When the season comes to an end for any sports team, there’s always a subsequent autopsy. Reasons for the season’s successes and failures are endlessly dissected. Expectations are met, exceeded, or fallen short of. Whether you believe the Yankees had a successful season or not, what matters is that areas of improvement are identified and courses of action are implemented to help make the following season a bigger success.
The most obvious area most will point to when it comes to improving the Yankees’ roster for 2020 is starting pitching. When Luis Severino landed on the injured list in March, the Yankees’ rotation depth was quickly tested, and it became clear there wasn’t much depth at all. Add in CC Sabathia’s known knee liability and the injury records of James Paxton, Jonathan Loaisiga, and others, and pretty soon the Yankees were asking Chad Green to open games again and again because there were no more options.
With Sabathia retiring, J.A. Happ turning in an unproductive season, and a free agent pool littered with starting pitching, this is the offseason to finally address their depth. I’m not here to ask for Gerrit Cole or Stephen Strasburg again; the big guns have been addressed previously and will surely be discussed even further in the future. I’m simply talking about adding depth in any form, so that the Yankees can avoid using a Tyler Lyons or Ben Heller in an ALCS going forward. Nothing against those two relievers in particular, but in a perfect world, the Yankees wouldn’t be rostering such low-profile pitching options during the most important games of the season.
The obvious thing that the postseason showed us is that the Yankees trust three starting pitchers in Severino, Paxton, and Masahiro Tanaka. Therefore, if the Yankees add a pitcher this offseason J.A. Happ’s spot in the rotation could be in jeopardy because of other options like Domingo German, Jordan Montgomery, and the emergent Deivi Garcia. That’s a total of seven plausible starting pitching options currently heading into next season. One will be entering his second season returning from Tommy John Surgery and another hasn’t seen a major league mound. You can add Michael King into the conversation as well but it doesn’t change the fact that the depth needs to improve.
If the Yankees were able to add multiple starting pitchers, the effects would be cascading. Two of the top three relievers in terms of innings pitched won’t be Luis Cessa and Nestor Cortes Jr. Green could remain in the bullpen all season rather than shuttling between relieving and opening. The team simply would give fewer innings to replacement level pitchers or pitchers performing outside their normal roles.
Secondly, if there is a pitcher who is struggling throughout the season like Happ did, the pitcher can be moved to the bullpen to avoid continuous unproductive starts. The Yankees won 103 games this season, and more depth options would have allowed the Yankees to move Happ to the bullpen to try to win even more. Perhaps most importantly, signing multiple starters would all but ensure the Yankees could avoid a full bullpen game in a seven-game playoff series. They could then avoid putting so much stress on their top relievers, hopefully keeping them fresh all throughout October.
The way the offseason has been working out the last couple of years shows us that some of the top-tier starting pitchers might not sign till February. Therefore, the Bombers could add a depth piece before adding Gerrit Cole, but that won’t mean all hope is lost. This class has plenty of depth, meaning the Yankees should take aim at the top targets like Cole and Strasburg, while also feeling out the second-tier targets. The likes of Jake Odorizzi, Madison Bumgarner, Zack Wheeler, and more all could provide an added boost. Hopefully, the Yankees play aggressively at the top of the market while also searching for depth. Maybe a depth pitching piece could turn out to be next year’s DJ LeMahieu.