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Yankees Mailbag: Dodgers comparisons, prospects in relief and James Paxton

The mailbag is all in on pitching conversations this week.

American League Division Series Game 2: New York Yankees v. Tampa Bay Rays Photo by Alex Trautwig/MLB Photos via Getty Images

Good afternoon everyone, let’s dive into another round of mailbag questions. Remember to send in your questions for our weekly call by e-mail to pinstripealleyblog [at] gmail [dot] com.

The Gregorius B.I.G. asks: I was thinking about the rotation, and I realized it’s actually similar to the ones the Dodgers trotted out a few years ago. The ones that started out with Clayton Kershaw, then were filed out with several high-upside injury risks (Scott Kazmir, Alex Wood, Rich Hill, Brandon McCarthy, etc.). Outside of coming up a little bit short in the playoffs a few times, how did that work out for them? Any lessons we can apply to the Yankees?

I see where you’re drawing the comparison, but I don’t think it fits well enough to glean anything from the Yankees’ perspective. The Dodgers have used several pitchers with low floors but high upside throughout their run ruling the NL West, but they’ve had some consistent support around Kershaw. Namely, aside from 2016 and 2017, they’ve had a co-ace flanking him in Zack Greinke and Walker Beuhler. On top of that, they’ve had a consistent third starter in Hyun-Jin Ryu hanging around until last season when he signed with the Blue Jays.

If anything, this compares closer to the rotation that the Yankees envisioned they were building prior to last season. They landed their superstar in Gerrit Cole, had a promising ace in Luis Severino to pair him with, and had Masahiro Tanaka as a consistent contributor. James Paxton and J.A. Happ both had the potential to be great, but could end up giving the team nothing whether it be due to injury or performance. This year’s Yankees look different, as Corey Kluber and Jameson Taillon have both been far better at their peaks than the Dodgers pitchers mentioned — but they haven’t been at their peaks for a while.

J. Fred S. asks: Several years ago I believe the Cardinals had some success in starting out their minor league starting pitchers in the Cards’ bullpen. I doubt if the Yankees would do this with both García and Schmidt. In fact they may prefer to keep both stretched out in Scranton, but could you see them doing it with one or the other? Which would benefit them more: work on their repertoire in say 150 innings in AAA or pitch say 65 innings against major leaguers?

Of the two, I could see García fitting better in the bullpen for a number of reasons. García has had some projections fit him long-term in the bullpen, but because of his success in a short stint last year it’s likely that the Yankees still have faith in him as a starter currently. He figures to fit squarely into the competition for the fifth starter job in camp, and could even be viewed as the favorite over guys like Schmidt or Domingo German.

Schmidt has all of one major-league outing under his belt, so I expect him to be ultimately kept stretched out at AAA. García and German have roughly half of the season to impress before Severino returns if the oft-injured starter stays on track from his current rehab. That’s a significant if, but assuming that the Yankees are planning around it that leaves García with more opportunities out of the ‘pen. There is the possibility that he impresses enough to leapfrog Jordan Montgomery as well, but I don’t think Montgomery has the flexibity to pitch in relief like García can — and that may work against him for this season.

Chuck asks: The Yankees still need pitching and a lefty bat. With the money they have left is there any chance they squeeze in Paxon who still has upside?

Based on how this market has developed, I highly doubt it. Despite the tortoise speed with which it developed, the players have actually come out with some decent wins in free agency — and pitchers in particular have been outperforming projections. MLB Trade Rumors pinned him at one year and $10 million, and even if he doesn’t get an offer that’s a few million higher than that I think the Yankees aren’t interested enough.

I am surprised that Paxton is still available at this point, to be honest. Perhaps Trevor Bauer’s lengthy negotiations are holding up Paxton from finalizing anything, as many teams that are competing for Bauer could view Paxton as a suitable second option. Regardless, it appears all but certain that Paxton will be donning a new cap for 2021.