Pitching is difficult to predict. Injuries, fluctuations in pitch speed, the vagaries of batted ball luck, and a wealth of other factors combine to make projecting major league arms a tall task. Even the greatest pitchers, like Clayton Kershaw, can suffer sudden losses of velocity, and the healthiest of pitchers can go under the knife at a moment’s notice.
That being said, the Yankees’ pitching situation looked fairly stable entering this year. The team certainly could have stood to add more depth or another high-end starter last offseason, but the Yankees still had a number of pitchers under team control for the foreseeable future. It may have been impossible predict just how they would all do, but at the very least the team appeared to have a number of controllable young arms.
Things are murkier now. It may be strange to say for a team that by and large has been quite successful and piled up a boatload of wins, but despite a winning season, the Yankees’ future pitching staff is filled with more uncertainty than it was just six months ago.
Think back to spring training. While the Yankees didn’t have a ton of depth, the starting five looked strong. Luis Severino was an ace, Masahiro Tanaka was somewhat surprisingly back in the fold after declining to opt out, Sonny Gray was talented and in his prime, and Jordan Montgomery was coming off a quality rookie season. CC Sabathia was the elder statesman, and the only starter whose 2019 status was really in question.
Four of the Yankees’ five starters profiled as strong bets to stick in the rotation for multiple years. Even Sabathia was a decent bet for 2019, as the veteran seemed unlikely to want to play anywhere but New York if he didn’t retire this year. With nearly a whole rotation under multiple seasons of team control, Sabathia on hand, and promising prospects like Chance Adams, Justus Sheffield, and Dillon Tate in the high minors, the staff’s future felt relatively steady.
Fast forward to now, and the situation is far more unstable. Severino and Tanaka are the only starting pitchers the Yankees can probably count on being in the rotation next year. Gray, of course, imploded this season, and his role with the team is unclear. Montgomery underwent Tommy John surgery in the spring. Sabathia has indicated his desire to return and has largely been good this year, but his struggles late in the year make it hard to forecast his status for 2019.
On the prospect front, Sheffield still holds plenty of promise, and right-hander Jonathan Loaisiga has also added his name into consideration for a rotation spot next year. Yet Adams had an awful season, and Tate was traded, along with Josh Rogers and Cody Carroll. The rest of the Yankees’ top starting prospects, like Albert Abreu, Clarke Schmidt, and Luis Medina, might not be ready until 2020 and beyond.
Things have gotten murkier on the relief side as well. The biggest long-term blow has been the fall of Tommy Kahnle, who looked to be a big part of the bullpen for years to come. David Robertson and Zach Britton are free agents this winter, and while Dellin Betances and Aroldis Chapman will be around next year, Betances will be a free agent after 2019 and Chapman can choose to opt out.
The Yankees’ future bullpen will probably be fine, as their cadre of power arms, including Loaisiga, Sheffield, Domingo German, Domingo Acevedo, and others, will likely produce a late-inning reliever or two. Still, the situation is more unsettled now, and the super bullpen Brian Cashman assembled over the past couple seasons is already about to come apart.
None of this is to say the Yankees are in particularly bad spot when it comes to their pitching. They have the resources and prospects to survive the uncertainty. If anything, the newfound instability highlights the need for the team to be more proactive this winter than last when it comes to augmenting the staff. Whether it’s re-signing trade acquisition J.A. Happ, going after a younger starter like Patrick Corbin, targeting older pitchers like Charlie Morton or Andrew Miller, or all of the above, the Yankees will likely have more to do this offseason than they would have anticipated.