Following an outstanding rookie year, Jordan Montgomery has been named the fifth starter and tabbed to start New York’s home opener. Meanwhile, rumors continue to swirl that the club is still interested in adding another starting pitcher, with Alex Cobb apparently the current target.
Barring an injury to another starter, signing Cobb would mean that Montgomery gets bumped from the rotation. I believe that would be a mistake. There are a number of reasons why I think the Yankees should stick with Montgomery as their fifth starter.
Montgomery had an outstanding rookie year
The left-hander made 29 starts for the Yankees in 2017. He went 9-7 with a 3.88 ERA and a 116 ERA+. In throwing 155 plus innings, Montgomery accumulated 2.9 WAR.
Montgomery finished sixth in the American League Rookie of the Year Award voting for his efforts. In a year without Aaron Judge, he might have won the award outright. After all, Jacob deGrom won it in 2014 after posting a 3.1 WAR over 22 starts for the Mets.
He still has room to improve
When the Yankees reported to camp last spring, a competition was held to determine the final two slots in the rotation. While Luis Severino quickly nailed down his job, there was a long list of pitchers competing for that last spot. Montgomery wasn’t even on it.
Despite this, Montgomery came from out of nowhere to win the job. This wasn’t a situation where no candidate distinguished himself, and the player with the least number of flaws got the job by default. Quite the contrary, the other competitors pitched well. Chad Green, in particular, made it a very close race. Montgomery simply impressed with his talent and effectiveness.
The young southpaw wasn’t even on the 40-man roster at the time. The Yankees had to clear a spot for him. Based on how quickly he arrived, there’s every reason to believe he will continue to improve.
Cobb is good, but Montgomery might be better
Cobb is a good pitcher, but Montgomery was actually a tad better last season. Over 29 starts, Cobb tossed 179 plus innings. He was 12-10 with a 3.66 ERA and a 113 ERA+.
In fact, during his six-year career, Cobb only outperformed Montgomery twice. Cobb posted a 3.9 WAR in each of the 2013 and 2014 seasons. He missed the following campaign due to injury and only made five starts in 2016.
I have nothing against Cobb. I believe he is a talented pitcher. If the Yankees actually needed a starter right now, I would be in favor of them considering Cobb for the job. They don’t need one right now, though, and acquiring Cobb would mean bumping a possibly more talented pitcher from the rotation.
A six-man rotation is not an option
Some might think that the team could sign Cobb and go with a six-man rotation. I advocated for such an arrangement last year. Unfortunately, it isn’t an option right now. The only two relievers with minor league options remaining are Chad Green and Tommy Kahnle. They are not getting sent down to make room for a sixth starter.
The final Opening Day bullpen spot will probably go to Chasen Shreve. He is out of options and would have to clear waivers before he can be demoted. A left-hander with his talent isn’t likely to clear waivers. Besides, he has pitched very well this spring and could be an asset for the Yankees this year.
While Aaron Boone may opt to use a sixth starter periodically throughout the season, there is no possible way to make it the standard operating procedure right now. Going with a 13-man pitching staff and only three players on the bench also isn’t a feasible option.
Luxury tax concerns
New York’s front office has stated that the number one goal is to get under the luxury tax threshold this year. Although we’ve heard similar statements before, the Steinbrenners appear committed to the goal.
The Yankees have about $15 million remaining under the threshold right now. It’s unclear how much would be required to sign Cobb at this time. Frankly, I’d rather see the organization keep that entire amount in case they have an urgent need which emerges as the season unfolds.
Things happen. It’s a long season. What if a key player suffers a season-ending injury and the team needs to absorb a high-salary to replace him? I don’t mean to be a doomsayer, but such injuries happen all of the time. Sadly, it’s part of baseball. It’s much better to be prepared than not.
We all remember the problems the team had at first base after Greg Bird got hurt last year. They received terrible production from that position for most of the first half. The bleeding didn’t stop until Todd Frazier was acquired from the White Sox and Chase Headley moved across the diamond from the hot corner.
It also does well to remember that the Astros wouldn’t have won the World Series if they hadn’t traded for Justin Verlander on August 31st. He’s the main reason Houston got past the Yankees in the ALCS. The Astros got him instead of the Yankees because New York’s front office wasn’t willing to take on the salary. I’d hate to see the Yankees spend now on players they don’t need and then fail to get the big piece that they do need later on.
Starting pitching development
The Yankees have had trouble developing high-end starting pitchers for decades. Can you name a quality starter who came out of their minor-league system since Andy Pettitte in 1995?
After bouncing up and down for a few years, Luis Severino finally appears to have reached that level. He finished third in the Cy Young Award balloting last year. We have every reason to believe he will be continue to excel.
I believe the same can be said of Montgomery. Boone showed confidence in him by tapping him for the home opener. He should stick with Montgomery in the fifth spot. Who knows, the Yankees may be able to boast two homegrown stars in the rotation before this season is over.