With the start of the spring training exhibition season fast approaching, the Yankees are already dealing with some pitching problems. We can learn a thing or two about where the team is at by observing how they handle Nestor Cortes’ injury and Frankie Montas’ shoulder surgery, which will keep him out for the majority of 2023 (at the very least).
The old adage in baseball is that you can never have enough pitching depth. Six-man rotations exist in concept (and Anaheim, I suppose), but even when it seems like a team is actively pursuing them, those plans get derailed by an injury. After the Yankees signed Carlos Rodón, this starting rotation entered rarefied air, not only as far as the 2023 rankings, but over the last decade plus.
A one-through-five that included three legitimate ace-caliber arms, Cortes coming off a breakout All-Star campaign, and Montas as the indisputable best fifth man in the sport was certainly imposing. Without a single pitch having been thrown in a live game, that depth is already being tested, with multiple injuries and setbacks.
Well before pitchers and catchers even reported, it was revealed that Montas would miss at least the first month of the season, as the right-hander was dealing with shoulder inflammation — an issue that dated back to last season’s rather disappointing second half. More recently, the team formally announced Montas would have shoulder surgery, which puts the timeline of him actually pitching for the Yankees in 2023 as improbable. There is a chance that he comes back late in the year, but any truly impactful performance will come more as a surprise.
To pile on, it was reported that Cortes was dealing with a hamstring issue that not only kept him out of the World Baseball Classic but looked set to delay his spring training work. However, the hamstring seems to be healing quicker than expected, and Nasty Nestor is ahead of his recovery timeline, having taken the mound yesterday for a ‘pen session.
Digesting all of these updates, now is as good a time as any to assess the situation for this starting rotation ahead of Opening Day, and how the front office handles it will say a lot about how they perceive each issue.
A move on the free agency market or via trade would indicate a significant level of concern with Cortes. Montas is the one who will miss significant time, and might not even pitch this year. So why would a trade or free agent pickup to bolster this staff’s depth say more about how the front office feels about Cortes’ and even the oft-injured Luis Severino’s chances of remaining healthy through a full season?
It is pretty simple. One of the things we learned at last year’s deadline is that this front office is confident enough in its organizational depth to fill that fifth starter role. After acquiring Montas, instead of keeping the staff as it was with the upgrade, the team was proactive in moving reliable southpaw Jordan Montgomery for center field upgrade Harrison Bader, thus handing back the fifth spot to Domingo Germán (with Clarke Schmidt backing him up).
Whether it is Germán, Schmidt, or one of the younger options getting a bump, Cashman seems content in riding out a big four and making do with that fifth spot at the outset of 2023. Even without Montas, this is one of the top rotations in the sport. A one-two punch of Gerrit Cole and Rodón is the cream of the crop, and both Severino and Cortes flashed excellence in 2022.
If the team goes out and adds a starter—which at this point in the game, isn’t likely to be an impactful one—then that will speak more about a certain skepticism of Cortes and Severino getting through a full year without major hiccups, rather than actually replacing Montas. Clearly, the Yankees believe that they can fill his role internally. That’s no shock; after all, it’s much easier to replace a fifth starter than a more crucial mid-rotation piece.