Aaron Judge would always be the first priority for the New York Yankees over the offseason. However, a position they also felt an urgent need to upgrade was starting pitching. They did just that by signing Carlos Rodón to a deal, picking up Luis Severino’s option, and avoiding arbitration with Nestor Cortes and Frankie Montas. Although they did lose Jameson Taillon to the Chicago Cubs, there is no doubt that they improved at the position and are currently sitting as one of the best rotations in Major League Baseball.
It was announced just recently that Montas would miss at least the first month of the season due to injury, which isn’t a major loss, though it is one of note. Even without him, the Yankees project to have one of the best rotations in the league, But competition in the 2023 AL East figures to be tough. How does the staff they stack up against their divisional opponents, and which rotations may give the Yankees the most trouble come the 2023 season?
First, it’s important to note that plenty can change between now and the season’s start. Players get injured; others get released, signed to new rosters, or traded. There are plenty of things that can happen to a starting rotation over a few months, especially with some of these younger teams. However, looking ahead is never a bad thing to do, and it will help us put the quality of this Yankee rotation in context.
I would also like to add that, yes, I understand that fWAR will not provide the full picture for pitchers. However, it is a quick and easy way to help provide a number equivalence to a pitcher’s performance.
So, on to the rotations.
We can start with the Toronto Blue Jays, who finished seven games behind the Yankees in 2022. Their starter pitching fWAR last season was eighth in the major leagues, two ahead of the Yankees.
The only weak link in the rotation last season was Yusei Kikuchi, who is still in the projected starting rotation for 2023. That will likely change once Hyun Jin-Ryu returns from Tommy John surgery in early July. Alek Manoah and José Berríos are two of the big names outside of Ryu who can do plenty of damage—Manoah, who came in third in 2022 Cy Young voting, with his fastball, and Berríos with his deceptive off-speed pitches, though the latter is looking to bounce back after a miserable 2022. Kevin Gausman was the best of the bunch last year, racking up 5.7 fWAR alone, which was fifth highest among all pitchers in MLB.
Toronto also added the rock-solid Chris Bassitt on a three-year free agent deal, rounding out a strong top five. If Berríos can right himself, the Jays have as much upside as almost any rotation in the AL. But that upside likely falls short of New York’s, and the Jays do have question marks around Berríos’ dependability and Ryu’s health.
Next are the Tampa Bay Rays. The oldest player in their projected starting rotation per FanGraphs is Jeffrey Springs, at 30. The other names you will recognize in the rotation are Shane McClanahan, who came in sixth in Cy Young voting in 2022 and led the rotation with 3.5 fWAR, and Tyler Glasnow, who pitched only two regular season games and one postseason game after returning from Tommy John surgery.
Tampa also sports the interesting Drew Rasmussen, who came behind McClanahan, Kluber (signed with the Boston Red Sox), and Springs in 2022 with 2.9 fWAR (only .1 behind Kluber and Springs, who were tied at 3.0), and Zach Eflin, who signed a three-year deal with the Rays this offseason and returned from injury to make an impact with the Philadelphia Phillies last season out of the bullpen. While the likes of Springs, Rasmussen, and Eflin aren’t household names, this is a very dangerous outfit. McClanahan and Glasnow both have ace stuff, and if the depth can hold behind them, this could easily be a top-five rotation in the sport.
Next is a team that plenty of people had fun watching throughout 2022—the Baltimore Orioles. If you want to talk about a young rotation, now’s your chance. The oldest member of the Orioles’ starting staff is 35, in the form of Kyle Gibson, who pitched to the tune of a 5.05 ERA and 1.8 fWAR with the Phillies last season. After that, there is a seven-year drop-off to 28-year-old Tyler Wells.
The Orioles last season were as 25th in starter fWAR, with Dean Kremer leading the way with 1.7. One of baseball’s top prospects, Grayson Rodriguez, is projected to be in the starting rotation. Another player that needs to be mentioned is John Means, who will be returning from Tommy John surgery.
Plenty of other players spent time in the Orioles’ rotation last season. The two projected by FanGraphs to be in there along with these other four (Means is still returning from injury in this scenario) are Wells and Kyle Bradish. Both have shown flashes, but are far from known quantities. This rotation is still a work in progress, and while the recovering Means was once a quality starter and Rodriguez has ace upside, the staff doesn’t compare with the ones at the top of the AL East.
Finally, we have the Boston Red Sox, who had the 18th-best starter fWAR in the MLB, which is surprising in some respects considering they finished lower than the Orioles in the standings. Boston’s best pitcher in terms of talent is Chris Sale, but the question remains or whether or not he can stay healthy for the duration an MLB season. The Red Sox also have two other recognizable names in Corey Kluber and James Paxton, two former Yankees whose paths that have converged in Boston. Kluber had a fine year with the Rays last year, while Paxton hasn’t pitched more than five games over the last two seasons due to his injuries.
The last two pitchers projected to be in the rotation for the Red Sox are Nick Pivetta and Garrett Whitlock. Pivetta has had a minor career resurgence with Boston, turning in solid backend results across the last two seasons. Whitlock’s presence pains Yankee fans as he’s excelled at times after being poached by the Red Sox in the Rule 5 Draft, but he’s yet to find consistent success as a starter. In all, the Red Sox are a big market team with some nominally big names in their rotation, but in practice, this group leaves you wanting more.
So, which rotation would most give the Yankees fits in a three or four-game series? The best answer is the Blue Jays, who would have a terrifying top four if things break right. Gausman and Manoah are known quantities, and Berríos and Ryu have the potential to make this a deep rotation. However, intrigue remains with the rest of the division. The Rays have a stellar top two, and the Red Sox rotation still somewhat fascinates me if Sale stays healthy.
Ultimately, though, this exercise has revealed that none of the other AL East rotations quite has the depth or upside as the one in the Bronx. The Blue Jays have a huge ceiling, and the Rays have their aces, but the Yankees can match those teams on both fronts. Now, to wait to see how it all plays out in 2023.