What Will Santa Bring Yankees for Christmas?

It’s the first full day of Winter, Christmas is almost here, and everyone is excited in anticipation of gifts they will soon be receiving. Fans of Major League Baseball are also excited to see who their favorite teams will sign as a free agent or make a trade to solidify their lineups or pitching staffs.

Of course, the New York Yankees are in the market to add to their team, as they are every Winter. The big name in play is D.J. LeMahieu, who’s spent the last two seasons with the Bronx Bombers. Bringing him back is imperative, as I wrote back in November. Over his pair of seasons with the Yankees, LeMahieu put up a slash-line of .336/.386/.536 with 36 HR’s and 129 RBI in 195 games. Brian Cashman, the Yankees GM, maintains he is doing everything he can to retain the popular and surehanded 2nd baseman.

YES Network’s Jack Curry thinks LeMahieu will return. Certainly, this would bring a collective exhale from Yankees fans strong enough to qualify as a gale wind.

If LeMahieu leaves, the wise move would be to move Gleyber Torres back to second base, and sign a shortstop. Old friend Didi Gregorius could be an option. Fully recovered from Tommy John surgery on his throwing elbow late in 2018, Sir Didi played all 60 games for the Phillies in 2020. He put up decent numbers (.284/.339/.488 with 10 HR’s and 40 RBI) and should have no problem securing a multi-year deal. It’s hard to say if Cashman is willing to re-commit to Gregorius after letting him leave after 2019. Would Didi even be willing to return?

With Masahiro Tanaka, James Paxton and J.A. Happ hitting the free agent market, the Yankees have a few holes to fill in their starting rotation. Gerrit Cole and Jordan Montgomery are the two main holdovers from the 2020 season. Luis Severino is expected to return from Tommy John Surgery, but unlikely to be ready by Opening Day 2021. Deivi García seems ready to contribute after a number of good starts late in the summer. No one knows what to expect from Domingo Germán. He missed the 2020 season while suspended for his role in a domestic violence incident in September 2019.

Trevor Bauer is the big, high profile name in free agency and he would instantly upgrade the Yankees rotation. However, Yankees owner Hal Steinbrenner has repeatedly said he does not want the team’s budget to be above the luxury tax threshold (210M for 2021). Adding Bauer would most certainly push them above 210 million. It’s more likely Cashman will look to lower priced options such as Corey Kluber or Jake Odorizzi (both missed virtually the entire season) or bringing back Paxton on one year deals to prove they are healthy.

Other than adding pitching and trying to bring back LeMahieu, the Yankees are in good shape, roster-wise. Hopefully Santa will deliver Yankees fans with some nice gifts to celebrate over Christmas.

And I want to wish all of you a safe, happy and healthy Merry Christmas! 🎄🎁

Why Are Teams Interested in J.A. Happ? Let Me Explain…

Over the last few days, a few prominent baseball writers have shared on Twitter teams who are interested in former Yankees starter J.A. Happ, currently a free agent.

 

The comments are as you would expect, given his track record with the Yankees. Happ’s final game in Pinstripes was in Game Two of the ALCS against the Tampa Bay Rays, where he took over for Deivi Garcia at the bottom of the 2nd inning (which I thought was a horrible idea) and promptly imploded. That game is still fresh in the minds of Yankees fans, and many baseball fans who watched on national television.

No doubt, Happ struggled in his first full season as a Yankee in 2019. Similarly, his first couple of outings in 2020 were rocky as well. He made his next start on August 16 against the Red Sox at home, giving up only one run over 5.2 innings. That outing began a stretch of seven starts where he was literally the best starter in the rotation not named Gerrit Cole.

Coupled with Cole, the two of them were the most reliable starters on the team in September. The numbers in the image above speak for themselves. Seven starts, an ERA of 2.34 over 42.1 innings, a WHIP under one and almost a strikeout an inning. In addition, Happ averaged more than six innings each start. Believe me, General Managers across the league were paying attention.

