All offseason the Yankees have been focused on finding starting pitching. They may have been distracted by Aroldis Chapman and subsequently used up all their money to sign him, but Brian Cashman has never lost sight of what the team really needs in 2017. Despite his clear interest in Jose Quintana, Chris Sale, and many other pitchers on the trade market, the veteran GM remains uninterested in overpaying for an arm.
He has said time and again that they are prepared to go into spring training with what they have, which is Masahiro Tanaka, CC Sabathia, Michael Pineda, and no one else. When you consider the options they have and Cashman’s own history of making deals on the sly, you have to imagine that some kind of deal is coming, right? There’s definitely the chance it will still happen, but what if it doesn’t? The Yankees need to put together a backup plan now so they aren’t left with nothing later.
Thanks to the magic of computer science, we can get a potential look at what the 2017 rotation could offer us through the ZiPS projection system. It uses past data to determine future results, so if you’ve paid attention to literally any bit of last year’s election cycle, you’ll know just how unreliable these projection systems can be. Still, ZiPS gives us a baseline to go on that is usually somewhat accurate, but can also get a bit wonky.
They have CC Sabathia regressing back to his pre-knee brace numbers, which I wouldn’t find very surprising. They also have Michael Pineda, once again, turning in an award-winning performance thanks to his excellent peripherals that usually game the system. I think we can all admit that Pineda is not a 3.96 ERA and 3.38 FIP pitcher. It’s just not happening. Also, seeing Severino with only a 4.20 ERA and a FIP under 4.00 would be a minor miracle.
When it comes to the backend guys, Adam Warren might provide a serviceable league-average performance, but the rest of their depth looks far too ugly. None of Luis Cessa, Chad Green, Jordan Montgomery, or Dietrich Enns are projected to have an ERA below 4.69. It’s obviously debatable how accurate you can be when it comes to converting minor league numbers into major league numbers, and this system has yet to consider Green’s elbow injury, or any number of outside factors that could affect them. Basically, the Yankees are already relying on a pretty low baseline to get them through the season, and things are only likely to get worse from there.
Whether or not Cashman has something up his sleeve in the next month, he should be out there picking up low-risk options that can at least give them a slightly better option over the course of the season. Even just another option would suffice. We all want the Yankees to let the kid play, but there are real repercussions for relying too heavily on them too soon. By all means, let’s see what the Cessas and the Greens of the world can do, but there also needs to be a balancing act between upside and certainty.
To this end, the Yankees should be stocking up right now. Jason Hammel has a serious home run problem, but he’s probably the best starting pitcher available right now and they need the innings. Doug Fister, despite the results, saw a jump in his fastball velocity at the end of the season. Tyson Ross and Nick Tepesch are both returning from Thoracic Outlet Syndrome surgery and could each be interesting backup plans (Ross with far more upside, but with a higher price). None of these guys are great options, but at this point they are the only options. Hopefully Cashman does something, otherwise things will get real ugly, real fast.