Frankie Montas’ Yankee career has not gotten off to the start anyone involved would have hoped for. After New York sent a package of prospects to Oakland for Montas and Lou Trivino, the deal has yielded largely underwhelming results. Trivino has been excellent, but Montas, the obvious headliner of the deal, has been quite disappointing.
Over eight starts, Montas has worked just 39.2 innings and has a 6.35 ERA with New York. He has flashed front-of-the-rotation stuff throughout his career, and even occasionally with the Yankees, but his status in this rotation is in question at this point, especially if his shoulder issue requires a stint on the injured list.
Montas has been especially poor of late. In his last two starts, the righty has pitched a total of nine innings, giving up eight earned runs, walking eight and striking out just six. He’s seen drastic drop-offs across the board when comparing his time with Oakland this year to his tenure in New York:
With Oakland: 19 starts, 3.19 ERA, 3.35 FIP, 25.8 K%, 6.6 BB%
With New York: 8 starts, 6.35 ERA, 4.92 FIP, 17.8 K%, 8.1 BB%
Pretty much any topline measure shows that Montas has not been close to the pitcher he was with the Athletics, and as the team’s marquee acquisition at the deadline, the player they hoped would help push the club over the top, it has been a deeply disappointing run thus far.
As the end of September approaches, and as the prospect of postseason rosters demands more attention, where Montas stands in this rotation’s hierarchy becomes more important. At this point, Gerrit Cole and Nestor Cortes are likely locked into the top two spots. Beyond that, the Yankees have questions to answer. In a must-win scenario, somewhat surprisingly, a debate between Jameson Taillon and Montas, or even Luis Severino, depending on how he looks in his return from injury, is a legitimate one.
The difference, in an oversimplified way, comes down to Montas’ ceiling and floor. It would be hard to dispute that he has shown the highest potential of anyone in the back end of the rotation. He throws hard, has good life on his pitches, and has top-shelf results in his not so distant past. He has also shown himself to be blow-up prone in his time with the Yankees. Montas could get crushed on any given night; he also could plausibly shove. It would seem that Taillon’s floor would be a bit higher, and his ceiling lower.
In that same vein, Montas’ control hasn’t always been top of the line, which feeds into that propensity for throwing out a dud. This is a part of his game that has regressed since the trade, along with a decrease in strikeouts. It shouldn’t be forgotten, however, that he has also had a handful of solid starts for New York, and that he finished sixth in Cy Yong voting a year ago. That’s a level that someone like Taillon likely isn’t quite capable of reaching.
Regardless, Montas’ time in New York hasn’t done much to inspire comfort going into a big game, even if his peak is higher than some of his rotation-mates. Going with someone who might be seen as a bit more dependable in a must-win scenario is a defendable position to take. For his faults, Taillon has given up five or more runs just four times this year. He rarely puts his team in a deep hole, just as he rarely is capable of shutting out an opposing team for six-plus innings. If the Yankees want someone who can turn over a lineup twice without getting crushed, they can opt for Taillon in October.
There is also the possibility that Severino comes back and starts where he left off, and if he’s able to work his pitch count up a bit more, he could provide a preferable option behind Cole and Cortes. Even then, though, the Yankees would have difficult decisions to make about a potential Game Four in a playoff series.
It is not time to give up on Montas, as he is a good pitcher capable of being a top-end arm for the Yankees. But as the postseason looms, if these struggles continue for the righty, opting for someone with a higher floor, even without the potential Montas has, may end up being the play. How Montas’ shoulder ailment plays out and how rebounds from it likely will determine if the Yankees can even consider trusting him when the chips are down.