Injuries happen all the time in sports, but it always seems like they come at the worst possible times. For the Yankees, finding out that Luis Severino was scratched from his scheduled Tuesday start with rotator cuff tendinitis proved a major blow. The team’s fully healthy rotation actually didn’t look that bad, thanks in large part to Severino’s presence as staff ace.
Instead, Severino may be headed for the injured list, having not even pitched a game under his new four-year, $40 million contract. That would likely line up Masahiro Tanaka for the Opening Day start, but more importantly, who would take Severino’s place in the rotation if he had to miss time?
On the major league roster, Tanaka, James Paxton and J.A. Happ can hold down the fort. CC Sabathia is little more than a solid fifth starter, but he’ll have to miss his first start of the year after being suspended for throwing at Rays catcher Jesus Sucre. This potentially creates two holes in the rotation, at least for the first week of the season.
The internal options to fill those holes aren’t ideal, either. Luis Cessa has looked good this spring, but he is not much more than organizational depth at this point. Domingo German offers some upside with his high whiff rate, but has well-documented walk and home run issues. Jonathan Loaisiga is the most exciting option, but he has thrown just 58.2 innings above Single-A in his career. Throwing Loaisiga in the Opening Day rotation might be a little much for him at this point.
There are, however, some external options. Jon Heyman has reported that the Yankees have discussed signing Gio Gonzalez, which would present a cheap, veteran solution. There’s also Dallas Keuchel, but given his multi-year contract demands and impending decline, he probably isn’t a realistic option.
Let’s take a look at Gonzalez, then. The 33-year-old is still on the market after a step back in 2018. Gonzalez lost nearly two mph on his fastball, as well as a decline in his trademark curveball’s whiff rate. This led to a spike in Gonzalez’s ERA and WHIP, and a shortage of free agent offers.
That said, Gonzalez is not toast yet. He’s a groundball heavy pitcher, which goes well at Yankee Stadium. He’s also just one year removed from a 201-inning season with a 2.96 ERA. Don’t forget, this is a guy that the Milwaukee Brewers traded for and trusted down the stretch last yea. He still has some value.
Gonzalez isn’t much more than a fourth or fifth starter anymore, but if Severino was to head to the injured list, then I’d seriously advocate for adding Gonzalez. He’s at least more trustworthy than German, Cessa or Loaisiga. If they added Gonzalez, one of the other three pitchers (likely Cessa) could stick around as a long reliever or spot starter, a role that they’re probably better suited for anyway.
As for concerns that Gonzalez would make the Yankees’ rotation too lefty-heavy, I wouldn’t worry about that right now. The Yankees may have lost their ace for an unknown amount of time, and they need to add an MLB pitcher, regardless of handedness. Gonzalez is no world-beater, but he’s the best available option to replace Severino, on or off the roster.
Hopefully, Severino recovers and the Yankees dodge a bullet. But if Severino is at all injured, the Yankees would be best served to put him on the shelf and sign a replacement. A contending team like the Yankees cannot get by regularly starting Triple-A depth. Gonzalez isn’t what he once was, but he’s just good enough to warrant a one-year, emergency deal.
It sounds like Brian Cashman is more inclined to go with the Yankees’ internal options, though: