At this point, it’s accepted that every team needs a bucketful of starting pitchers to make it through the MLB regular season. Every club enters the year with its shiny five-man rotation that it hopes can survive the rigors of a 162-game schedule, but without fail, injuries and ineffectiveness strike. The adage now is that teams need several quality starters to navigate a full campaign.
Yet while every team wishes it could have a dozen excellent starters on hand at all times, it’s obviously not realistic to actually enter the season with a seven or eight-man rotation. While it’d be great if the Yankees could simply add Dallas Keuchel, Yusei Kikuchi, and Gio Gonzalez to a rotation that already features five starters, it’s not feasible to actually sign a bunch of quality veteran starters and expect a handful of them to be okay with accepting a diminished role while waiting for open rotation slots to pop up.
Instead, if a team wants to truly have strong depth to rely on during the dog days of summer, it must build that depth in other ways. One avenue is to simply have a deep farm system loaded with arms in the high minors. Another is to employ so-called swingmen, pitchers that are willing and capable of pitching out of the bullpen and shifting to the rotation when the need arises.
The Yankees do have some pitching depth in terms of young arms. Jonathan Loaisiga now profiles as the team’s best pitching prospect, and though he was uneven in the majors in 2018, Loaisiga at least proved he has major-league caliber stuff. Domingo German, who was also shaky last year, is in a similar boat, having recorded middling results while showcasing genuine talent.
After that, the Yankees’ pitching depth consists of lesser prospects far from the majors, or the likes of Luis Cessa. So, if the Yankees want to further bolster their rotation depth, the best way to do it at this point is probably to add a veteran swingman.
Yesterday, we highlighted free agent Trevor Cahill as a potential target. Cahill is a near-perfect fit as a swingman, having demonstrated the ability to succeed both as a starter and reliever. Cahill enjoyed a resurgence as a starter last year, recording a 110 ERA+ in 110 innings. He also posted a sterling 153 ERA+ two seasons ago working almost exclusively out of the Cubs’ bullpen.
Cahill isn’t a great pitcher, but he fits the mold of a pitcher good enough to stick in a rotation, but not one good enough to be unwilling to flit between rotation and bullpen if asked to. However, Tyler noted in his his free agent target piece that Cahill’s price could put him out of swingman range. MLB Trade Rumors forecasted two years, $22 million for Cahill, which might be too lofty for a swingman. FanGraphs predicted two years, $14 million, which would be a reasonable price for a depth starter/long reliever.
Adam Warren stands out as another potential option on the market. Warren’s inclusion makes sense, as the hybrid depth starter/reliever role we’re describing here is essentially the role Warren played in his time with the Yankees. The Yankees traded Warren to the Mariners last year, the second time the team traded him away. Warren has always been productive, though, and he’s posted a 162 ERA+ across 109 innings the past two seasons. Warren likely wouldn’t require a multi-year deal, and would fit like a glove right back on the Yankees’ staff.
The pickings start to get a little slimmer from here; remember, we’re forced to dredge the bottom of the market for players who wouldn’t demand a guaranteed rotation spot. Perhaps former Red Sox Drew Pomeranz would fit. Pomeranz suffered through an injury-riddled 2018, so he is unlikely to fetch more than a one-year deal. Pomeranz posted a 137 ERA+ and struck out a batter an inning in 2017, and pitched out of the bullpen last year, albeit with poor results. If Pomeranz can recover some of the velocity he lost in 2018, he’d be an interesting bounceback candidate.
The rest of the market is more uninspiring. Jeremy Hellickson, Derek Holland, and Ervin Santana are all veterans that have had success in recent years, but none jumps off the page as someone that could obviously be comfortable shifting between bullpen and rotation. Even so, it might be worth kicking the tires if the market grows cold for these veteran starters.
This isn’t meant to be a post full of alluring names and high-priced targets. It’s just not tenable to actually pile up several high-quality starting pitchers on one roster without running into fit issues. Instead, these lower-caliber arms could fill a helpful role on the Yankees’ the depth chart. If the Yankees want to avoid the pitching depth issues they ran into at times last year, adding a veteran swingman in some capacity would help.