etched in stone. (Earlier this month, Corcoran previewed the competition here.)

Does it matter? Eric Karabell of ESPN.com writes that the Yankees’ No. 5 starters in 2009 – Chien-Ming Wang, Hughes, Mitre, Gaudin and Aceves – had a 6.92 ERA in 35 starts (147 innings, 4 1/3 innings per start). Obviously, it helps if the rest of your team is strong enough to overcome this weakness.

And just to show that nothing’s even guaranteed at the top of the Yankee rotation, Scott Randall of ESPN.com’s TMI blog notes that the past five innings leaders of World Series champions — Curt Schilling, Mark Buehrle, Chris Carpenter, Josh Beckett and Cole Hamels, have struggled the following year.

Previously on Dodger Thoughts: “For comparison: The St. Louis Cardinals No. 5 starter competition”

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Meanwhile, it’s not all peaches and cream with the Dodgers’ National League West rival Arizona.

Arizona has been counting on the return of Brandon Webb to health, but that appears to be delayed, writes Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic. Kris Benson, the 35-year-old with an 8.46 ERA in 22 1/3 innings since 2006, worked out for the Diamondbacks, Piecoro notes, indicating the depth of their search for more depth.

AZ Snakepit predicts Billy Buckner (6.40 ERA last season) will be the No. 5 starter for Arizona, then goes on to discuss the Diamondbacks’ unattractive candidates for the rotation – behind Dan Haren, Edwin Jackson and Ian Kennedy (6.03 career ERA) – should Webb not make it to Opening Day.

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Things are even a bit testy with the ballyhooed San Francisco Giant rotation, though it might well be much ado about nothing. Amid ongoing concerns about his build and some reports of diminished speed in his fastball, some people are worried about Tim Lincecum — much to Lincecum’s annoyance, as Rob Neyer of ESPN.com notes.

Linceum had a 7.56 ERA after two starts in 2009, then a 2.28 ERA with 251 strikeouts in 217 innings the rest of the way. Andrew Baggarly of the San Jose Mercury News is among those telling Lincecum’s fans not to jump off any bridges — though Baggarly adds that prospect Madison Baumgartner might not make the Opening Day roster for San Francisco.

Apparently, no one’s so desperate that they’re leaping after the guys on Ben Nicholson-Smith’s list at MLB Trade Rumors, led by Braden Looper, a 14-game winner, 39-homer allower in 2009 whose best offer might be a minor-league deal from the Dodgers, and Jarrod Washburn. John Smoltz and Pedro Martinez look like they’ll be part of this year’s partial season gang.

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Jake Peavy is looking good so far – but that’s not for the Dodgers to worry about anymore.

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In passing, Matt Eddy of Baseball America has an interesting article on player development and the use of minor-league options.

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