Eons ago, in December of 2022, things felt a heck of a lot different than they do now in regard to the Yankees. This is particularly the case when it comes to the starting rotation. As a point of reference, just before the end of the year, I even wrote an article titled “The Yankees starting rotation feels more secure than ever.” My word alone is far from gospel, but there was fair reason to be excited. The key word in this title, I’d argue, is “feels,” because as we’ve come to realize in plain sight, this rotation was in fact not secure.
With the recent news of Nestor Cortes likely destined for a trip to the the injured list, things feel as uncertain as ever. It can reasonably be questioned how long the Yankees can survive like this, especially in what has been, and will likely continue to be baseball’s toughest division.
An increased feeling of confidence in Cortes’ standing as a legit number-two starter was a major factor in my optimism circa December. On top of the fact that he won’t pitch at all for at least his 15-day stint on the shelf, when he has pitched this year, it hasn’t really been up to snuff with his breakout performances over the last two seasons. The lefty owns a 5.16 ERA and 4.60 FIP in 2023, with walk and strikeout rates far less appealing than they have been in his recent major league career, and he’s been increasingly affected by the homer ball. If the struggles weren’t enough of a concern, he now won’t be able to work them out for at least a little while as he nurses his shoulder back to health.
In relation to some of Cortes’ once-projected rotation mates, his 15-day stint seems like a walk in the park. Frankie Montas, who I was excited to watch over a full season, underwent shoulder surgery in February, and only has a chance to return by the end of the season, as he is just now beginning his throwing program.
Perhaps the biggest factor in all of the aforementioned optimism was the Yankees signing Carlos Rodón. The exciting addition has yet to pay any dividends, as the supremely talented lefty has not pitched an inning in pinstripes, dealing with forearm and back issues. As of the last few days, he has begun to pitch off a mound, and may face hitters in the near future. However, even as I unhappily think this, it doesn’t feel far-fetched for there to be additional setbacks.
Gerrit Cole and his sub-3 ERA have had a mostly good start to the 2023 season, but he has also been the only consistent (in both quality and durability) starter New York has really had. Luis Severino has had an up-and-down return in his first three starts of the year, allowing two combined runs in his first two, and then seven with three homers in his subsequent start. He is undoubtedly talented, but there also aren’t exactly any guarantees with him as things stand either.
Now, the rotation is filled out by guys the Yankees nor their fans would have hoped to see starting ballgames back in the offseason. Domingo Germán and Clarke Schmidt will continue the roles in the rotation they’ve had for most of the year. And while Cortes’ replacement has yet to be seen, it will likely be one or a combination of Jhony Brito and Randy Vásquez, both of whom have seen time in the Bronx this year.
You could certainly do worse than these guys past Cole, but it really hasn’t gone all that well as a whole. The Bombers’ staff ranks 15th and 16th in ERA and FIP, respectively, in 2023, which includes Cole’s mostly top-notch performance. They are not the Athletics, but they certainly don’t feel like a team that fairly easily had baseball’s best projected rotation just this offseason.
Cortes’ injury is hopefully a short-term one, and at long last Rodón does seem a bit closer to his Yankees debut. But this group as a whole has been far from impressive, and supremely disappointing with all of the potential considered. They are only a few fortunate domino-falls away from regaining that promise, but for much of this season, that high-potential rotation has felt like a distant thought.