News from around baseball of late has been dominated by the Yankees’ failed attempt to acquire Gerrit Cole from Pittsburgh. Although Brian Cashman reportedly offered the Pirates their choice of either Chance Adams or Clint Frazier to headline the deal, Cole was ultimately traded to the reigning champion Houston Astros.
Somewhat lost in the hubbub is the fact that New York already has a strong five-man rotation in place. It’s the same group that got the Bombers to within one win of the Fall Classic. The team also has considerable starting pitching depth.
Masahiro Tanaka Remains
Shortly after the World Series ended, the Yankees got an answer to their biggest roster question. Tanaka announced that he would not exercise the opt-out clause in his contract, and would instead remain in the Bronx for the next three seasons.
”It was a simple decision for me as I have truly enjoyed the past four years playing for this organization and for the wonderful fans of New York,” said Tanaka. “I’m excited to continue to be a part of this team, and I’m committed to our goal of bringing a World Series Championship back to the Steinbrenner family, the Yankees organization, and the great fans of New York.”
The story of Tanaka’s 2017 campaign was one of extremes. Following his June 6th start, he had a league-worst 6.55 ERA. The right-hander yielded seven or more earned runs in five starts last season.
The four-year veteran avoided the disabled list for the first time in his career, and he had moments of sheer brilliance along the way. He turned in arguably his best start ever on April 27th, spinning a three-hit complete game shutout at Fenway Park. He struck out a career-high 13 batters versus the Athletics on May 26th. He then topped the mark with 14 strikeouts on July 28th, and fanned 15 in his final regular season start on September 29th.
That dominant effort was just a glimpse of what was to come in October. Tanaka allowed two runs in 20 innings across three postseason starts, including a pair of seven-inning shutouts against two of the most potent offenses in baseball. While Tanaka has been one of the top-performing starters in MLB since coming over from Japan, his Koufaxian playoff performance proved that he is indeed the elite ace that the Yankees were counting on.
CC Sabathia Re-signs
New York’s rotation got another boost when Sabathia agreed to return on a team-friendly $10 million one-year deal. The left-hander is so much more than just a guy to take the ball every fifth day. Sabathia is the leader of this team.
Although CC continued his bounce back with another solid season statistically, he also reached another level, becoming the Yankees’ stopper. Sabathia was 10-1 in games following a New York loss. The lone defeat came in ALCS Game 7 in Houston.
”CC feels there’s unfinished business to attend to,” agent Kyle Thousand of Roc Nation Sports told MLB.com. “He loves his teammates, the clubhouse and the moves the Yankees are making. He wants to bring home another championship to the Yankee fans.”
Expected to be the fourth starter in 2016, Luis Severino disappointed. He was bounced from the rotation and ultimately to the minors. Severino was told to work on his changeup in the offseason, which he did under the tutelage of Pedro Martinez. The result was a complete turnaround.
Severino made the rotation in camp and never faltered. He finished third in the league in just about every rate stat behind Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber and runner-up Chris Sale. Appropriately enough, Severino finished third in the voting.
While some predict a regression for Severino this year, there’s no indication he’s trending in that direction. In fact, after being selected to the All-Star team, his numbers were actually better in the second half. Before the Midsummer Classic he had a 3.54 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, and 10.5 strikeouts per nine. After the break, he pitched to a 2.28 ERA, 0.95 WHIP, and 11 strikeouts per nine.
Sophomore Montgomery and Sonny Days
There was a long list of pitchers competing for rotation spots at the start of spring training, but Jordan Montgomery wasn’t on it. Still, he came out of nowhere to win the fifth slot.
The left-hander made 29 starts for the Yankees, going 9-7 with a 3.88 ERA and 1.23 WHIP over 155.1 innings. His .684 OPS against was second best among Yankees starters behind Severino. Among AL pitchers hurling at least 150 innings, Montgomery had the 13th best ERA. Outperforming top-of-the-rotation guys for numerous teams in the league, Monty received down-ballot Rookie of the Year votes for his efforts.
Like Severino, Montgomery exceeded his previous season total by more than 30 innings pitched, causing some to raise the specter of the Verducci effect. But the validity of that theory is disputed, and Montgomery was very consistent throughout his debut campaign, so there’s good reason to believe he can build on it.
Also, after coming over from Oakland at the trade deadline, the highly coveted Sonny Gray was somewhat impressive. Still, the right-handers has been one of the top starters in the league throughout his career. He should live up to his resume in his first full season in pinstripes.
If the injury bug bites, the Yankees have solid depth to back up the top five. Fan favorite Chance Adams made 21 starts in Triple-A last year, pitching to a 2.89 ERA and 1.09 WHIP. Although the 23-year-old is not yet on the 40-man roster, it is widely expected that he will make his debut at some point this season.
Domingo German, Luis Cessa, Chad Green, and Adam Warren are four players on the roster who have experience as starters. Warren has made it known that he prefers starting, although he has proven to be a weapon out of the bullpen. Green lost the competition for the fifth rotation spot last year by a whisker, before moving on to have a historically great season as a reliever. German was one of a handful of prospects recently cited by Hal Steinbrenner as being poised for a breakout.
The Yankees are more than fine without Gerrit Cole (or Yu Darvish, for that matter). Their rotation as is will be a considerable strength in 2018. They may even have the best rotation — top to bottom — in the division, complete with multiple Cy Young candidates.