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Evaluating the Yankees’ options after missing out on Yamamoto

The Yanks could pursue different routes in filling out their rotation.

New York Yankees GM on phone during spring training Photo by Thomas A. Ferrara/Newsday RM via Getty Images

The thing about having depth is that if you make enough moves, it can disappear in an instant. While we’re not quite there yet with the Yankees rotation, there’s a clear lack of options outside of the starting five after missing out on Yoshinobu Yamamoto. Gerrit Cole is the best pitcher in the sport, and a healthy Carlos Rodón is about as dominant as a number two as one could ask for. Subsequently, you need to get generous quite fast to feel great about the Yankees rotation.

Nestor Cortes at his best is also a top number three, but between him and Rodón getting near that, it’s already far from a lock in the range of outcomes given both player’s injuries, inconsistencies, and other factors. Clarke Schmidt was below league average last season (93 ERA+). Although he flashed some potential in 2022, ideally he’d be someone to fight his way into the rotation, not a potential number three given the inevitable missed time from one of the two southpaws. Eating innings should can only take you so far.

And here we get to the real issue. It’s okay not to have an All-Star-caliber arm at the bottom of your rotation. In fact, that’s the norm for most contenders, but right now, the Yankees are grasping at straws to fill their rotation, and thoroughly ill-equipped to handle major injuries. Will Warren is the name that comes to mind as the favorite for the fifth-starter role, and he’s worked his way up to earned a chance at it, but he’s far from a slam dunk to stick in the role. Not only is there not a high-profile prospect ready to take that shot, but there’s no one with much in the way of MLB experience.

Taking all of this into consideration, even if there is a healthy sense that Yoshinobu Yamamoto was an outlier in terms of the Yankees free agent plans, there’s work to be done. While the Yankees aren’t fully desperate for pitching in the sense of needing aces, they do need to bulk up and with that in mind, there are a few options to consider.

Option A

New York’s first option would be the most aggressive one, and it’d mean going after the closest thing to Yamamoto that’s in the market right now. To be fair, there’s no one quite like the Japanese starter, but there remain options of high order on the market, including the reigning NL Cy Young winner, Blake Snell. Jordan Montgomery isn’t quite in that category, but acknowledging he is set to earn a rather lucrative multi-year deal in wake of a dynamite run in Texas, we’ll also include him here with Snell.

The two southpaws are more or less the two remaining options on the market that would require a long-term financial commitment from the Yankees (Shōta Imanaga is another but is probably more of an A2 option in comparison to their A1). There are major caveats to argue for, in terms of this not being the ideal choice. Snell has missed significant time in two of the last three seasons and carries a lot of the same injury risks that the team has with Rodón, not to mention a tinge of the wildness — to be generous. It’s not difficult to make a case for a lower-profile arm over Montgomery, analyzing his total body of work, including his time with the Yankees, and not just the positive note on which he entered free agency. If ownership was unwilling to match Yamamoto’s offer from the Dodgers, it’s rather difficult to see them being the highest bidder for one of these two.

Option B

There is a multitude of arms that have yet to sign and could provide the depth this team sorely needs. Names such as Marcus Stroman, Sean Manaea, Lucas Giolito, James Paxton, and Frankie Montas, among others, are all available and potentially could be acquired for short term deals no longer than a year or two.

Signing any combination of these names won’t make front-page headlines, not to the degree of Yamamoto, but it’d go a long way in establishing a new floor for this team. Perhaps some combination of a reliable unspectacular arm like Stroman and someone with a bit more upside, but also more injury risk in Paxton or Montas.

Peter Brody argued for an extensive look at Warren here, and he touched on the alarming volume of arms that have left the system. Later on, Malachi Hayes argued that the organization’s pitching ranks require a bit of replenishing here. Both illustrate the need to bulk up the depth chart. Even if the Yankees do rightfully end up signing two established big-league starters, chances are Will Warren will still receive many opportunities, not only in spring but across the season.

Option C

Barring anything else here, there is the trade front. The Yankees have made some minor deals to acquire arms that bolstered their bullpen depth and perhaps give them some further options as stretched-out starters, but there are bona fide starters available as well. Of the bunch that are both available and intriguing enough to consider, Dylan Cease’s name comes to the forefront and Shane Bieber pops up as well. There’s also the less likely splash play with Corbin Burnes, but a deal of that magnitude even as a rental would further disrupt the depth that is so precarious on this team already. As such, this seems like the least likely avenue forward, as it requires them to take some smaller steps back that they need to avoid in order to keep their foundation as a playoff contender stable.

There are several paths for the Yankees to pursue, and they all have their ups and downs. That comes with the territory of whiffing on the superstar that would’ve slotted in perfectly to solve their problem, but there’s no sense in wallowing on that. The goal is to improve despite the setback, and to do that they’ll have to commit somewhere.