Pitching at the MLB level is an extremely demanding activity. The goal for starters (and for pitching coaches, really) is throwing harder with more horizontal and vertical break on their pitches rather than building stamina or going deep into the outing. That’s a thing of the past.
Obviously, this approach leads to nastier pitches, but also, to lots of injuries, and teams are required to enter the season with several arms capable of starting an MLB game. In the past, clubs didn’t have too much beyond the five starters in the rotation; maybe there was a Ramiro Mendoza-esque swing man ready to step in, if needed. Now? It’s a different story.
Let’s examine the situation in the AL East. The New York Yankees, Tampa Bay Rays, and Baltimore Orioles had 15 different pitchers starting at least one game this year. The Boston Red Sox used fewer, at 10, but the Toronto Blue Jays employed even more, at 16.
Now, if we take out Lucas Luetge, Wandy Peralta, and Nick Nelso — all short relievers who appeared as openers — we get 12 starting pitchers who took the ball at least once: Gerrit Cole, Jordan Montgomery, Corey Kluber, Domingo Germán, Jameson Taillon, Néstor Cortes Jr., Michael King (later sent to the bullpen), Luis Gil, Deivi García, Asher Wojciechowski, Clarke Schmidt, and Andrew Heaney.
That doesn’t mean the Yankees need to have 12 star pitchers if they want to win the East or make the playoffs, but it’s pretty clear that five, six, or seven won’t suffice. What is the perfect number of starters to have on the roster by the time Opening Day rolls? And how many do the Yankees have at the moment?
Ideally, to avoid the Wojciechowskis of the world as much as possible, a team like the Yankees would employ at least nine or ten quality starters between established veterans (like Cole), MLB-ready prospects (like Schmidt), unproven-but-talented pitchers with potential (like Cortes was to the 2021 team), and other young prospects with things to work on or prove (like Gil and García).
And, ideally, the Gils and Garcías would be last resort options, at the bottom of the MLB depth chart, as they need to work on their game and it’s preferable that they do it in a low-stress environment. Of course, these things are fluid and will largely depend on the progress they show in the minors.
Right now, the following starting pitchers are under contract for 2022: Cole, Montgomery, Taillon, Cortes, Germán, King, Gil, García, Schmidt, and an ideally fully-recovered Luis Severino. King has been a solid pitching prospect, but he seems ticketed to the bullpen, given his strong showing there.
That leaves nine usable options at the moment. García is a particularly frustrating case, given that he struggled mightily in 2021 and unless he shows that he’s turned a corner over a sustained period of time next year, he shouldn’t factor into key plans. We are now at eight hurlers, with the potential of welcoming back Deivi if he rebounds.
Severino and Taillon are injury risks, and after ankle surgery, the latter is a question mark for Opening Day. At the moment, the Yankees appear to have between seven and eight spots covered. To get to our magic nine or ten, they need to add two or three legitimate pitchers to next year’s plans. That seems about right.
The two or three hurlers don’t all have to be All-Stars. They could be a young, controllable players acquired via trade, or perhaps a solid, mid-range free agent. They could even be lottery tickets or depth arms. There are several avenues to fill overall pitching depth. But at least one of them should be an impact pitcher.
There are several potentially enticing options out there who we’ll soon cover in our annual free agent target series, like Robbie Ray, Kevin Gausman, Marcus Stroman, Carlos Rodón, Noah Syndergaard, Justin Verlander, Anthony DeSclafani, Jon Gray, and more. Heck, Corey Kluber might not fill the category of “impact arm” anymore, but bringing him back is not entirely out of the question, either.
One way or another, the Yankees should add two or three quality pitchers during the offseason to complete the puzzle for the 2022 campaign. The foundation is set, but reinforcements are needed.