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How the Yankees’ rotation compares to the rest of the American League contenders

There is a very competent rotation in the Bronx right now. Is it the best in the junior circuit?

Division Series - New York Yankees v Tampa Bay Rays - Game Five Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

The Yankees lost three-fifths of their rotation when free agency started, and they didn’t retain any of them: J.A. Happ went to the Minnesota Twins, Masahiro Tanaka flew back to Japan, and James Paxton ended up joining the Seattle Mariners. Yet, in a short period of time, general manager Brian Cashman managed to put together one of the most interesting rotations in the American League by adding Corey Kluber via free agency and Jameson Taillon via trade.

How does the Yankees’ rotation compare to the rest of the American League contenders? Let’s take a look:

1) New York Yankees

  • Gerrit Cole
  • Corey Kluber
  • Jameson Taillon
  • Jordan Montgomery
  • Domingo Germán

The Yankees’ rotation looks like the best group among American League contenders, if they hit on any of the gambles that they made. It has a fairly high floor thanks to Cole up front and solid depth, and a high ceiling when healthy, although it’s fair to point out that if injuries pop up then they could quickly find themselves in trouble. That’s true for every pitching staff, but the Yankees have notable health concerns for at least four of their expected starters.

Keep in mind that Luis Severino could be added to this group come July, as he completes his rehab from Tommy John surgery. If he comes back strong, the Bombers’ unit is unmatched in the junior circuit.

2) Houston Astros

  • Zack Greinke
  • Framber Valdez
  • Lance McCullers
  • José Urquidy
  • Cristian Javier

This is one of the most underrated units in baseball. Justin Verlander won’t be starting any games in 2021 because of Tommy John surgery, but get this: the highest ERA by an Astros starter in 2020 belonged to Zack Greinke, at 4.03. Urquidy, Javier, and Valdez aren’t household names, but the chagrin of most fans outside of the Houston area, the Astros have managed to cobble together a rotation high on stuff and upside, if not name recognition.

3) Chicago White Sox

  • Lucas Giolito
  • Lance Lynn
  • Dallas Keuchel
  • Dylan Cease
  • Carlos Rodón/Michael Kopech

While Dylan Cease finished 2020 with a decent 4.01 ERA, his 34/44 BB/K ratio suggests a much worse performance. He looks like the weak link in the revamped White Sox’s rotation, one that now boasts a co-ace in Lance Lynn to team with Giolito.

If Michael Kopech can return to health as good as advertised, this unit could vault up. But the lack of quality depth behind the top three keeps it from ranking among baseball’s true elite.

4) Oakland Athletics

  • Jesús Luzardo
  • Chris Bassit
  • Frankie Montás
  • Sean Manaea
  • Mike Fiers/AJ Puk

The A’s rotation is actually very stable. It has Luzardo’s sky-high upside, a guy with a very high floor in Chris Bassit (2.29 ERA in 63 frames in the 2020 season) and Montás’ bounceback potential.

After that, Manaea and Fiers offer league-average innings at the back. The wild card here is AJ Puk; Athletics general manager David Forst said in December that he counts the injury-prone lefty among the members of this season’s starting rotation. If he is healthy, he should be a difference-maker.

5) Cleveland:

  • Shane Bieber
  • Zach Plesac
  • Aaron Civale
  • Triston McKenzie
  • Logan Allen/Cal Quantrill

Whether or not Cleveland is a contender depends largely on the strength of its rotation. The unit has the upside to top this list if the organization works its magic in player development when it comes to McKenzie, Civale and Quantrill.

Bieber is the reigning Cy Young award winner and is coming off a 1.63 ERA season in 77.1 innings, with 122 punchouts. But Plesac came out of nowhere and put up a 2.28 ERA with more than a strikeout per frame, too.

6) Minnesota Twins:

  • Kenta Maeda
  • José Berríos
  • Michael Pineda
  • J.A. Happ
  • Matt Shoemaker

Maeda and Berríos form a very strong one-two punch. The Twins’ rotation is a good unit, which is why the sixth position in this series is a bit misleading. It has more to do with the fact that others appear to be slightly better.

Happ and Shoemaker actually offer a nice floor at the back of the rotation as well, while Michael Pineda, always mercurial while in pinstripes, has managed a 115 ERA+ as a member of the Twins.

7) Tampa Bay Rays:

  • Tyler Glasnow
  • Rich Hill
  • Chris Archer
  • Ryan Yarbrough
  • Michael Wacha

Losing Charlie Morton and Blake Snell is a huge blow for the Rays’ rotation. However, they got a couple of interesting “projects” in Chris Archer, an old friend, and Michael Wacha. Both have bounceback potential, particularly once they get to work with the Rays’ coaching staff.

Let’s also not forget the fact that Tampa will eventually get Brendan McKay (shoulder) back, and Brent Honeywell should be ready to start the season. Luis Patiño and Shane McClanahan should be ready to contribute at some point, too.

8) Toronto Blue Jays:

  • Hyun-Jin Ryu
  • Robbie Ray
  • Nate Pearson
  • Tanner Roark
  • Steven Matz/Ross Stripling

Ryu is a bona fide ace, but after him, things get murky. Pearson has sky-high upside but is young and an injury risk, and while Roark and Matz have talent, surely the Jays don’t want them starting playoff games.

Among American League contenders, the Blue Jays look like they boast the worst rotation, and they need to keep their options open when it comes to adding via trade or free agency.