Hopefully this can answer the question of why J.A. Happ is generating interest in the free agent market. So far, the Blue Jays, Red Sox and Angels publicly expressed interest. Don’t be surprised to see him return for a third tour of duty with the Toronto Blue Jays. He enjoyed playing there, and you can be sure he will be pitching with a chip on his shoulder the next time he faces the Yankees.

 

Yankees Take ’em or Trash ’em – Starting Pitchers

Welcome back! A few days ago, we dug in to Yankees position players in the first post-2020 season installment of “Take ’em or Trash ’em“. Over the next two installments, we will break down the pitching staff from ace starting pitcher Gerrit Cole to closer Aroldis Chapman, and everyone in between.

Let’s get started with the Yankees rotation, next time we will tackle the bullpen.

Starting Pitchers

Gerrit Cole – Cole proved why the Yankees were wise to give him a nine-year, 324 million dollar contract last December. After his first eight starts while paired up with catcher Gary Sánchez, Cole looked fairly pedestrian with a 3.91 ERA. He gave up home runs at an alarming rate, twelve round-trippers in only 46 innings. Beginning in September, Manager Aaron Boone had Kyle Higashioka catch for Cole. The results were strikingly better. The Yankees ace was unstoppable down the stretch. Over four September starts, Cole struck out 34 batters over 27 innings, allowing 14 hits, three earned runs and only two homers over that span. That success continued over three October starts, with the Yankees winning two of them. Look for Cole and Higgy to continue working together in 2021.

Do I really have to ask? Take him (duh).

Masahiro Tanaka – While job security isn’t an issue for the aforementioned Gerrit Cole, Tanaka may have pitched in his final start for the Yankees. It doesn’t seem all that long ago Masa signed a seven-year contract, after spending the first seven years of his career pitching in his native Japan. While Tanaka may not command the 22 million dollars a year he got in his last deal, he certainly is worth hanging on to. In 2019, Tanaka pitched to a 4.45 ERA while struggling to make his trademark splitter work. This year, he lowered his ERA almost a full run to 3.56, while increasing his K rate closer to his 2014-2018 levels. It was troubling to see Tanaka get roughed up in both postseason starts, and he will soon be 32 years old.

If Tanaka is gone, we’ll have this lasting image of him, Cole and their wives on a sushi dinner date.

Take him (but only if the price is right).

James Paxton – 2020 was rough for the Big Maple. After rehabbing his back over the winter, the root of the problem wasn’t discovered until February. He had surgery and rehabbed while Major League Baseball waited out COVID-19. When the season started, Paxton was building his pitch count. He was clearly behind and it showed. Paxton got pounded early, his fastball lacked it’s normal velo. Normally 96-98 mph, his fastball sat 91-92. By the mid August, Paxton’s fastball improved. Things went south when he allowed one hit against the Rays. He walked the bases loaded before allowing a double, emptying the bases. He left with a flexor tendon strain, never to return. Paxton is a free agent. With Tanaka and Happ also free agents, the Yankees need starters. I would offer Paxton a one year deal with incentives. If he wants a lot of guaranteed dollars, I let him walk.

Trash him. 🗑

J.A. Happ – Most of “Yankees Twitter” can’t stand Happ for various reasons. He pitched poorly in 2019, the first two outings of 2020 and the ill-fated Game 2 of the American League Divisional Series against the Rays. Most people don’t realize Happ was the Yankees most dependable starter for six weeks, including Gerrit Cole. From August 15 through September 19, Happ pitched to a 1.93 ERA with a 0.86 WHIP. After expressing his feelings regarding his usage (his contract situation earlier in the season to his role in Game Two of ALDS), It’s safe to say he won’t be coming back. However, Yankees fans shouldn’t be shitting all over Happ. He wanted to be treated fairly and used the way he is used to (and successful with). Happ didn’t ask too much. He’s now 38 and it’s hard to say how much he has left. Trash ’em“. 🗑

Deivi García – From the second oldest player (Happ) on the Yankees to the youngest, García pitched much better than his ERA (4.98) indicates. If you take away his start against the Red Sox on September 20, García’s ERA drops to a much better 3.73. What I’m saying here is this young man has a bright future. Deivi didn’t look like a typical 21 year old out there, and didn’t get rattled. Best of all, he drew praise from none other than Pedro Martínez, his idol.

