Earlier this month, Yankees ace Luis Severino was scratched from his first Grapefruit League start of the spring after feeling shoulder discomfort while warming up. The MRI revealed rotator cuff inflammation, and he is expected to be sidelined until at least May. CC Sabathia won’t be in the rotation to start the 2019 campaign either, as the veteran continues to recover from an angioplasty. He also had another procedure done on his knee this offseason, and isn’t due back until mid-April at the earliest.
The absence of Severino and CC to start the season represents a big loss for the Yankees’ pitching staff. Even before these injuries, I opined that the Yankees needed to sign another proven starter, and felt that Dallas Keuchel merited at least a serious look. After all, Sabathia has spent time on the disabled list every year of late, while Masahiro Tanaka and James Paxton have never made it through an entire season without getting hurt.
Cashman demurred at this suggestion, however, stating that he didn’t plan to make any moves until after the Amateur Draft in June. Although it did come out that New York reportedly made an offer to free agent Gio Gonzalez, there’s no indication that the team is committed to getting outside help for the rotation.
Manager Aaron Boone recently said that he could envision both Domingo German and the organization’s top pitching prospect Jonathan Loaisiga in the rotation to start the season. Luis Cessa, meanwhile, has out-pitched everyone in camp, and could be another viable option.
This situation reminds of 2017, when the Yankees had two vacancies in their rotation and then-manager Joe Girardi held a spring-training competition to fill them. Luis Severino quickly earned the number-four spot, but the competition for the final slot carried into the regular season.
After the audition process concluded with minor-league starts, it was announced that Jordan Montgomery had edged out Chad Green for the fifth spot in the rotation. Green eventually found his way into the bullpen, and the whole thing went swimmingly for the Yankees.
All three rotation candidates went on to have breakout years. Severino finished third in the American League Cy Young Award voting, while Green worked his way into the bullpen circle of trust en route to posting historically great numbers as a reliever. Montgomery, who was not even among the initial list of rotation candidates, but came out of nowhere to win the job, produced one of the best rookie campaigns by a starting pitcher this decade. He compiled 2.9 WAR, and was rewarded with a sixth-place finish in the Rookie of the Year Award balloting.
Loaisiga struggled this spring, having allowed 10 earned runs in nine innings, before hurling three scoreless frames yesterday. German (1.54 ERA) and Cessa (0.69), meanwhile, have been brilliant in their outings. With Opening Day looming only 10 days away, we still don’t have any idea which two of these pitchers will begin the season in the rotation — and that might be a blessing.
It would be a nice turn of events if history can repeat itself this season. With all the uncertainty surrounding the rotation due to injuries, it would be great if the three rotation contenders make Boone’s decision super difficult. Who knows, maybe all three will go on to make huge contributions this season, the way Severino, Green, and Montgomery did just two years ago.