Three of the five spots in the Yankees rotation were secure when the team reported to spring training in February. Masahiro Tanaka, CC Sabathia, and Michael Pineda were set to form the front end of the rotation.
When spring training began, it was announced that 5 pitchers would compete for the 2 remaining spots: Luis Severino, Adam Warren, Chad Green, Bryan Mitchell, and Luis Cessa.
Luis Severino was named 4th starter before camp ended. It was further decided that since the Yankees wouldn't need a 5th starter until April 16, that decision would be put off. Meanwhile, Jordan Montgomery emerged as a potential candidate to fill that spot after a stellar spring.
The Yankees have held 5th starter competitions in the past. In 2016, Girardi announced that CC Sabathia would compete with Ivan Nova during spring training for the #5 spot. Unsurprisingly, CC Sabathia won that competition and quickly became the Yankees #2 starter behind Masahiro Tanaka. Ivan Nova didn't have to wait long to get his own spot in the rotation, starting 15 games before being dealt to the Pirates for prospects on August 1.
This year's 5th starter competition has more wide-ranging implications for the Yankees. With Sabathia and Pineda set to become free agents, and Tanaka having an opt-out clause, the Yankees could potentially enter the off-season with Severino as their #1 and whoever wins the 5th starter battle as their #2. If neither pitches well, the Yankees could be forced to rebuild their entire rotation for the 2018 season. This represents a golden opportunity for that 5th starter to work his way into the team's future plans.
Here are the career MLB stats for the 5th starter contenders (except Montgomery, who has yet to appear):
|Jordan Montgomery (minors)||25-14||60||56||292.2||2.61||1.172|
Let's Look at Each Candidate
Adam Warren wants to start. Girardi likes him for the bullpen. His job has even been dubbed "The Adam Warren Role." In fact, it is the role that Ramiro Mendoza had on the 1996-2002 teams. He is a reliever who can come in with guys on base; pitch multiple innings; pitch when the team is behind, keeping it close and giving the Yanks a chance to catch up; come in early with a lead, holding it until the short relief guys can take over to finish the win; mop up; make spot starts; and is effective against both lefties and righties.
Most relievers simply are not that flexible. Mendoza was, and Warren is. Girardi caught Mendoza and knows how important he was to the success of those teams.
Warren may make spot starts, but I don't expect him to join the rotation this year unless there are a rash of injuries or ineffectiveness and the team runs out of other viable options.
Bryan Mitchell appeared in 20 games (2 starts) for the Yanks in 2015, posting an 0-2 record with a 6.37 ERA and 1.787 WHIP. He was thought to be a front runner for the long relief role heading into the 2016 season until he was injured in spring training and missed most of the year. He returned in September to make 5 starts, posting a 1-2 record with a 3.24 ERA and 1.520 WHIP.
Girardi seems to like him for the bullpen, even though he didn't pitch particularly well in that role in 2015. Mitchell was assigned to the bullpen coming out of spring training this year, and he is likely to stay there unless the other 5th starter candidates disappoint.
Luis Cessa came over from the Detroit Tigers along with Chad Green in the Justin Wilson trade prior to the 2016 season. At the time, Brian Cashman called the acquisition of these 2 unheralded prospects as "organizational depth." Fans were surprised when both joined the starting rotation during the pennant race.
Cessa made 17 appearances (9 starts) and was 4-4 with a 4.35 ERA and 1.109 WHIP in 2016. He appeared in 5 games this spring in an effort to win the 5th starter spot, but was assigned to minor league camp after struggling with his command. He went 0-1 with a 6.52 ERA, allowing 7 earned runs, 13 hits and 4 walks in 9 2/3 innings. Girardi said "He just needs to get back on track, because when he's on track, he's pretty good. We told him that." Cessa is on the 40 man roster and remains an option to join the rotation.
Jordan Montgomery came out of nowhere to thrust himself into the 5th starter conversation after pitching to a 3.20 ERA and 0.97 WHIP in 19 2/3 innings this spring. He has been assigned to AAA and will get 2 starts there before the Yankees need a 5th starter on April 16.
The Yankees 40-man roster currently sits at 40, and Montgomery is not on it. So calling him up to join the Yankees rotation would necessitate a move.
Chad Green appeared in 12 games for the Yankees in 2016 (8 starts), going 2-4 with a 4.73 ERA and 1.401 WHIP before getting hurt and finishing the season on the 60-day DL.
Green had an excellent spring, pitching to a 1.50 ERA and 1.25 WHIP in 12 innings. He will also get 2 starts in the minors before the Yankees need a 5th starter on April 16.
When Will a Decision be Made?
On Tuesday, the Yankees announced that Jordan Montgomery and Chad Green are both scheduled to make starts today in Tampa. That lines them both up to make the April 16 start in the big leagues, following a 2nd minor league start on April 11. I wouldn't expect a decision until Montgomery and Green have each made those 2 minor league starts.
Who Will be the 5th Starter?
Chad Green must be considered the front runner for the #5 spot at this point, especially considering Montgomery's roster status. If both Green and Montgomery falter, then the focus shifts back to Cessa and Mitchell.
Regardless of who gets the start on April 16, it is likely that the rest of the contenders will get starts at some point during the 2017 season. The Yankees used 9 different starters in 2016, 10 in 2015, 13 in 2014, 9 in 2013, and 8 in 2012. So starting pitching depth has proven to be necessary and important. Despite this, it would definitely be a big plus for the Yankees if the 5th starter who joins the rotation on April 16 pitches well and does so continuously. It would be very big, not only for this season, but for the future.