As of yesterday, the Yankees had the chance to call up 33-year-old veteran starter Gio Gonzalez to the 25-man roster. They opted not to do so, allowing the lefty to hit free agency again. This move, or non-move, conveys a specific message from Brian Cashman and the front office of the organization.
The Yankees signed Gonzalez to a minor league contract on March 20th, about a week before the regular season commenced. Come Opening Day, Gonzalez was not included on the roster, and he has not been called up since. The Yankees decided to enter the season with Domingo German as one of their five starters and he has not relinquished his grasp on a starting spot. Among Yankee starters who have pitched 19 innings or more, he boasts a team-leading 2.37 ERA, striking out 23 batters in the process.
On top of German, they gave Jonathan Loaisiga a start as well, and while he did not impress as much as German, this still represents who the Yankees feel comfortable with moving forward. This seems especially so given that Loaisiga has again been called up ahead of tonight’s game:
Loaisiga coming up for tomorrow’s start per Boone. Gives everyone in rotation an extra day.— Pete Caldera (@pcaldera) April 22, 2019
Part of the reasoning behind the Yankees’ decisions is German’s electric stuff. Ranking in the 93rd percentile for his fastball spin rate in MLB, the Yankees analytics team must love him. On top of that, his chase rate has risen from 29.8% to 34.2% in the last two years. So far this season, he ranks in the top seven-percent in MLB in wOBA (.213). The only thing holding German back from consistently being a great pitcher is his fastball control, which he has slowly improved upon over the course of his first few starts.
On the other hand, while Loaisiga did struggle in his seven innings pitched so far, the Yankees are already giving him another chance, if not in the starting rotation. With an aging CC Sabathia on the staff, having a guy like Loaisiga on the 40-man roster is valuable, as he can come and take up a few innings if the big guy, or anyone else, needs a break.
Another reason the Yankees may have let Gonzalez walk is because of how confident they are in their bullpen. The bullpen has clearly struggled as a collective group so far, but we all know what those pitchers are capable of. The Yankees never wanted or needed a starter to eat up innings, like a Gio Gonzalez. He was simply acquired, as mentioned above, as an emergency back up.
This all demonstrates the trust Cashman has in his current pitchers. He stated plainly they had faith in their internal players even when Severino went down, and letting Gonzalez sign elsewhere further cements this trust. That said, this doesn’t mean that the Yankees won’t be active at the trade deadline if once again they need a pitcher to make a playoff push. We can all hope Severino will come back healthy around the All-Star break and pitch like we know he is capable of. But if he comes back and re-injures himself, or simply isn’t the same dominant Severino, the Yankees may end up in the market for a top-end starter.
For now, to keep their heads above water, these are the starters Cashman is sticking with, and it’s been that way since day one. This team will start to get some of their main offensive contributors back slowly but surely (fingers crossed), and that will only help the young pitchers. For now, the team’s pitching isn’t its primary concern.