With the signing of J.A. Happ, the Yankees’ rotation appears to be mostly completed. Although Brian Cashman has stated that he will continue to explore the trade market for starting pitching, it’s likely that the Yankees’ five main starters will be Luis Severino, James Paxton, Masahiro Tanaka, Happ, and CC Sabathia.
That is an impressive starting five, perhaps one of the best in the American League. The question, as is often the case, is health. Severino has proved to be quite durable over the past to years, but beyond that there are many causes of concern. Injuries have kept Paxton from ever throwing a full season, and while his shoulder and elbow are unscathed, it remains to be seen how they’ll hold up over 30 starts. Tanaka seems like a relatively safe bet to stay healthy, but you never know with that elbow.
Meanwhile, Happ hasn’t exactly been injury-prone, but he’s only exceeded the 180-inning threshold once in his career, and he’s only getting older. Age is also a concern for Sabathia, whose bad knee has limited him to around 150 innings pitched in each of the last two years. The bottom line is that someone is going to cover for the innings that the rotation can’t pitch. The bullpen has their work cut out for them next year as well.
Fortunately, the Yankees have a great bullpen. Making them throw a ton of innings, however, is detrimental to their effectiveness. Plus, with the departures of David Robertson and Zach Britton, the Yankees have a few spots to fill. The ideal candidate would be someone who could handle multiple innings, with the necessary repertoire to keep batters off balance.
The Yankees don’t have a clear favorite for that position, but they do have someone with the potential to be that guy. Domingo German had a rocky debut in 2018, but he showed he has top-tier stuff. If the Yankees continue to use him out of the bullpen, as they did in the latter half of 2018, then they just might have another Chad Green: a high quality multi-inning reliever to pick up some of the rotation’s slack.
You can quibble with German’s results, as they certainly weren’t pretty overall this past season. Looking at his splits, however, German did pitch well as a reliever, with a K-BB% of 21.9 and a 3.12 ERA (3.22 FIP) over 17.1 innings. It’s still too early to say that converting German to a reliever has been a success, small sample sizes and all, but the early returns have been encouraging.
Moreover, German’s results are backed up by his stuff. Last year, his swinging strike rate of 14.9% ranked 27th among all pitchers with at least 50 innings pitched, and was bested by only Aroldis Chapman within the Yankees’ staff. It’s not like German relies on one standout pitch to strike batters out, either, as his fastball, curve, and sinker have all generated above average whiff rates. German has had trouble as a starter, but he certainly has the arsenal to navigate 3-4 innings at a time if needed be.
Sure, German has the potential to be a pretty good starter, but the Yankees aren’t really in a position to give him 20 starts next year and withstand his growing pains. However, viewing him as rotation depth and relegating him to long relief/mop-up duty is a waste of talent. By developing him in a Chad Green-type role, the Yankees could fill an immediate need, while leaving the door open for German to start in the future. How’s that for a win-win situation?