Analysis

The Future of the Yankees Rotation

For the past three seasons, rotation issues have continued to force the Yankees into the starting pitching market at the deadline. GM Brian Cashman wasn’t able to land a big name this year, giving the rotation a big question mark heading into the playoffs. While it’s been anchored by veterans like Masahiro Tanaka and CC Sabathia over the years, Yankee fans have also seen plenty of names come and go. Let’s take a closer look at some of the recent turnover, and try to project how the rotation might look in 2020 and beyond.

Entering midseason 2017, the staff included an inconsistent Michael Pineda and a struggling Masahiro Tanaka. The acquisition that July was Sonny Gray, and despite an ominous 4.87 FIP, he put together a respectable 3.72 ERA during the second half. The Baby Bombers took down the Twins in a wild, unpredictable Wild Card Game, and they entered the ALDS feeling good about playoff rotation of Luis Severino, Tanaka, Gray, and Sabathia.

The rotation fared very well during that postseason run, putting up a 2.70 ERA in thirteen games, but it wasn’t quite enough. After falling to the Astros in seven games, their season was over and Pineda became a free agent. Still, the future of the rotation looked really bright: Severino, Tanaka, Gray, CC Sabathia, and rookie Jordan Montgomery were all under contract through at least 2020.

In 2018, though, the team ran into some major issues. The first big blow came when Montgomery underwent Tommy John surgery in April, prematurely ending his season. Sonny Gray had an absolutely terrible first half and limped into the All-Star break with an ERA of 5.46. Then, things began to turn around when Brian Cashman brought in veterans Lance Lynn and JA Happ. This proved to be a major success for the remainder of the regular season – Lynn pitched to a respectable 4.14 ERA, and Happ put up a 2.69 ERA in eleven starts. Happ’s steady performance helped keep the rotation afloat, especially considering Severino’s second-half struggles.

Once the season ended, Happ and Sabathia became free agents, and it quickly became clear that Sonny Gray was on his way out. Left with Severino and Tanaka as the only locks for 2019, some moves had to be made. The big move came just a few weeks after the World Series, when Cashman picked up James Paxton via trade from the Mariners. Not long after, CC and Happ were resigned, and Gray traded.

That gave the Yankees a good-looking rotation of Severino, Tanaka, Paxton, Happ, and Sabathia entering 2019. Before the season started, this starting five was featured as one of the top rotations in baseball, and certainly one of the best in franchise history. This was not the case.

Severino, still on the IL, has yet to throw a pitch this season. Happ has had one of the worst seasons of his career, Sabathia has been inconsistent, and the rotation has been filled with question marks all year long. At the deadline, none of the starting five had an ERA below 4, and Domingo German, who joined the rotation to fill in for Severino, was the only one with a mark below 4.50. The staff has combined for an ugly 5.65 mark so far in the second half, and leading up to the deadline it became increasingly obvious that they badly needed an upgrade. In the past, it was Gray, Happ, and Paxton; but this year, it was nobody. 

It’s been just over a week since the trade deadline, and the dust has settled. The Yankees have not lost a game since the deadline, sweeping the Red Sox and Orioles in the process. The recency bias of this year’s deadline and the recent pitching struggles might put a bad taste in your mouth, but the state of the rotation seems much better when we take a look at what’s ahead. Considering all the Yankees currently under contract, here’s what the rotation might look like in the coming years:

This provides a lot of promise for the future. The Yankees have at least six or seven quality starters under contract for the 2020 season. The rotation is certainly full and possibly even crowded, meaning the Yankees probably won’t have to make any additions during the offseason. After bringing back Severino and Montgomery next year, the Yankees look poised to trot out one of the best rotations in baseball in 2020 and even beyond.

And that’s not to mention the potential additions that could come via free agency and the minor leagues. This upcoming offseason, some big free agent pitchers include Gerrit Cole, Madison Bumgarner, Zack Wheeler, and potentially Stephen Strasburg (if he opts out of his current deal). Even beyond 2020, we can probably expect a few minor league arms to add to a core of Severino, German, and Montgomery. Deivi Garcia and Jonathan Loaisiga will get a real shot in either 2019 or 2020, while Albert Abreu, Luis Gil, and Clarke Schmidt are a few other prospects projected to debut by 2021.

The only problem is that you can’t count on everyone being healthy. You can’t count on anyone being healthy. Take another look at the revolving door that was the rotation of recent years – the rotation has taken at least two big hits every season due to injury or just bad performance, whether it be Nathan Eovaldi and Tanaka, Gray and Montgomery, or Severino and Happ.

With that being said, there are still a lot of quality starters in this Yankee group. With a strong core, a controllable new addition, and some big returns from the IL, Yankee fans can feel pretty comfortable with how this rotation will look in the future.

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