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What could make a six-man rotation work for the Yankees?

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Adding a frontline starter this offseason could set up a six-man rotation — one that could actually work.

League Championship Series - Houston Astros v New York Yankees - Game Four Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images

At the moment, it looks like the Yankees’ rotation could be all set for next season. With the re-signing of CC Sabathia, the Bombers now have five starting pitchers that are essentially all locks for next year’s rotation. The team hasn’t been shy about their desire to potentially add another starter to their group, though. From Shohei Ohtani to Gerrit Cole, the club has been connected to several starting pitchers this offseason. If they decide to add another arm, they could find success in a six-man rotation.

Many teams, including the Yankees, have gone to a six-man rotation for brief stretches because it allows for starters to receive at least one extra day off. That additional rest could prove extremely valuable for the Bombers’ rotation. Masahiro Tanaka, Sonny Gray, and CC Sabathia have all dealt with significant injuries in recent seasons. Adding another arm could certainly give the more injury-prone starters an additional breather.

Plus, Luis Severino and Jordan Montgomery threw the most innings of their careers in 2017. Montgomery was essentially shutdown near the season’s end, but Severino continued to pitch deep into the playoffs. How the young guys bounce back from their respective years remains to be seen, but adding another frontline starter would certainly alleviate their closely-monitored workloads.

Still, few teams have been willing to go long stretches at a time with a six-man rotation because of the perceived negatives it entails. Teams have to play with one fewer reliever or one fewer man on the bench, and the top of the rotation doesn’t see as many starts. These concerns are valid, but the Yankees seemingly have the roster to make a six-man rotation work if they land the right pitcher.

The Yankees demonstrated last year that they don’t mind playing with a shortened bench. For a good portion of the season, the Yankees played with a three-man bench and eight relievers. It might not have always been an optimal lineup, but the team is now better equipped to handle that situation. Adding David Robertson and Tommy Kahnle — plus the emergence of Chad Green — shored up a shaky bullpen. The Yankees now have more than enough outfielders to play those positions, and they also have several utility players to fill in any gaps along the way.

Determining the sixth pitcher in the rotation is the paramount issue here. Adding Green, Adam Warren, Luis Cessa, or Chance Adams to the rotation don’t seem worth it; those pitchers simply aren’t good enough to justify the starts taken away from the top of the rotation. Using any one of those arms as a full-time sixth starter seems like the wrong move.

The Yankees have made it known that Green will come to Spring Training as a starter, but his value is clearly in the bullpen. Plus, without a third pitch, there’s little reason to think he’ll be able to translate that success into a starting role. It seems like there’s talk about Warren as a rotation candidate every year, but the truth is, he hasn’t started a game in a Yankee uniform since 2015. The chances of him moving back into the rotation at age 30 seem slim.

Meanwhile, Cessa has been a slightly below league average pitcher in his 100+ innings in the big leagues. Adams is a top prospect but has yet to throw his first Major League pitch. Thus, a hypothetical six-man rotation really only works if the Yankees go outside the organization to land a top starter.

The Yankees have been connected to several ace-caliber pitchers over the last few weeks. Cole, Yu Darvish, Chris Archer, and Michael Fulmer come to mind. It obviously remains to be seen if they’ll actually land one of them, but if they did, a six-man rotation seems like the ideal scenario. Each has shown to be top-of-the-rotation pitchers and would create some extreme parity in the Yankees’ 1-4 spots. The talent gap is a little wider after that, but I’ll take Sabathia and Montgomery at the back of the rotation 10 times out of 10.

Adding a frontline starter would likely push Montgomery to the sixth spot in the rotation, but giving him starts over the top guys isn’t a negative thing at all. Virtually all modern pitching staffs use more than six starting pitchers over the course of the season anyway. Montgomery has shown that he’s worthy of being in the rotation.

As a rookie, he pitched to a 2.7 fWAR in hitter-friendly Yankee Stadium, and only Max Scherzer had a lower hard contact rate last season. As an added bonus, Montgomery has never missed a start due to injury. He’s about as reliable as they come. Thus, the Yankees really have no reason not to have him pitching in pinstripes next season.

In a recent New York Times article, Tyler Kepner noted: “The Houston Astros won the World Series last season and used no pitcher for more than 153.1 innings. The team they beat, the Dodgers, had just one pitcher who crossed that threshold.” The league is trending towards pitchers working less over the course of a single season. If the Yankees want to make multiple deep postseason runs, limiting their rotation’s workload from year-to-year is going to be key. If the Bombers can add a frontline starter this offseason, they could be the first team to make that plunge to a six-man rotation. With their current roster construction, it just might work.