The Yankees’ 2021 rotation as of now is approximately Gerrit Cole, and then a shrug emoji.
Deivi Garcia and Jordan Montgomery should be there, but are wild cards. It is unclear if the team is planning on keeping Domingo Germán around, and his potential contributions are also anyone’s guess. The jury is still out on whether or not Masahiro Tanaka is returning. Luis Severino isn’t coming back until June, at the earliest. At the very least, the team needs to find replacements for J.A. Happ and James Paxton, who are all but departed as free agents.
Enter Garrett Richards. A rumored Yankees target since the mid-2010s, Richards is at a different phase of his career now. Entering his age-33 season and having made just 41 starts over the last five years due to two Tommy John surgeries, he’s no longer the budding number one starter he looked to be for the Angels from 2014-2015. However, he has resurrected his career, most recently as a key piece to the 2020 San Diego Padres that resulted in his first MLB playoff appearance.
Now a free agent, Richards could fill that Happ role in the Yankees’ rotation as a cheaper and younger (and possibly better) option. He wouldn’t be relied upon as the team’s number two starter, but for two years and $24 million or so, he could fill as hole as the club’s fourth starter and a generally low-risk veteran presence.
Even after two Tommy John surgeries and a 2014 season-ending knee operation, Richards hasn’t lost much velocity off his fastball. He threw 95-97 mph in his prime, and still averages 95+ on the gun today. It’s quite remarkable for a pitcher who missed so much time, and a key reason why Richards is still effective.
In his heyday, Richards was a ground ball-heavy pitcher who kept the ball in the yard. Over time, he has seen his ground ball and home run rates decline, but his strikeout and walk rates have improved, somewhat negating that change in batted ball data. Even if opponents are lifting the ball more off Richards, they aren’t hitting it much harder. His hard-hit rate was above average, his exit velocity is about average and both were within his career norms.
One reason the Yankees might be attracted to Richards is his extremely high spin rate. His fastball spin rate is in the top three percent, while the spin rate on his curveball is in the top one percent leaguewide. The higher the spin rate, the harder it is for a hitter to track. His fastballs may appear to rise to hitters, and his curveball has an incredible 60+ inches of vertical drop, which is among the top 40 hurlers in baseball. The Yankees love themselves some spin rate, and Richards has two pitches that fit that bill.
By most statistical measures, Richards is an average to slightly-above-average MLB starter. Although that’s not groundbreaking, it’s what the Yankees could use right now. He’d be a reliable, fairly cheap rotation option with high velocity and spin and a penchant for grounders that would slot right in as the Yankees’ fourth starter. His profile makes him attractive to several teams, including mid-market teams where he may land a turn higher in the rotation, but for a team craving stability and rotation depth, Richards might be a solid choice.