Spring Cleaning: Yankees Failed to Plan for Starting Pitching Depth

The Yankees chose not to plan for potential starting pitching problems

It’s Wednesday and that means it’s Spring Cleaning time. Unfortunately, all of the thoughts this week are in regards to Luis Severino’s season-ending injury, the poor handling of his injury and the poor planning which now has the Yankees scrambling to build a rotation.

Here are 10 thoughts on the Yankees as usual.

1. A day later and the Luis Severino news still sucks. (I wrote about my reaction and feeling to the news yesterday.) It’s going to suck all season. There’s no finding another Severino during the season unless Deivi Garcia somehow does in 2020 what Severino did in 2015. Other than Garcia going from a 20-year-old who struggled in his brief time at Triple-A to front-end major league starer, there aren’t any options. The free-agent options are the equivalent to the movie options in a DVD bin at a convenient store, and unless the Yankees think they can win the Powerball and Mega Millions on the same day by completely reclamating someone like Matt Harvey or Andrew Cashner, there’s no one worthy of signing. The trade deadline options might be OK if the right teams fall apart before the end of July, but that’s five months away.

2. This was the 2020 Yankees’ expected Opening Day rotation:

  1. Gerrit Cole
  2. Luis Severino
  3. James Paxton
  4. Masahiro Tanaka
  5. J.A. Happ

This is now the 2020 Yankees’ expected Opening Day rotation:

  1. Gerrit Cole
  2. Masahiro Tanaka
  3. J.A. Happ
  4. Jordan Montgomery
  5. Opener or journeyman or rookie with no MLB starting experience

3. The Yankees handled Severino’s injury as poorly as possible, but they also handled planning for starting pitching depth as poorly as possible. All winter the Yankees had the opportunity to sign major-league arms and all winter they knew Severino ended the season with forearm discomfort. They also knew James Paxton battled a back injury in the postseason, Masahiro Tanaka needed to have bone spurs removed from his right arm and J.A. Happ was coming off the worst season of his career. Despite Gerrit Cole being the only healthy and productive member of their upcoming staff, the Yankees chose not to add to their starting pitching depth. Unless you count signing Nick Tropeano and Chad Bettis as adding to their starting pitching depth. Last season, Tropeano pitched 13 2/3 innings in the majors and allowed 18 hits, 15 earned runs, six walks and six home runs, while Bettis had a 6.08 ERA in 63 2/3 innings and has a 5.08 ERA over the last four years and 416 1/3 innings.

4. The Yankees are most likely going to open the season with one of those two as their fifth starter. Garcia or Mike King or Clarke Schmidt might be the answer at some point, but I doubt the Yankees will use any of the three as the No. 5 starter to begin the season. King could use more time at Triple-A, Garcia is 20 and was knocked around in 40 innings at Triple-A and Schmidt has 19 innings at Double-A on his resume. Get ready for Bettis against Rays at the Trop in the fifth game of the season.

5. The other option is to use an opener, pairing Chad Green with say Luis Cessa. Using Green as the opener hurts the bullpen and the ability to use him in high-leverage situations later in the game, but it does prevent Bettis or Tropeano from getting the ball. If a rotation spot isn’t going to go to King, Garcia or Schmidt, which I don’t think it will, then my pick is to use an opener as the fifth starter. However, I think the Yankees will see if they can get mediocre results out of Bettis or Tropeano before moving to an opener and weakening their bullpen strength.

6. The rotation is a mess, and there’s a better chance it gets messier than there is that it gets better. There’s more than four weeks until Opening Day. That’s a lot of time and a lot of spring training games for more injuries to ruin this pitching staff and this team. There’s no spinning the news of losing Severino into a positive. If you’re optimistic because Paxton is expected back after the first month of the season, I just want to remind you that he’s never pitched a full season in the majors in his career, and based off his injury history, it’s more likely this current injured list appearance isn’t going to be his only one of the season. That’s not pessimistic, that’s based on his six-year career in the majors and his career-high for regular-season innings being 160 1/3.

7. Severino first complained of this same forearm issue after his ALCS Game 3 start on Oct. 15. The Yankees’ medical staff examined him after that start and cleared him to pitch in a potential Game 7 in the ALCS, which never happened. During the offseason, the issue subsided because Severino WASN’T PITCHING. As soon as spring training began and he started pitching again, the forearm issue returned. So rather than realizing Severino needed surgery back in October, the Yankees realized it four months later. So instead of being ready in time for the 2021 season, Severino will now miss part of the 2021 season. The botched handling of the injury in October was one final parting gift from the medical staff which oversaw the most injured team in history.

8. It’s not like this is the first time the team botched an injury with Severino either. In spring training a year ago, he hurt his shoulder. While rehabbing the shoulder injury, he suffered a lat injury, which the team later claimed it was unaware of. When Severino suffered a setback, the team admitted they should have had him undergo an MRI prior to throwing again to make sure he was actually healed. The injuries were going to keep him out for a large part of last season, but the handling of the injuries is what kept him out for all but three starts of it. Now it’s the handling that will keep him out for at least part of 2021 as well.

9. Severino’s absence means a spot on the Opening Day 26-man roster is open. It’s been two weeks since I predicted the Opening Day roster, so here’s the latest prediction.

  1. Gary Sanchez
  2. Luke Voit
  3. DJ LeMahieu
  4. Gio Urshela
  5. Gleyber Torres
  6. Giancarlo Stanton
  7. Brett Gardner
  8. Aaron Judge
  9. Miguel Andujar
  10. Mike Tauchman
  11. Tyler Wade
  12. Mike Ford
  13. Kyle Higashioka
  14. Gerrit Cole
  15. Masahiro Tanaka
  16. J.A. Happ
  17. Jordan Montgomery
  18. Chad Bettis
  19. Aroldis Chapman
  20. Zack Britton
  21. Adam Ottavino
  22. Chad Green
  23. Tommy Kahnle
  24. Jonathan Loaisiga
  25. Luis Cessa
  26. Jonathan Holder

10. The good news … well, there isn’t any good news regarding Severino missing the entire season. The bright side … OK, there isn’t a bright side either. Let’s go with at least … at least the league is top-heavy once again. The only thing keeping me from creating spring, summer and falls plans that have nothing to do with baseball is that the Yankees should still easily win the division and reach the postseason because of how non-competitive most of the teams in baseball will once again be. I’m not worried about the Yankees getting to the postseason, I’m worried about what they will do once they get there. The championship window is open right now and it won’t stay open forever. This will be the fourth season with Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez as full-time players. DJ LeMahieu, Tanaka and Paxton are impending free agents. Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Hicks will undoubtedly age poorly, and the division isn’t going to be a cakewalk forever. This season was going to be the Yankees’ best chance in the last four to win the World Series, and now the chance of them winning is much less. The Yankees can still win the World Series, but it’s going to be a lot harder without Severino.


Download and subscribe to the Keefe To The City Yankees Podcast.


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