I look forward to seeing what García will do over a full season in the Yankees rotation. There’s a spot open for him. Take!

Jordan Montgomery – Monty had his ups and downs in his first full season back from Tommy John Surgery. It’s been said one of the last things to come back for a pitcher recovering from TJS is command, and Montgomery’s command was spotty at times. This resulted in a season ending 5.11 ERA and high pitch counts that made for short outings for the 27 year old lefty. Monty’s stuff is there, and may be even better after his surgery. Look for Jordan to have a more stable 2021 season with the Yankees at the back end of their rotation.

Take him!

Luis Severino – It seems like forever since we last saw Sevy pitching in a Yankees uniform. After a shoulder injury sidelined Severino for most of 2019, he tore his UCL in spring training late in February. As of this writing, the plan is for Sevy, still only 26 years old, to be able to pitch early in the 2021 season. While the Yankees are known for being conservative, his return will be a welcome sight for the team and their fans. Take!

Domingo Germán – Germán sat out the 2020 season after a MLB investigation proved his guilt in a domestic violence incident late in the 2019 season. He has not been back with the team since. His suspension ended this past September but was ineligible to pitch in the postseason. Yankees owner Hal Steinbrenner did not commit to bringing Germán back in 2021. However, Hal’s father, George M. Steinbrenner III gave players second chances. Darryl Strawberry and Dwight Gooden are two of the most famous examples. That said, no one George Steinbrenner gave a second chance to was guilty of domestic violence. Personally, I think Yankees should trash him. 🗑

Clarke Schmidt and Michael King – Both Schmidt and King are guys the Yankees have high hopes for, but neither are ready for full-time rotation spots. Yet. Before everything went to hell in a handbasket in March with COVID, both guys were looking good in Florida in spring training. When everything resumed, King found himself in the Yankees bullpen as a long reliever/mop-up man. Schmidt returned to the team’s “alternative site” in Scranton/Wilkes Barre to keep sharp in simulated games. Both King (age 25) and Schmidt (24) were victims of infrequent use, resulting in ERA’s over 7.00 and wasting a year of their careers. Hopefully they will begin 2021 in Scranton-Wilkes Barre to refine things and cement their statuses as upper level prospects. If injuries hit, or Yankees don’t add a starter or two in free agency, one or both could start the new season on the big league staff.

Take ’em both – but they could use a little more seasoning in the minors.

In the next installment of “Take ’em or Trash ’em”, we will wrap things up with the Yankee bullpen. Join us!

 

Yankees Missing Extra Gear vs. Rays, Missing a Manager

After losing to the Tampa Bay Rays in Game 5 of the American League Divisional Series, the season is over for the New York Yankees.

The writing was on the wall, even before the postseason started. The Yankees won only two of their ten regular season against the Rays, and generally looked lethargic against the 2020 AL East Division winners. Collectively, the Yankees hit .218 against the Rays. In the eight losses against them, the numbers were worse (.194). Those numbers are tough to swallow, considering the Yankees/Rays rivalry seems more intense in recent years than when they play against the Red Sox.

It’s very apparent the Rays raise their games to another level when they play the Yankees. That’s what good teams do when the stakes are high. Players like Randy Arozarena, Ji-Man Choi, Mike Zunino and Mike Brosseau are far from household name. But each of them has bludgeoned the Yankees in 2020, the most household name team in Major League Baseball. They had “that extra gear” needed to win.

