Despite Injuries, Yankees Have Depth to Overcome

After an injury-riddled 2019 season where they used 54 different players, one would think the New York Yankees 2020 season would be better in terms of health simply by default.

Concerned about the alarming number of injuries and treatment of them, the team overhauled the strength and conditioning department, hiring Eric Cressey as Director of Player Health and Performance.

Longtime Yankees trainer Steve Donahue, with the team since 1979, has been reassigned as Director of Medical Services in the restructuring.

So far in 2020, the “Medical Gods” still aren’t being too kind to the Yankees. As of this writing (March 6), the team has lost starting pitcher Luis Severino (Tommy John surgery) for the season. James Paxton (lower back surgery) will be out until May at the earliest, OF/DH Giancarlo Stanton strained his right calf doing defensive drills last week and may miss the first week of the season. It has been reported Stanton has resumed running, so he may be able to ramp things up again soon.  Aaron Judge has been dealing with pain in his shoulder/chest area, and today it was revealed he has a fracture in one of his ribs.

It was also revealed Judge originally suffered this injury in a game last September 18 on a diving catch attempt, and felt a “crack and a pop”. Preliminary tests were performed and Judge received a cortisone injection.

More on Judge’s injury can be read via Yankees beat writer Bryan Hoch’s Twitter feed.

Despite these injuries, the Yankees have depth to overcome. Even with the early losses of Stanton and Judge (and loss of CF Aaron Hicks for first half of 2020), the team has Mike Tauchman, Clint Frazier and Estevan Florial on the 40 man roster to go along with Brett Gardner. Miguel Andújar has looked promising in left-field, to the point where manager Aaron Boone says he is comfortable continuing to give him reps.  Also in the mix is 27 year old Zack Granite, a 2013 draftee from the Twins organization. The lefty hitter spent last season in Nashville, the Triple-A affiliate of the Texas Rangers.

For the starting rotation, Masahiro Tanaka, J.A. Happ and newly-signed Gerrit Cole have looked very good in the early going. Jordan Montgomery looks like he’s back to his 2017 pre-surgery form and youngsters Jonathan Loaisiga, Clarke Schmidt and Deivi Garcia are in competition with holdover Luis Cessa to nail down the 5th starter spot.

Yankees GM Brian Cashman makes it a point to stock up on depth, and it served them well in 2019, still winning 103 games. They look poised to make another run at a World Series title in 2020.

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Yankees Starting Rotation Taking Form

Yesterday, New York Yankees manager Aaron Boone announced that Masahiro Tanaka will be their Opening Day starter when they face off against the Baltimore Orioles on March 28 at Yankee Stadium.

With Luis Severino not expected back from shoulder inflammation for roughly a month, Boone had to make new plans for the Yankees’ first game. Tanaka made it an easy choice because he’s thrown the ball well in each of his starts this spring.

James Paxton and J.A. Happ will follow Tanaka in the rotation, but who will follow them still remains to be seen. Domingo Germán has pitched well in Florida, allowing two runs over 7.1 innings with 12 K’s in the early going. Yesterday, Luis Cessa started against the Tigers, retiring the first 11 batters before allowing a hit. He has surrendered one run on five hits in his nine innings in his three appearances. Both Cessa and Germán are candidates to for the back end of the rotation with Sevy and CC Sabathia both unlikely to begin their seasons until late April.

What about Jonathan Loaisiga you ask? It’s a fair question. He has looked very good this spring, and he’s not ruled out by any stretch. But the Yankees are going to want to take it easy with him, especially after some injury problems limited him to 80 innings in 2018. Over Loaisiga’s professional career, he has thrown only 196 total innings in his four years. Chances are Jonathan will continue to hone his craft in Triple-A Scranton by starting every five days, building up his innings in a carefully controlled environment.

Cessa is out of options, and would require clearing waivers if the team tried sending him back to Scranton-Wilkes Barre, so he’s going to get every opportunity to make the team. Aaron Boone may decide to go with a five-man rotation right out of the gate. I see the rotation something like this until Severino and Sabathia return:

  1. Tanaka
  2. Paxton
  3. J.A. Happ
  4. Germán
  5. Cessa

 

Of course after Sevy and CC join the rotation, some decisions will have to be made for Germán and possibly Cessa, but I think both righties can hold down the fort in the meantime.

Sizing up the Yankees Starting Rotation

Early this afternoon, the New York Yankees announced free agent J.A. Happ was returning to the team on a two-year contract with a vesting option for a third year. With Happ coming back, the Yankees now have six starting pitchers under contract for the 2019 season (although Sonny Gray most certainly won’t be returning to the team).

As of right now, the five man rotation seems to be shaping up as follows:

  1. Luis Severino
  2. James Paxton
  3. Masahiro Tanaka
  4. J.A. Happ
  5. CC Sabathia

It’s safe to assume GM Brian Cashman will still be looking to pick up another arm to add depth to the staff, especially since Sabathia’s balky right knee requires a DL stint to keep the pain at bay. Parker Bridwell, recently claimed on waivers from the Los Angeles Angels, was thought to be depth for the rotation. However, the team designated Bridwell for assignment, needing that spot on the 40 man roster for Happ.

Bridwell could always re-sign with the team on a minor league contract and accept a non-roster invitee, but he will be free to sign with any team.

There are still a good number of free agent starters available. Dallas Keuchel is still unsigned as of this writing, but with the Yankees already having three lefty starters, I would think they would look to add another righty for balance. I also think Cashman would prefer a less expensive option since the team will be paying north of 60 million just for the current five the team already has. A couple cheap options could be Clay Buchholz and Edwin Jackson. They both pitched very well for their teams this year and would assuredly be inexpensive in 2019. 45 year-old Bartolo Colon still wants to pitch. However, there are also a few guys in the Yankees system who could fill the role in Domingo German, Jonathan Loaisiga and Michael King. German and Loaisiga each showed promise as well as inconsistency in 2018, while King rose rapidly through the minors, starting in High-A Tampa and finishing with AAA Scranton Wilkes-Barre.

All eyes are on the big free agents, waiting with baited-breath to see where Manny Machado and Bryce Harper will end up, but it will also be interesting to see how Brian Cashman shapes up the rest of the Yankees’ pitching staff.