Brian Cashman said he wanted to add to the rotation this offseason, but he has instead spent much of his time re-signing pieces from 2018 and trying to deal others. Although the addition of James Paxton was a big one, the Yankees haven’t done much to the rotation. Re-signing J.A. Happ and CC Sabathia is nice, but trading Justus Sheffield and likely Sonny Gray means that there will be very little quality depth waiting in the wings.
Luckily, the MLB offseason has been moving at a glacial pace, which means that several arms will be desperate to sign late in the signing period for whatever they can get. The Yankees probably won’t be signing another regular starter this offseason, but they could pursue an upgrade over their depth options, which include Luis Cessa, Domingo German and Chance Adams. Those are not guys who the Yankees want to have to call upon early in the season if the notoriously injury-prone Sabathia, Paxton or Tanaka head to the DL.
One option to fill out the rotation could be Jeremy Hellickson. Over 19 starts for the Nationals last year, Hellickson went 5-3 with a 3.45 ERA. While he’ll be 32 this season and hasn’t really ever been as good as he was for the Rays from 2010-2012, Hellickson has some trends that show he will age gracefully as a cheap back-of-rotation option. Admittedly, his strikeout rate has never been good, and it’s only gotten worse with age. However, his walk, home run, and ground ball rates last year were among his career bests in his ninth full season. With that profile, it sure sounds like Hellickson has embraced the role of journeyman veteran righty, and could have a few decent years left. Hellickson has bounced around these past few years, and shouldn’t cost more than $4 million. That could be a much better deal (and a much smaller headache) than Gray at $9 million.
Drew Pomeranz is another interesting name to consider. Pomeranz made the All-Star team in 2016 as a Padre and had a solid 2017 for the Red Sox, but bombed in 2018. Still, Pomeranz is intriguing for a few reasons. He’s always been a high-strikeout pitcher and is very tough on lefties. From 2014-2017, Pomeranz had a 3.24 ERA and a 130 ERA+. Of course, the problem with Pomeranz is his lack of control. He’s never had a BB/9 less than 3.39 over a full season, but maybe the Yankees could try to fix that by changing up his pitch mix. Pomeranz likely won’t cost more than $1.5 million, and may even be able to be had on a minor-league deal. For that, I think his potential is worth a shot.
Out of the names on this list of bargain bin starters, Derek Holland definitely had the best 2018. After a four-year stretch where he only pitched in 67 games and posted a 20-26 record, 5.06 ERA and 1.47 WHIP, Holland bounced back big-time in 2018 for the Giants. Holland earned a 3.57 ERA and had the best strikeout rate of his career at 8.9 K/9. By WAR, it was the third-best season of his career, which included some highs as a member of the Texas Rangers. Still, the risk with Holland comes in his track record and durability. Before last year, he really hadn’t been good or healthy since 2013. He may cost the most of anyone on this list, up to $4-5 million, but you can never have enough pitching.
Finally, here’s a real shot in the dark: Ervin Santana. Yes, Santana is 36 and was injured almost all of last season. However, he made an All-Star team in 2017 and posted a 3.52 ERA in the five seasons prior to last year. Santana would also be dirt cheap. I don’t expect him to get more than $1.5 million and he may have to settle for a minor league deal. Freddy Garcia and Bartolo Colon were brought in on similar deals in 2012, and they actually provided good value. However, Santana is not the biggest fan of the new Yankee Stadium. He is 0-6 at the new stadium, and infamously called it “a joke.” So, while getting Santana cheap seems halfway decent on paper, I’d call this one a long shot.
Teams these days need at least seven or eight starters to make it through a full season. While everyone is talking about the top of the Yankees’ rotation, Brian Cashman seems quite content with it as presently constructed. However, the Yankees will definitely need to add some depth for cheap. None of the players I mentioned should be expected to be real big contributors to the 2019 team, but with CC Sabathia’s heart condition giving the Yankees pause and Sonny Gray’s bags just about packed, the team could use a new swingman that is a little better than Luis Cessa or Domingo German.
Much like the Troy Tulowitzki signing, Hellickson, Pomeranz, Holland, or Santana could be worth spending a little bit of cash on in hopes that they provide at least the minimal price they’re being paid. If they’re toast, the Yankees can easily move on. But, a team can never have enough pitching, and the Yankees would be best served by adding at least someone to take the place of Gray and Sheffield in the organizational depth chart.