Meanwhile, the Yankees core of Gary Sanchez, Gleyber Torres, Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton combined for 13 hits in 70 at-bats (.186) against the Rays in the regular season. That’s just unacceptable. D.J. LeMahieu, soon to be a free agent, went 10-30 against Tampa, which illustrates how vital he is to this lineup and must be retained.

In the ALDS, the Yankees fared a little better, hitting to the tune of .242 in the five-game series. However, manager Aaron Boone‘s decision to use Deivi Garcia as an opener and starter J.A. Happ to follow him blew up in his face. To me, this was irresponsible. Boone tried to get cute, trying to beat Rays manager Kevin Cash at his own game. You can’t do that when you don’t have the personnel designed to excel pitching that way. Happ has been the most reliable starter for the Yankees behind Gerrit Cole. I already wrote about this farce in detail, so I won’t clog up a lot more space about that.

Unfortunately, there were other situations where it seemed like Aaron Boone was playing checkers, while Kevin Cash played chess. Like when Boone sent up Mike Ford to pinch-hit for Kyle Higashioka in the top of the 8th inning against Rays closer Diego Castillo.

Jimmy O’Brien (Jomboy) illustrates most everyone’s reaction when they saw Ford come to the plate in THAT situation.

I mean seriously, what the fuck is Aaron Boone thinking here?? Ford had two at bats in the postseason, including this ill-fated appearance where he went down looking. Higashioka was 0-2 on this night, but came into the game with an OPS of .853! And taking Higgy out of this game meant Gary Sánchez had to come in on defense. With Aroldis Chapman pitching. Who doesn’t always know where his pitches are going.

WHAT THE HELL IS BOONE THINKING?

In the end, Chapman gave up a home-run to Mike Brosseau on the tenth pitch of the at bat, and it cost them. Game over.

In the end, the Yankees didn’t have that extra gear needed to beat the Rays. They got outplayed, and certainly got out-managed.

Felt Cute, but Yankees Should Delete Later

Last night, for some reason, the New York Yankees thought it was a great idea to do something different in a playoff game. Manager Aaron Boone and GM Brian Cashman started 21 year old rookie Deivi Garcia against the Tampa Bay Rays, used him for exactly one inning, then replaced him with lefty J.A. Happ at the beginning of the 2nd inning. Happ went on to give up two home runs and four runs over 2.2 miserable innings.

In theory, the reasoning is understandable. With the righthanded García starting, Rays manager Kevin Cash put a number of players who hit lefthanded in his lineup. Bringing in Happ early is a good way to counter and gain an advantage.

But here’s the problem – Happ is not accustomed to being used in relief. The 37 year old has been in the starting rotation wherever he’s played for the last ten years. The preparation is different, and the larger problem is the mental difference. Think about how you do your job, whatever your profession is. Say you’ve been at your job a long time, and all of a sudden your boss has you do your job in a different way than you’re used to. You are thrown for a loop, right? Think about it.

Plus, Happ hasn’t pitched in a live game for 11 days. His routine is already screwed up, the feel isn’t there and then Boone and Cashman changed the way he’s being used. He had two strikes against him before he even threw a single pitch, and many folks on Twitter felt the same way.

After the dust had settled, Yankees Twitter came out of the woodwork. They point out how lousy Happ is and what a mistake it was for the Yankees to keep him. People quickly forget he helped carry this team on his back the second half of August and all of September. Happ’s stats over his last seven regular season starts: 42.1 IP, 30 hits, 11 ER, 7 BB, 39 K’s. He held opposing hitters to an OBP of .241. He and Gerrit Cole held everything together in September.

Folks, this is 100 percent on Aaron Boone and Brian Cashman. They are getting skewered in the papers and media and it’s deserved. They have to be held accountable.

Analytics most certainly have their place in baseball. But you still have to operate with common sense and a feel for things. The Yankees failed miserably in that aspect at the worst possible time against a team that owned them all season.

