Off Day Dreaming: Yankees’ Starting Pitching Will Be What Sends Them Back to Wild-Card Game

The Yankees' starting pitching has been the team's weakness this season and it's getting worse

The Yankees won the first game of the Subway Series doubleheader on Tuesday and were set up perfectly to pull off the two-game sweep of the Mets. James Paxton against the soft-throwing, left-handed Jason Vargas? That’s about as good of a matchup as you can ask for if you’re the Yankees. Paxton couldn’t keep runners off base and the Yankees left too many baserunners on against Vargas and they had to settle for the doubleheader expectation of winning one and losing one against their cross-city rival.

Today is the Yankees’ second day off in three days after Monday’s rain out and their second scheduled off day so far in June. Their next scheduled off day isn’t until June 27 when they will have back-to-back days off before playing the Red Sox in London.

Here are 10 thoughts on the Yankees on this off day as usual.

1. Some people complain the Subway Series isn’t what it used to be or that it’s lost its luster, but I still love it. In a 162-game schedule, which features 76 games against only the Red Sox, Rays, Blue Jays and Orioles, it’s nice to have a few games against the Mets. Even if they count the same in the standings, they feel like they count for more. I love the Subway Series, always have and always will.

2. Tuesday we got a full-day reminder of how bad the Yankees’ rotation is. On paper, the rotation seems great, but on the actual field, it’s a disaster.

Masahiro Tanaka put together another lackluster performance in the afternoon game: 6.2 IP, 7 H, 5 R, 4 ER, 0 BB, 7 K, 1 HR. James Paxton followed that up with his worst start as a Yankee in the night game: 2.2 IP, 7 H, 6 R, 6 ER, 2 BB, 1 K, 1 HR.

Remind me again why the Yankees passed on Dallas Keuchel? Oh yeah, because they’re cheap. The Yankees let Keuchel sign with the Braves over $3 million. Do you know how insignificant $3 million is to the New York Yankees? Even when you add in the luxury tax for signing Keuchel, it’s still insignificant.

I’m not saying Keuchel should have replaced Tanaka or Paxton. I’m saying he would have provided durability and length to a rotation in desperate need of it. He would have easily filled the void left by Domingo German and would have filled it with an experienced and established veteran. Instead, the Yankees are going to have to fill it with some combination of an opener through Chad Green, Nestor Cortes, Luis Cessa and David Hale or a minor-league option like Chance Adams, who we all saw why the Yankees have been hesitant to give him spot starts in the second game of the doubleheader.

The Yankees have now played 66 games and their starters have pitched six innings in 25 of them and have provided 21 quality starts. That’s not good. I’m not sure what the average or rate around the league is for starters going six innings or providing a quality start, but I don’t care about teams around the league. I care about the Yankees, who are in the middle of a championship window, and who are currently built from a rotation perspective like a team who’s going to end up in the wild-card game again. And if they do end up in the wild-card game again, they won’t be getting Ervin Santana or Liam Hendricks this time. They will be getting Chris Sale.

3. Yes, the Yankees are better now that Didi Gregorius is back and they will be even better when Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton return. But those three only make the Yankees offensively and defensively better. They don’t pitch and they don’t prevent the bullpen from getting worn down and potentially worn out long before October comes.

The Yankees chose to pass on Keuchel, who would have only cost them money. Now they will have to address their starting pitching performance and depth issues through a trade, considering they are out of in-house rotation candidates, which will likely cost them both money and prospects,. And with the way the trade market has historically played out, the Yankees are about six weeks away from upgrading their rotation.

But who are those rotation upgrades going to be? Madison Bumgarner, who has both a no-trade clause involving the Yankees and will likely want to be taken care of financially to waive it, to go along with the destruction of the Yankees’ farm system to acquire him? Marcus Stroman, who doesn’t miss many bats as a groundball specialist and will also cost valuable prospect assets along with a raise from his $7.4 million salary he received in arbitration prior to this season? Or a rental with less ability than Keuchel? No matter who it is, it will cost more than it would have to sign Keuchel and the pitcher most likely won’t be better than him either.

4. German was already facing an unknown innings limit this season and that was before he got hurt. Now that he’s on the injured list, who knows how he will able to help the team for the rest of the season and what role he will have if and when he returns.

German has a history of injuries, like most pitchers do, and it only makes it all the more puzzling as to why the Yankees thought they could get by this season with a rotation whose only non-injured member and only member who has no injury history is the 36-year-old J.A. Happ.

The Yankees have no more pitching depth. Luis Severino remains out, German is now out and Jonathan Loaisiga is injured. The Yankees are going to have to piece it all together with Tanaka, who has never pitched a full season in the majors, Paxton, who has the most lengthy injury history of all Yankees starters, CC Sabathia, who has scheduled trips to the injured list for knee maintenance, Happ, who has been healthy, but inconsistent, and some sort of opener with four blah bullpen arms. The Yankees might be sitting in first place right now, but I have no idea how they plan on staying there over the remaining 96 games with the state of their rotation.

5. Aaron Hicks returned to the Yankees on May 13. Through today, he has been back with the team for 31 days, or one month. The Yankees have played 26 games in the last 31 days, but six of them were a part of a doubleheader. They have had four rainouts and three scheduled off days in the 31 days, which translates to one full week off. Even with that full week off, Hicks has only played in 21 of a possible 26 games.

I only understand this playing schedule because I’m a Yankees fan and realize they will stop at nothing to give their players extra rest and unnecessary time off. They will cite their reasoning with Hicks as they are protecting him from aggravating his back injury, which makes no sense, since if he’s able to play baseball at all, why is it that they think more rest will somehow prevent it?

