Brian Cashman Believes in Yankees’ Rotation ‘In Theory’

Yankees' starting pitching is full of unknowns and oft-injured arms

Hal Steinbrenner clearly set a mandate for his front office to keep the Yankees under the $210 luxury-tax threshold for 2021. It’s why the Yankees are going to pay Adam Ottavino to pitch for the Red Sox, it’s why Masahiro Tanaka is back in Japan and Corey Kluber and Jameson Taillon are now Yankees.

Brian Cashman was tasked with building a starting rotation without exceeding the imaginary salary cap, and he has done just that. But in order for his new-look rotation to work out, the members of it are going to have stay healthy. It’s a tall order for a team that had the injury issues the Yankees did in 2020 after setting the all-time single-season record for players placed on the injured list in 2019.

Cashman recently gave a few interviews on the state of the Yankees, and shared his opinion on the rotation he has built.

On the health of Kluber and Taillon.
“‘Hopeful’ is certainly an appropriate word. We made the commitment because we believe, despite the risk, it was a position worth taking. Now we’re going to test drive that, for better or for worse. By placing a bet, we’re going to count on the better than the worse, but I can’t dismiss there is risk. I believe and hope they’ll have a positive impact.

That’s not exactly the most reassuring answer Cashman has ever provided. In that one quote he used “hopeful” and “despite the risk” and “for better or for worse” and the word “risk” again and the word “hope” again.

Two weeks ago, I wrote about the Yankees’ recent single-season slogans to help boost ticket sales like “Pride. Power. Pinstripes.” and “Our History. Your Tradition.” and “A Timeless Legacy” from in-game commercials on YES. I thought “Complacency” or “Luxury-Tax Threshold” could be fitting for 2021, but Cashman has given some new possibilities here:

Despite the Risk
For Better or for Worse
There Is Risk
Placing a Bet

You would think the team that makes more money than any other team in the league and a team desperate for their first World Series appearance in 12 years and a team in a supposed championship window of opportunity would be in a better position than essentially rolling the dice on their starting rotation. The Yankees aren’t gambling on their fifth starter or a single spot in their everyday lineup or a middle reliever. They’re gambling on nearly their entire starting rotation.

On if he feels more secure with Kluber and Taillon in the rotation.
“Ultimately, the deeper the roster choices in the pitching category, the better you’ll be served, in theory.

It wouldn’t be a Cashman interview without the use of “ultimately” involved. The key phrase here is “in theory” since the entire rotation is built on the theory that it will remain healthy. Kluber is coming back from a shoulder injury and has thrown 36 2/3 innings since the start of 2019. Taillon is coming back from his second Tommy John surgery and has thrown 37 1/3 innings since the start of 2019. Montgomery has thrown 52 innings since the start of 2019 after underdoing Tommy John surgery. Luis Severino is due back midseason from Tommy John surgery (which was preceded by a lat issue, which was preceded by a shoulder issue) and he has thrown 20 1/3 innings since the start of 2019.

On paper and when healthy, which is the theory Cashman is talking about, the Yankees have an excellent rotation, and most likely the best rotation in the American League. A year ago at this time, they were in a similar position with Gerrit Cole, Severino, James Paxton, Tanaka and J.A. Happ with Montgomery as insurance and that didn’t work out so well.

On the starting pitching depth.
“If Corey Kluber and Jameson Taillon can contribute like we hope they can then it pushes the youngsters like a Clarke Schmidt, a Deivi Garcia, a Nick Nelson, Michael King, all these different guys, it pushes them back down the ladder a little bit.”

Listen, I’m all for anything that pushes Nelson and King down the ladder. I want them so far from the bottom of the ladder that they’re on the ground looking up at the bottom rung of an unreachable old Manhattan building fire escape ladder.

I’m also OK with anything that pushes Schmidt and Garcia into insurance roles. I believe in them both and want them to eventually get their opportunity to be full-time members of the rotation, but I also remember what happened when Cashman gave Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy guaranteed rotation spots going into 2008: the Yankees missed the postseason for the first time since 1993.

There’s a good chance Schmidt and Garcia are in the rotation to begin the season anyway. The odds aren’t high that the Yankees’ “in theory” rotation is the rotation by the time Opening Day rolls around. There’s a lot of bullpens to be thrown, a lot of pitcher’s fielding practices to be conducted and a lot of spring training games to be pitched. In other words, there’s a lot of days and opportunities between now and Opening Day for the Yankees’ oft-injured starters to get injured.

After not having enough starting pitching to navigate the 2019 and 2020 seasons, the Yankees have even less stable starting pitching entering 2021. I’m not as “hopeful” as Cashman it will work out, but there’s no other choice than to be.

Subscribe to the Keefe To The City Podcast. New episodes every Monday and Thursday during the offseason.

My book The Next Yankees Era: My Transition from the Core Four to the Baby Bombers is now available as an ebook!