 

Yankees End of Season Report – Playoff Preview

When we last looked at the New York Yankees in my “50 Game Report”, I wasn’t sure what kind of team they were. The last ten games of the season didn’t give any more clarification, other than the 2020 Yankees are a notoriously hot and cold team.

Maybe I just answered my own question, the Yankees aren’t bad but they aren’t good. They’re just streaky. Anyway, let’s cover the last ten games of the 2020 schedule. Then we’ll briefly look ahead at their AL Wild Card Series against the Cleveland Indians.

Catcher

Gary Sánchez – Gary suffered through an absolutely horrific season with the bat and behind the plate. Sánchez went 2-5 with a clutch game-tying three run home run against the Red Sox at Fenway on September 18, and seemed to be turning the corner. He was fresh off an 8-27 stretch with 3 HR’s, but went back in the tank, and finished the season with two hits in his final 23 plate appearances. Sánchez ends the 2020 season with an abysmal .147 average, making the “Mendoza Line” (.200 batting average) seem a galaxy away. He is a liability on both sides of his game.

Kyle Higashioka – With Sánchez struggling, Higashioka’s playing time has increased. Higgy already has been serving as Gerrit Cole‘s quote/unquote personal catcher, and earned more playing time by simply being reliable both at the plate and behind it. Kyle finished the season at .250 with 4 HR’s and 10 RBI, and went 3-11 with runners in scoring position (RISP).

Infield

Luke Voit continued his MVP-caliber 2020 season by going 10-40 (250) during the season’s final ten game stretch, with a pair of homers and six RBI. He finished the season with a slash-line of .277/.338/.610 to go with 22 HR’s and 52 RBI. Not bad for a 60 game season.

After D.J. LeMahieu came of the injured-list on August 29, he played every one of his team’s remaining 31 games. While he couldn’t maintain the .411 clip he was raking at before he hurt his left hand, he still finished the 2020 campaign with a .364 average. That was good enough to win the AL batting title. The Yankees are a completely better team with LeMahieu in the lineup. When he played, they went 31-20. Without him, the Yankees were 3-7. The Yankees would be wise to sign him long-term. He is Captain material, and the team responds to him.

Gio Urshela continues to provide offense, as he went 12-34 (.353) over the team’s final ten games. Urshela is also a vacuum cleaner at the hot corner, showing over and over again why the Yankees were justified to choose him over Miguel Andújar at third base.

While Urshela, LeMahieu and Voit are hitting well, Gleyber Torres has struggled most of the season. His average dropped to a career low .243. His slugging percentage fell .167 points from .538 in 2019 (38 HR’s) to .368 this year (only 3 HR’s). However, Torres’s OBP was higher in 2020 (.356) than 2019 (.337), a result of more patience by earning walks at a higher rate. Making things worse, Gleyber’s fielding percentage also dropped to a career-low .933, his first full season at shortstop. Still, Torres is extremely young (23) and I would bet every dollar he will rebound on both sides of his game.

Tyler Wade has played at an increasing rate, despite continuing to produce at an anemic rate. Only Aaron Boone knows why, as he’s best suited as a defensive replacement and pinch-runner.

Outfield

Longtime Yankee Brett Gardner turned 37 years old on August 24, and much of the season has been a struggle. Gardy limped into September with a .169 average. Over the season’s final month, he turned it on with 17 hits in 59 at bats (.288) and knocking in 9 RBI. Over the last ten games of the schedule, Gardy went 7-19 (.368). No one knows for sure if this will be the end for Brett Gardner, but if so, he finished it off on a high-note.

Like Gleyber Torres, centerfielder Aaron Hicks had an odd season with the bat. His slash-line has dropped every season since peaking in 2017, but this year his on-base percentage reached a career high .379. Why, you may ask? Working more walks. Hicks walked more times (41) than he struck out (38) for the first time in his career. Like Brett Gardner, Hicks finished on a stronger note. After bottoming out at .200 on September 5, he recorded 17 hits in 66 at bats over the last twenty Yankees team games to finish at .225.