Hicks gets injured. That’s what he does. He’s never played more than 137 games in a season and in all four seasons with the Yankees he has been on the disabled or injured list at least once. Last season, he spent time on the injured list, the Yankees gave him unnecessary rest, and guess what, he still got hurt in the ALDS and missed postseason games.

The Yankees were rained out on Monday and are off today. You’re telling me Hicks couldn’t play baseball for 18 innings yesterday sandwiched between two days off? So instead of having a switch hitter in the middle of the Yankees order against Jason Vargas in the night game, the Yankees had the left-handed hitting Brett Gardner.

6. Oh, Gardner. Where to begin, where to begin.

Clint Frazier’s career has been marred by injuries and last season he missed almost the entire season due to injury. Knowing Frazier has missed significant development and Hicks has never played a full season in the majors due to injury, the Yankees chose to re-sign Gardner to a one-year, $7.5 million deal the second free agency opened. This after Gardner had just produced the worst season of his career, batting .236/.322/.368 and had lost his place atop the lineup and then lost his role as a starter completely following the acquisition of Andrew McCutchen.

The Yankees’ plan was to have Gardner get significant rest throughout the season because of his history of decline as the season progresses. This was an odd plan considering the Yankees feel every player needs significant rest, so they were signing a player who would turn 36 in the middle of the season and who would also require extra rest. Gardner was also going to serve in somewhat of a platoon role, only facing right-handed starters. This all changed when Hicks, Judge and Stanton went on the injured list and the Yankees needed Gardner to become an everyday player despite his lack of ability at 35.

Hicks has been back for a month and Frazier has also been back for a while from his brief trip to the injured list. But it’s Gardner who continues to play every game, whether the opposing starter is right-handed or left-handed.

Gardner picked up four hits in the doubleheader, including a ball which was misplayed into a triple and a garbage-time home run off the Mets’ version of Luis Cessa. The two multi-hit games were his first in nearly three weeks and the triple and home run did wonders for his sinking OPS, bringing it up 39 percentage points to .745. But Gardner is still batting .234/.316/.390 over his last 202 games and 854 plate appearances and that’s no small sample size.

Gardner’s roster spot will never be in jeopardy. The Yankees will eventually get rid of Cameron Maybin and Kendrys Morales when Judge and Stanton return or they would send Frazier, who has nothing left to benefit from in Triple-A, back down if they had to.

Gardner was supposed to be a role player and the fourth outfielder at best on the 2019 Yankees and was forced into a more regular role. He’s no longer being forced into that role because of a lack of roster depth, but the Yankees keep forcing him into the lineup.

7. Yes, that was another home run for Gary Sanchez on Tuesday, his 20th of the season, as he’s currently on a 68-home run pace over 162 games. When Sanchez nearly stole the AL Rookie of the Year from Michael Fulmer (and should have) in 2016, it was because he inexplicably hit 20 home runs in 53 games. He has 20 home runs in 48 games this season to go along with a .965 OPS.

8. Remember last year when a large faction of Yankees fans wanted Austin Romine to be the team’s starting catcher and wanted Sanchez benched or traded? That was fun.

Romine experienced a career year offensively last season, batting .244/.295/.417 with 10 home runs and 42 RBIs in 77 games and 265 plate appearances. This season, he’s come’s crashing back down, batting a miserable .198/.215/.253 in 27 games and 94 plate appearances. His OPS is currently .468. Mike Trout’s OBP is .460.

I don’t know what the Yankees see in Romine. He must not just be a great guy, teammate and clubhouse presence, he must be the greatest guy, greatest teammate and greatest clubhouse presence of all time because he provides no real value to the team on the field. He doesn’t hit for average or power and doesn’t walk, isn’t great at blocking or framing pitches and can’t really throw any runners out. It’s bad enough the Yankees feel the need to grant extra rest to their players, it’s even worse when it forces Romine into the lineup. Romine has walked twice all season and has one extra-base hit since April 20. There has to be a better backup catcher option for 2020. There has to be.

9. The news that Judge could play in rehab games starting this weekend and could be back with the team for the London trip is exciting and I’m sure Major League Baseball is even more excited than Yankees fans since they don’t want to showcase their two most storied franchises to Europe without the biggest star from the two teams.

I’m not counting on Judge playing in rehab games this week and I’m not going to plan to watch him play against the Red Sox at the end of this month. That’s not me being pessimistic, but rather a product of me being crushed time and time again by the Yankees and their ridiculously inaccurate timetables for their injured players. Last year, we were told Judge would be out for three weeks after breaking his wrist in late July. Three weeks became two months and there was a time when it looked like he might not return for the regular season or postseason.

I was at the game on April 20 when Judge left with a torn oblique and I figured he was done until at least the All-Star break. Now he’s going to be ready two weeks before that? I want that to be true more than anyone, but the Yankees have screwed up injuries for Judge last season and Severino, Hicks, Dellin Betances, Sanchez, Frazier and Stanton this season. It’s hard to believe anything they say regarding injuries.

10. The Yankees are fortunate their recent 4-6 slide hasn’t cost them any real ground in the standings. They do now share the same record and possession of first place in the division with the Rays, but the Red Sox still remain nine games back in the loss column.

My expected record for the Yankees in June is 15-11 and they are now 4-6, so they have a lot of work to do. They will have to go 11-5 for the rest of the month to match my expected record and be 52-30 after the London trip.


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