Make no mistake: the Yankees need starting pitching reinforcements. They lost Corey Kluber to the Tampa Bay Rays, and there are workload issues with Luis Severino and injury questions with Jameson Taillon. Domingo Germán hasn’t progressed as hoped, and who knows if Nestor Cortes Jr. can repeat his 2021 performance?
The fact remains that there is a lot of uncertainty surrounding the pitching staff; more specifically, the starters. Free agency was a viable avenue to bring an upgrade, but the team took a passive approach and now, the best pitcher available is Carlos Rodón, who is very good but is an injury wild card as well (even in a comeback season, he suffered arm soreness down the stretch).
The Yankees sat with their arms crossed and saw how teams swept away the player pool in anticipation to the MLB lockout. On the pitching side, Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander, Kevin Gausman, Robbie Ray, Jon Gray, Noah Syndergaard, Marcus Stroman, Rich Hill, Steven Matz, Eduardo Rodriguez, and several more are now unavailable.
That leaves the Bombers with the trade market, and a handful of free agents, as potential avenues to improve their pitching corps. There might be a fit with the Oakland Athletics if they decide to proceed with the much-discussed teardown that could include dealing Matt Olson, Matt Chapman, Chris Bassitt, Sean Manaea, Frankie Montas, and potentially others.
That last name, Montas, would be a perfect fit for the Yankees if it not for his 2019 PED suspension, which cost him 80 games (more details here) and may mean a larger penalty if caught again. Since he does has that working against him, we will downgrade him to being a very good fit for what the Yanks are trying to do.
The 28-year-old would be expensive to acquire, in terms of prospects, because he dominated in 2021 and has two seasons of team control remaining (God knows if that will change with the new CBA). In 32 starts, he threw 187 frames and finished with a 3.37 ERA, 207 strikeouts, and a 1.18 WHIP. His 26.6-percent strikeout rate and 7.3-percent walk rate are signs of a very good hurler.
Montas originally broke out in 2019 with a 2.63 ERA and 3.0 fWAR in 96 innings, but his season was cut short by the suspension in late June. He returned to make just one start near the end of September. Montas then proceeded to have a nightmarish 2020 pandemic campaign, with a 5.60 ERA and 4.74 FIP in 53 frames.
Since the start of Montas’s 2021 season was also sluggish (6.20 ERA entering May), I’m willing to give him a pass for 2020 due to small sample size. To his credit, he didn’t dwell on his struggles and became a stellar pitcher from then on. He was one of the most reliable, durable, and dependable arms in the American League. Looking at Montas’s splits, he had a much better second half (2.17 ERA over 87 frames) than what he did before the All-Star break, when he finished with a 4.41 ERA over 100 innings.
Stuff-wise, Montas has advanced a lot. He currently relies on four pitches: a very balanced split: sinker (29.2%), a high-90s four-seam fastball (29%), split-finger (22.4%), and slider (19.4%). The splitter is particularly nasty, and he had a bonkers 51.4-percent whiff rate in 2021. The slider checked in at 31.5 percent. Montas uses his sinker to keep the ball in the ground, and the rest of his arsenal to get whiffs.
Frankie Montas, 97mph Fastball and 87mph Splitter, Overlay. pic.twitter.com/0HLdqKCLNk— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) September 2, 2021
So, to sum up, Montas keeps the ball on the ground (he had a solid 43.5-percent groundball rate in 2021), he has no platoon issues (.290 wOBA against both lefties and righties), he has no issues pitching away from home (3.34 home ERA, 3.40 away ERA), and has two seasons of team control remaining with a projected 2022 salary of $5.2 million. That definitely seems like a pitcher who the Yankees should target.
Montas would look very, very good after Gerrit Cole in the Yankees’ rotation. Will general manager Brian Cashman give up the necessary pieces to pull off a deal? Will the A’s be truly willing to discuss him? We will find out… eventually.