It’s not even February and already the Yankees have experienced their first injury setback. On Saturday afternoon, we learned that No. 5 starter Frankie Montas will miss the first month of the season with shoulder inflammation.
It’s the third time that this injury cropped up in barely more than half a year. Montas was forced to exit a July 3rd start when he was still with Oakland and missed three weeks with shoulder inflammation. He then landed on the 15-day IL with the Yankees in September after an MRI revealed inflammation in the same area, rendering him all but a nonfactor in the postseason. Now, the shoulder has struck again:
Can confirm with a source that Frankie Montas is expected to miss at least the first month of the season with shoulder inflammation.— Chris Kirschner (@ChrisKirschner) January 14, 2023
The Yankees could turn to either Domingo German or Clarke Schmidt for the fifth spot in the rotation.
This is hardly what the Yankees envisioned when they made Montas their blockbuster trade deadline acquisition last year. He struggled upon his move to New York, pitching to 6.35 ERA (4.93 FIP) in eight starts. In one inning of relief in the playoffs, he served up a solo home run to Jeremy Peña in Game 1 of the ALCS.
Suddenly, the signing of superb southpaw Carlos Rodón looks all the more important. Adding arguably the best starter in the NL in 2022 always made sense, and this is exactly the type of depth-test scenario it helps overcome. Even without Montas, the Yankees’ staff projects as one of if not the best in baseball.
As for replacements in the starting rotation, Domingo Germán is the likeliest option to slot into the fifth spot. The 30-year-old righty made 14 starts last season, going 2-5 with a 3.61 ERA (108 ERA+), 4.44 FIP, and 58 strikeouts in 72.1 innings. Germán is obviously not the most glamorous option, but the Yankees seemed relatively satisfied with what he provided in terms of short-term support during the second half last year when others (like Montas) went down.
As Kirschner reported, Clarke Schmidt could earn starts, though he appeared more effective in a multi-inning relief role last season. He made 29 appearances in the regular season, sporting a 3.12 ERA (125 ERA+), 3.60 FIP, and 56 strikeouts in 57.2 innings, but surrendered some back-breaking hits in the playoffs, appearing in big spots as the bullpen depth was stretched by injuries.
Montas’ absence also opens the door for minor-leaguers like Greg Weissert, Matt Krook, Will Warren, and Randy Vasquez to impress. The Yankees thinned their upper-minors starting depth when they acquired Montas alongside Lou Trivino, sending JP Sears, Ken Waldichuk, and Luis Medina to the A’s (plus infielder Cooper Bowman), as well as Hayden Wesneski in the Scott Effross trade. Deivi García has been on a two-year slide in Double- and Triple-A since he opened eyes in his 2020 major league debut season, while Luis Gil will miss the first few months as he recovers from the Tommy John surgery he underwent at the end of last May.
If New York plans on supplementing the starting five externally, the free agent market looks sparse. None of Zack Greinke, Michael Wacha, Dylan Bundy, nor Chris Archer inspire confidence. And with the Yankees butting right up against the “Steve Cohen” fourth tax threshold, a signing feels unlikely, as does a reopening of trade talks for Marlins starter Pablo López.
Whether Montas will be game-ready a month into the season remains to be seen. Recurrence of this shoulder inflammation is concerning, and it calls into question whether Montas was fully healthy during any of his time with the Yankees last season. Pitchers usually take a little longer to get up to game speed when they miss spring training. However, with the strength of their rotation, the Yankees can afford to ease Montas through his throwing program and back to full fitness.