If you can supposedly never have enough starting pitching, the Yankees have decided to not really have any at all. After not having anything close to resembling a rotation when this past October rolled around, the Yankees’ current “rotation” can’t even be considered one.
A year ago, the Yankees’ on-paper rotation was Cole, Severino, Paxton, Tanaka and Happ/Montgomery. It was arguably the best rotation in baseball, and it never got to be anything more than a rotation on paper and in theory. A year later, and one of those names has made six starts since the end of 2018 and three of those names are free agents. That leaves Cole and Montgomery.
With only about six weeks until spring training (if the season starts on time). The Yankees’ current “rotation” is Cole, Montgomery, Deivi Garcia and Clarke Schmidt. I’m not even sure who would be the fifth starter if the season started today? The choice would be between a scumbag or an opener. They could go with Michael King, who allowed 23 earned runs in 26 2/3 innings for the 2020 Yankees, including four opening opportunities. Or they did re-sign Nestor Cortes this offseason, who posted a a 5.67 ERA in 66 2/3 innings for the 2019 Yankees, remarkably being included on the major league roster in every month except April despite his ineffectiveness. (Cortes was let go by the historically-bad 2018 Orioles with a 7.71 ERA and then posted 15.26 ERA this past season with the Mariners.) Maybe they can go back to using Cortes to piggyback an opener. Nothing says Yankees baseball like having the highest payroll in the league and trying to piece together nine innings every fifth day.
After Cole, Montgomery becomes the No. 2 because of … seniority? That’s about the only reason for the promotion from the back end of the rotation to the front end since his career stats suggest otherwise. He has one real, full season to his name and missed basically all of 2019 after Tommy John surgery. His 2020 season was so up and down the Yankees desperately tried to avoid using him in the postseason until they were forced to, and he extended the season for an extra day.
For as good as Garcia was at times in his six career regular-season starts in 2020, the Yankees didn’t trust him enough to start a postseason game. Well, they trusted him to “start” it and pitch one inning before giving the ball to Happ to ruin the season in the worst constructed plan by the organization since deciding to give Jacoby Ellsbury $153 million seven-plus years ago.
Then there’s Schmidt, the Yankees’ top pitching prospect, who they called up and used as a reliever, a role he had little to no experience performing in his baseball career, and then finally gave him a start in the final game of the 60-game season. In a season in which every game was equal to 2.7 games in a regular 162-game season, and there needed to be urgency throughout the entire season, the Yankees used Happ for nine starts, King for four “starts” and Loaisiga for “three” starts before finally giving their top pitching prospect his first career start. Garcia and Schmidt weren’t good enough to be completely utilized by the team during the team’s most recent games, though I guess an offseason makes them now capable of being full-time rotation options.
Outside of the Padres’ determination to overtake the Dodgers in the NL West and capitalize on their current window, nearly the entire league has been inactive in building their 2021 rosters. That doesn’t make it acceptable for the Yankees to be inactive and not build for 2021. Just because your friends are smoking cigarettes in junior high school doesn’t mean you should too. Let those idiots ruin themselves.
I understand Montgomery’s ERA (5.11) was inflated in 2020 (3.87 FIP) and it was essentially one inning in each start which ruined his top-line numbers, and I believe in him as part of the rotation. I believe in Garcia and Schmidt as well and want both to get a chance to be part of the rotation. That still leaves the question of who is the other member of the staff, and it leaves the Yankees with absolutely no depth in a department which requires some level of depth. Given the Yankees’ inability to properly diagnose and handle injuries over the last two seasons, the current organizational depth chart leaves zero room for injury or error for an organization needing a lot of room for error to operate.
Right now, the Yankees’ plan appears to be to get Luis Severino back midseason. If Severino were to return and immediately be his dominant self, that would certainly length the rotation and give the Yankees the best 1-2 punch in a postseason series in the American League. That’s a BIG “if” requiring no setbacks in his rehab from surgery and needing him to not have to endure the adjustment period nearly every pitcher coming back from Tommy John surgery needs to return to form.
The championship window has already started to close and close much faster than initially anticipated as the team wasted at least two years of the window (if you’re under the impression the window started in 2019 as originally expected) or as many as three years (if you believe the window began in 2018). No matter which year you personally define as the beginning of the current championship window, these Yankees have failed to win to date, and failed to win during the “cheap” seasons of their young core. Now their young core isn’t so young anymore (Severino will be 27 next month, Aaron Judge will be 29 in April, Gary Sanchez just turned 28), isn’t as good (Sanchez) or as healthy (Severino and Judge) as it used to be, and several of the pieces added to the core (Cole, Giancarlo Stanton, Aaron Hicks, Luke Voit) are now on the wrong side of 30 or will be by Opening Day.
The AL East is still the Yankees to lose (even if they didn’t win it in the shortened 2020 season). The Rays just traded their best starting pitcher, the Blue Jays still aren’t ready, and the Red Sox and Orioles are as close to being factors in the division as Aaron Boone is to being unanimously accepted as Yankees manager. It could be that the Yankees’ offseason strategy isn’t to get better by adding to or enhancing their roster, but to get better by the rest of the division getting worse.
It’s not how I envisioned this championship window going, but that’s how it’s going.
My book The Next Yankees Era: My Transition from the Core Four to the Baby Bombers is now available as an ebook!