The Yankee rotation is in kind of a funny spot. Gerrit Cole, Nestor Cortes, and Luis Severino offer one of the best top threes in the game, but you’d be forgiven for being worried about any of them. Cole has had his performance warts, Cortes is coming off his biggest workload ever, and Sevy carries injury concerns. Although the ceiling for the rotation is high, it wouldn’t be a bad idea by any stretch to bolster the depth.
Having said that, I’m never a fan of depth-only moves, especially in free agency. It’s the Yankees; they can afford it. Moves made in the marketplace should be done with an eye on boosting the ceiling too, and Chris Bassitt might be just the right arm to strike that balance. The right-hander is coming off a 3.42 ERA/3.66 FIP season with the Mets, and going back to 2018 has thrown just short of 600 innings of 3.29 ERA ball, albeit while dealing with a couple of injuries. (In fact, my colleague Peter discussed Bassitt as a potential trade target last offseason while the A’s hosted their fire sale.)
Bassitt throws a heavy sinker-cutter combination designed to suppress contact quality, placing in the top quartile in baseball in exit velo and hard-hit rate every year since 2018, and one of the 25 best groundball pitchers in the game over that same span. He’s always going to be the kind of pitcher who outperforms his FIP, but we know that certain guys with the ability to consistently engineer soft and medium contact on the ground — as well as be one of the top 25 hurlers at inducing pop flies — will do that year over year.
What should make Bassitt particularly intriguing to the Yankees is his repertoire, and the success the club has had with similar profiles. His sinker doesn’t burn in at 98 mph like Clay Holmes or Jonathan Loáisiga, but his big three mix of the sinker, cutter and slider reminds me a lot of a right-handed Cortes, perhaps with less deception in delivery. His sinker generates more arm side run — 16 percent better than league average — than Cortes’ fastball, although the latter is a stronger pitch overall.
The other part about Bassitt — one that should really excite the Yankees’ balance sheet enthusiasts — is what he’s likely to cost. MLBTR and FanGraphs ran separate estimates at between 3/$51MM and 3/$60MM. At age 35, no team is going to be willing to go long on his arm, and with the relative cost savings elsewhere in the rotation — a projected total of $26 million for Cortes, Severino and Frankie Montas — going to a slightly higher AAV for the shorter term may work out and give the Yankee rotation a strong boost.
Adding Bassitt is not a Justin Verlander or Jacob deGrom-style splash and it’s not as exciting as trading for someone like Pablo López either, but he might end up being the most likely kind of option should the front office make an effort to improve the overall starting rotation.