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The silver lining of the Yankees’ rotation woes

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The opportunities for their young arms will help inform the team’s decisions in 2021.

Tampa Bay Rays hosts New York Yankees in preseason game Photo by J. Conrad Williams Jr./Newsday via Getty Images

Baseball fans love a good argument, with a smattering of trash talk to boot, but all of them would agree on a simple proposition: injuries suck.

The Yankees, and baseball in general, are more fun when players are healthy and competing at their best. While the injuries to Luis Severino and James Paxton (and the suspension of Domingo German, which is a different and more serious issue) are undoubtedly a bummer, there is a silver lining for the Yankees.

Their depleted rotation offers the Yankees’ front office an opportunity to plan for a pivotal offseason this winter. Masahiro Tanaka and James Paxton will be free agents at the end of the season, and J.A. Happ will join them if he fails to meet the threshold of 165 innings pitched or 27 games started. Severino will miss the beginning of 2021, and his effectiveness when he returns is unknown.

The potential 2020 contributions of up-and-comers like Jonathan Loaisiga, Clarke Schmidt, Deivi Garcia, and Mike King will be vital learning tools in the Yankees’ decision-making process for the rotation of the future.

If any of the above can prove they belong at the major league level — especially in a starting role — it could make the Yankees less inclined to seek pitching solutions in free agency once the winter rolls around. Just how good these guys are could determine the direction, if not the success, of the Yankees in the first half of the new decade.

If their work these last few weeks counts for anything (obligatory “it’s just spring training” reminder) then that direction seems promising. King and Garcia have mostly looked the part, although they’ve both given up long balls, and Schmidt’s curve has set tongues wagging.

Meanwhile, Loaisiga has faced the minimum in five innings pitched.

Tanaka, Paxton, and Happ make a combined $52.5 million this season — more than enough to get creative if some or all of it were freed up next year. The Yankees proved last winter they’re still willing to splash serious cash, but the the circumstances and the targets of that spending have to meet the team’s needs.

Righties like Marcus Stroman and Jake Odorizzi, both veterans of the AL East, will be free agents. Last year, Cashman passed on Stroman at the trade deadline because he didn’t believe the then-Blue Jay would even crack the Yankees’ October rotation. As for Odorizzi, ZiPS projects a respectable 2.6 WAR and 4.09 FIP in 140.2 innings in 2021, his age-31 season. Would the Yankees kick the tires on either pitcher?

There are other hurlers out there with club, mutual, or vesting options that might be available next winter, known commodities (for better or worse) like Corey Kluber and Chris Archer. While they could in theory factor into the Yankees’ plans, it’s hard to imagine them becoming staples in a future Yankees rotation, given age and track record.

It’s possible the performances of Tanaka, Paxton, and Happ will make these questions irrelevant. If they all deliver great years, then Cashman might prioritize inking them to new deals, so long as the price is reasonable enough. But the regular season, especially for this particular triumvirate, can be uneven, and their cost, in both dollars and years, will shape forthcoming negotiations.

The years present an interesting choice, because a raft of young pitching talent is coming beyond the guys already mentioned. The ceilings of prospects like Luis Medina, Luis Gil, Alexander Vizcaino, Roansy Contreras, and Miguel Yajure are still being explored, and if just one of them fulfills his promise, it could help redraw the roadmap for the Yankees moving forward.

Their development, though, will still take time. The 2021 Yankees will have to bridge the gap between their current staff and the hopeful emergence of the next generation — all while competing for a World Series.

Which means now is the time to learn if the Yankees have the arms in-house to get the job done. In an ideal world we’d be delaying this question until November, after a healthy rotation has helped their teammates hoist the hunk of metal that is the World Series trophy. But the present rotation troubles are here and they’re real; the Yankees should search for whatever small advantages they can build from a bad situation.