clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Help Wanted: High-minors pitching, experience preferred

Cautioning the Yankees against over-relying on their own pitching development chops.

If you buy something from an SB Nation link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics statement.

Arizona Diamondbacks v New York Yankees Photo by New York Yankees/Getty Images

Last week, Peter Brody dropped a nice argument on these pages about why the Yankees need to consider adding two more starting pitchers this free agent period, even if one of those starters is Yoshinobu Yamamoto. You should check it out if you haven’t already, because I pretty strongly agree with it, and wanted to expound a little further. While revisiting Peter’s points, the following paragraph stuck out.

The minor league pitching depth behind the projected five major league starters has taken an almighty blow over the last 18 months, the Yankees essentially emptying the cupboard of young arms in (mostly failed) trades for established MLB players. Starting with the trade for Andrew Benintendi, the Yankees have dealt away T.J. Sikkema, Beck Way, Luis Medina, JP Sears, Hayden Wesneski, Ken Waldichuk, Greg Weissert, Richard Fitts, Nicholas Judice, and MiLB Pitching Prospect of the Year Drew Thorpe, while also seeing Mitch Spence, Matt Sauer, and Carson Coleman depart via the Rule 5 Draft.

I want to stop and think about this for a moment longer, because holy cow that is a lot of pitching. And that list, of course, doesn’t include Michael King, Jhony Brito, and Randy Vásquez, all three of whom were poised to play roles of varying significance with the 2024 Yankees.

New York is starving for arms at the top of the system post-Soto trade. As Peter noted, alarmingly, Roster Resource currently has Clayton Beeter penciled into the fifth spot* in the rotation, and even if you make the assumption that Yoshinobu Yamamoto (or at least one high-level free agent) will push him out of the MLB picture, it doesn’t make the picture in Triple-A Scranton much prettier. In addition to Beeter, there’s Will Warren, who The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal noted “is expected to get a long look in spring training, either as a fifth starter or long reliever.”

*Check out Noah’s article from December 10th for more on Beeter and Warren.

After those two though, it’s nothing but question marks after that unless they want to rush top pitching prospect Chase Hampton, who has just 11 starts above A-ball. So now, it’s something with the potential to sink them in 2024 even moreso than it did in 2023, if it’s not addressed.

Behind Beeter and Warren, there’s Luis Gil, who was electric in his first shot at the big leagues, but he only made it back for a pair of Low-A appearances at the tail end of last year after Tommy John surgery back in 2022. Yoendrys Gómez’s 3.58 ERA at Double-A Somerset last year is quite nice, as was his stuff in a brief two-inning cameo with the big club last September, but his innings-per-start average of just over 3.1 in 2023 indicates he still has some work to do before he’s a viable option in the majors.

Sean Boyle had a 6.69 ERA in nine starts with Scranton last year before missing the remainder of the campaign with an injury. Blane Abeyta, who occupies the last spot in Roster Resource’s estimation of their rotation, had a 5.67 ERA in nearly 130 Double-A innings last year. As is stands right now, none of these pitchers fit the description of the sixth, seventh, or maybe even eighth man up in a rotation on a championship-caliber team.

World Baseball Classic Semifinals: Mexico v Japan
Yoshinobu Yamamoto alone won’t solve the Yankees’ pitching depth problems
Photo by Megan Briggs/Getty Images

That could change in the coming year. Having spent most of the past year breaking down the nuts and bolts of Yankees pitching, I’m as big of a believer as anybody in their ability to turn unremarkable draft picks and international signings into productive big leaguers, and their seemingly uncanny ability to develop pitchers is the engine that’s driven much of their transaction machine recently.

None of the pitchers the Yankees have dealt were drafted higher than the fifth round, nor were they highly touted amateurs. I’m sure Brian Cashman felt fine about giving up all that pitching in the summer of 2022 for Frankie Montas and Scott Effross because he was confident that within a year, they’d be able to replace them with promising enough prospects to trade for someone like, say, Juan Soto, if they were to become available. As little as Montas did for them, there aren’t many organizations that could belly flop on such a deal and have the capacity to trade four more pitchers from the top levels of their system barely a year later. The system is working.

That doesn’t mean they should purely rely on it continuing to work. Even beyond Yamamoto or any other top free agent you can name, they need to replenish their staffs in the upper minors with external help in a way they’ve generally declined to do in recent years. Not because the player development can’t be relied on — it clearly can — but after all the attrition the system has suffered, the margins are simply too thin. You can’t make four- and five-for-one trades forever. There’s a thin line between operating according to the strengths of the organization and over-relying on the ability to pluck prospects out of thin air year-in, year-out. Unless they pick up a healthy number of mercenaries before the spring, I worry that the Yankees are still trending to far towards the latter.

I say “mercenaries” because these don’t need to be interesting or long-term deals, just near-minimum or minor league contracts for guys who have at least been here before. In a way, I’m arguing that the Yankees need to try the “take a flyer on Jake Bauers” approach, but with the pitching staff. The difference being that in this scenario, the Yankees are still paying up for premium top-of-the-line pitching anyway, so whoever the pitching equivalent of Bauers is, they’ll be more than one injury away from being a rotation mainstay for half the season.

The point is that having Brito and Vásquez and their paucity of high-level success be first in line in case of injury didn’t work out very well in 2023, and now, the ranks are even thinner entering 2024. Hopefully, they’ve learned to plan for the worst. Because when something arises that prevents all three of Carlos Rodón, Nestor Cortes, and Clarke Schmidt from being good for 30 starts and 150+ innings — as it almost certainly will — having more backup to choose from could be the safety net that prevents a repeat of this last summer.