Clint Frazier has been a pleasant surprise all season with the injuries to Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton. He provided a spark when the Yankees needed it, and played excellent defense, after struggling in 2019 with depth-perception from post-concussion syndrome. As late as September 19, Frazier’s slash-line was .306/.422/.595, but closed out 2020 on a 1-20 slump with 11 strikeouts. Still, Clint has much to be proud of. With the Yankees facing the Indians, Frazier is going to look forward to taking it to the team that drafted him, then traded him to the Yankees in 2016.

Both the aforementioned Judge and Stanton have struggled since returning from their injuries. Judge has 7 hits in 36 at bats (.194), while Stanton has 7 in 35 AB’s (.200). Combined, their production since returning is one home run with six RBI. To be fair, it seems like Judge and Stanton will play a game or two and manager Aaron Boone will sit them for a “rest day”. They need the at bats and reps. I’m not sure if it’s coming from the Front Office or Boone himself, but being an every day player many years ago, Boone should know this.

Pitching – Starters

Gerrit Cole has been on fire all September. In his four starts the Yankees Ace (with a capital A), mowed down 34 hitters in 27 innings. This equated to a WHIP of 0.70 and allowing batters to hit .147 against him. Filth.

Masahiro Tanaka did not have the same dominant month Cole did, but he still was steady and reliable, which is all the Yankees need. Tanaka went 3-2 in September with a 3.62 ERA. Plus his postseason stats speak for themselves (5-3, 1.76 ERA, 0.78 WHIP in 8 starts). Masa will be ready to go.

 

After his first two starts of the 2020 season, longtime veteran J.A. Happ was looking at an ERA over ten and an unsure future beyond this season. Since then, all Happ has done is become the Yankees most reliable starter not named Gerrit Cole. The 37 year old lefty pitched to a 2.34 ERA and 0.87 WHIP over his last seven starts, striking out 39 over 42.1 innings. Happ earned his keep over the past month and a half, and deserves a lot of credit.

Lefty Jordan Montgomery (5.11 ERA) and young rookie righthander Deivi García (4.98) were up and down. Their postseason roles will likely depend upon matchups. However, both will be ready to help any way they can.

Bullpen

Aroldis Chapman and Zack Britton are ready to go for the playoffs after dominating performances down the stretch. In Buffalo against the Blue Jays, Chapman broke out his new toy, a split-finger fastball.

After a hideous meltdown on September 7 against the Blue Jays in Buffalo, Adam Ottavino worked his way back into Aaron Boone’s circle of trust with seven solid outings. Over his final seven appearances, Ottavino allowed just a run in 5.2 innings (1.59 ERA) with 10 K’s. Chad Green suffered a similar fate against the Jays in Buffalo on Sept. 7, and also turned it around in six games since (1.35 ERA). Hopefully they will provide needed innings for the back of the Yankees pen.

The usual cast of suspects round out the bullpen. If Jonathan Holder, Luis Cessa, Jonathan Loáisiga and Michael King (combined 5.03 season ERA) are pitching, chances are good things are not happening for the Yankees.

The Yankees are in Cleveland to open their Wild Card Series tomorrow night against Shane Bieber (1.63 ERA), the likely AL Cy Young Award winner. After they face Bieber, the Yankees will have to contend with Carlos Carrasco (2.91) and Zach Plesac (2.28). They will have their hands full. Once they get into Cleveland’s bullpen, Bombers will have to deal with Oliver Pérez, James Karinchak (17.7 K’s/9 innings) and Brad Hand.

I will report back after the conclusion of the Yankees season. Hopefully it won’t be a post-mortem report. Hopefully it will be after the Yankees hoist the Commissioner’s Trophy with champagne-soaked hair. It’s been too long since Yankees fans have seen this sight.

 

 

 

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.

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.