Pitching in baseball is tough business. As velocities continue to creep up further and further into the stratosphere, so do the injury risks as a young man’s hopes at a major league starting spot hinge upon a small ligament that, no matter how much modern medicine, nutrition, and conditioning advances, can’t strengthen the way, say, a shoulder can. Other than taking it easy, or not pitching at all, there isn’t much one can do.
That’s why James Kaprielian’s impending Tommy John surgery is devastating, so heartbreaking from the perspective of a fan who is incredibly excited to see his stuff. But it also isn’t surprising at all, considering what we know. When a pitcher, who was sitting around 93 mph before draft day, is now pumping 97 mph consistently, the risk of injury is ever-present. After losing much of last year to a nagging elbow issue, it finally gave way to a tear of the UCL. Now, the Yankees have to wait.
That doesn’t mean they have to wait in all things, which I’m sure they know. I don’t need to remind them or anyone out there that the clock is ticking pitching-wise. With Kaprielian out, you can cross him off for at least a calendar year, and I doubt we would see him at the big league level for at least two years. The contracts of CC Sabathia, Michael Pineda, and (likely) Masahiro Tanaka are to expire at year’s end. That leaves you with Luis Severino, Bryan Mitchell, Jordan Montgomery, Chad Green, and Adam Warren. Do you trust that? I don’t.
Beyond those, there are a few internal options, like Justus Sheffield, Dillon Tate, and Chance Adams. If we’re being conservative, and we’re also endowing them with similar injury risks, then we can expect—and I’m being generous—maybe one of those are viable starting options two years from now.
The free agent options after this year are... a mercurial bunch, to say the least. There’s Jake Arrieta, the aging ace I’m sure the Yankees would be reluctant to sign; Yu Darvish, who recovered from a Tommy John surgery of his own; and then, a litany of mediocrity: Andrew Cashner, Brett Anderson, Scott Feldman, Jeremy Hellickson, Lance Lynn, and Chris Tillman, to name a few. Do I trust any of these players, either? No.
That leaves the Yankees in quite the predicament. They’re now down another pitcher, one they thought would be in the big leagues by the end of the year, and there’s no indication they’ve positioned themselves to fix this impending starter issue.
This makes, first and foremost, re-signing Tanaka a number-one priority. Sure, you can argue that his arm is also a ticking time bomb with his partially torn UCL, but what other options are there? If we’re precluded from signing possible Tommy John risks, then you can cross both Tanaka and Darvish off the list. I think the best possible route is re-signing Tanaka, but including what I would call the John Lackey Clause, an automatic club option at the major league minimum if he misses a season due to Tommy John.
After that, it gets tricky. It makes it almost imperative to trade for someone via trade, because even though the Yankees have even more money off the books, there’s still the thought in the back of their minds that they’re saving for the Bryce Harper/Josh Donaldson/Manny Machado/Matt Harvey offseason.
Immediately coming to mind is Jose Quintana, but there are prospect sacrifices to make. There’s always a sacrifice to make, but a bigger sacrifice is clutching to your pearls as you’re relying upon Chad Green and Adam Warren to fill out the back-end of the rotation. Next year and beyond is supposedly when the Yankees window is primed to re-open, so sooner than later is the time to act. With one more pitcher down, they have one more pitcher to acquire.