The Yankees enter the offseason with numerous questions surrounding their roster. Three of their starting pitchers are heading to free agency and many questions exist. The team will have to address their starting pitching in a manner that addresses the adjustment back to a 162 game season and the dramatic increase in innings that they will face.
In 2019 the Yankees pitched 1,443 regular season innings on their way to winning the AL East. To do that, three of their starters logged over 150 innings on the season. Those three pitchers — Masahiro Tanaka, James Paxton and J.A. Happ — are all heading toward free agency this offseason.
Only the ace of the staff Gerrit Cole is positioned to carry a heavy innings load for the Yankees based on their current roster construction. He has thrown over 200 innings in his last three full seasons and will be counted on to carry the workload again in 2021. The lack of starters behind Cole who can be counted on, or will be allowed to consistently go deep into games will likely influence the Yankees decisions this offseason as they build for next season.
When the Yankees signed Gerrit Cole, many fans dreamed of him teamed with Luis Severino at the top of the rotation. Severino’s Tommy John surgery delayed that potential 1-2 punch at the top of the rotation until likely June or July in 2021. After logging over 190 innings in both 2017 and 2018, Severino has thrown just 16.1 major league innings since.
There are very legitimate concerns over what version of Severino will return as well. He struggled late in 2018 prior to his injuries, and has only produced a very small sample size since. Counting on a player to return from Tommy John exactly on schedule is also not always the best plan. In the past two seasons the Yankees have seen players like Jordan Montgomery and Ben Heller experience setbacks during their rehab, costing them time at the major league level.
Coming off suspension, Domingo Germán is a major question mark for the Yankees. Over the summer a series of cryptic Instagram post led many to speculate that he was done with baseball in for good. He walked those back a few days later, and now appears to be back in training for his major league return. He was officially cleared by Major League Baseball earlier this month.
Looking to Germán to be a work horse in the rotation has the potential to blow up in the Yankees face. The 143 innings he pitched in 2019 was a career high, and he has no history of being a workhorse-type starter coming through the minor leagues. While he won 18 games in 2019, he also had a 4.03 ERA and a 4.72 FIP. He has been away from the team for over a year at this point due to his suspension, and will walk back into the organization with a new pitching coach to get to work with.
One of the most impressive features of Deivi García’s late season run was his ability to work deep into games. Deivi pitched at least six innings in four of this six starts, providing a level of stability for a Yankees rotation that was struggling upon his arrival.
García is still just a 21-year-old prospect, 2019 was his first full minor league season and he has never pitched more than 111.1 innings in the minor leagues. The Yankees certainly would have looked to stretch García’s workload a little farther this season, but the canceled minor league season stole three months of his development.
Clarke Schmidt, the Yankees’ other top pitching prospect, is in a similar boat. He entered the Yankees system on the heels of Tommy John surgery a month before being drafted, has faced several short injured list stints and has never thrown more than 90.2 innings. Schmidt will certainly play a role for the Yankees, but like García it is fair to wonder how far the organization will push them, especially when they have an eye on October.
Free agents like Trevor Bauer and Marcus Stroman will be linked with the Yankees throughout the offseason. It is also likely that the Yankees will look to retain Masahiro Tanaka, James Paxton or both in what figures to be an uncertain free agent market.
The options for the Yankees do not have to come through free agency, however, as there is a chance that the trade market could be very active and teams may seek to reconfigure their rosters after the strangest of seasons. If that comes to fruition, there will be a host of pitchers that could be targeted to get the team through 162 games worth of innings.
The Yankees rotation has to be addressed this offseason as major pieces head for free agency. On the heels of an shortened season, the Yankees have to figure out where the they will be allocating the majority of their innings to. The change back to a full season will be a challenge for their shorthanded staff, and the potential for a very competitive AL East will only further incentivize improving this aspect of the team.