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Injuries can’t be controlled, but contingency plans can

The Dodgers faced similar adversities to the Yankees last season, and they were simply better prepared.

Houston Astros v New York Yankees Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images

It’s been quite awhile since 1958, when the Dodgers turned tail and moved to the West Coast. The Yankees and their former neighbors crossed paths in four different World Series since then, but in general, they haven’t clashed much on the field. Competition for marquee free agents has been their most recent conflict.

The crushing reality that Yoshinobu Yamamoto slipped through the Yankees’ fingers to the Dodgers has now fully set in. There will be much discussion about Brian Cashman’s next pivot, given the apparent confidence in Yamamoto coming to New York. While it’s possible those rumors were the result of misdirection by Yamamoto’s team, it stoked the fire of an ancient rivalry just a bit to see the two teams vying for the coveted free agent of this offseason. One similarity between the two teams’ circumstances last year was striking: pitching injuries.

In 2023, both teams boasted star power, but their fates ended up differently. While their playoff humiliation to the Diamondbacks understandably raised some eyebrows, the Dodgers’ regular season process to get there was among the most sound and sustainable in the sport. It caught my eye that the Dodgers and Yankees suffered the most cumulative IL days for pitchers, and in fact LA had it a fair bit worse with 2,021 days to the Bombers’ 1,517. Total salary lost to IL stints was over $42 million for the Dodgers and around $39 million for the Yankees.

Both teams had a couple star hurlers as long-term members of that list, starting with the Dodgers’ Walker Buehler and Dustin May. On an individual basis, the Dodgers had arguably more impact pitchers miss time:

Spotrac

The Yankees’ rotation was also devastated, though. Three projected starters missed most of the year — Frankie Montas and Nestor Cortes were less impactful salary hits. Carlos Rodón’s sunk cost stung the most:

Spotrac

Given how differently their seasons ended up from very similar adversity, it’s worth looking into how exactly the more successful team handled their pitching depth.

The Dodgers used the Boy Scout pitching strategy: always be prepared. They stockpiled high-minors arms—not even necessarily heralded prospects—before the season started in anticipation of inevitable pitching injuries. Their IL stints were varied but indeed skewed toward the pitching side with plenty of long-term arm ailments, per True Blue LA.

The brilliance of this approach is apparent. The Dodgers knew their lineup was full of stalwarts and quality major-league bench talent. Their pitching staff looked good on paper, but they diverted ample minor league capital in pure anticipation of injuries, and they ended up needing every bit of it. Entirely new contributors like Gavin Stone (31 IP), Ryan Pepiot* (42 IP), Emmet Sheehan (60.1 IP), and Bobby Miller (124 IP) saved their season and propelled them to an NL West crown.

*Pepiot’s mini-breakout had the added benefit of later helping them net Tyler Glasnow from Tampa Bay this offseason as well.

Here’s the bad news: the Yankees just emptied out their high-minors pitching depth to grab Juan Soto and Trent Grisham from San Diego. Few would blame New York for doing it, as their offense was awfully disappointing in 2023 and they needed to make a statement in that regard if they had any hope of competing for a championship in 2024.

But New York had young pitchers step in admirably last year too — by trading Jhony Brito, Randy Vásquez, prospect Drew Thorpe, and most notably Michael King, the Yankees left themselves shallow at the exact spot that saved the Dodgers’ skin in 2023. Even getting Alex Verdugo from Boston necessitated a concession of younger pitching depth. And rather than Yamamoto swag, Yankees fans had to open a stocking full of coal for Christmas.

While Soto’s acquisition is the offseason headline, the necessary cost was steep and entirely on the pitching depth. Yamamoto is gone to California, and so are four talented young arms. Even if one is optimistic about the chances of Will Warren and company pitching in during the 2024 campaign, the Yankees have plenty of work left to do this offseason.