Shortly after news of a trade between the Astros and Pirates regarding Gerrit Cole was confirmed, unconfirmed, confirmed again, and unconfirmed again, the Yankees declared themselves out of the hunt for the 27-year-old (unless that news has been unconfirmed as well).
Despite being the center of trade rumors involving Cole for the past month, the Yankees have decided to move in another direction, or perhaps stick with the arms they already have for the 2018 season.
One more established arm would likely make the Yankees the clear favorite in the American League, and ease questions about the current starting rotation. However, should Brian Cashman decide to go into spring training with what he currently has on the roster, it’s not the end of the world.
It may be hard to notice because a lot of it was securing arms they already had in 2017, but the rotation has actually made big strides already this offseason. Keeping Masahiro Tanaka on his existing contract was a huge win for the Yanks, especially after the way he pitched in October. If Tanaka can maintain that level of performance (a level he has shown multiple times throughout his career), we can consider his regular season struggles last year to be an outlier, and get back to enjoying Tanaka as an established ace.
Signing CC Sabathia to a one-year deal was also helpful, and not shocking. After enjoying his most productive season in five years, Sabathia can continue to work on his new approach to pitching and give the Yankees a workload of 120-140 innings if health permits it.
Despite the return of Tanaka and Sabathia, the rotation still has its share of questions. How will Luis Severino and Jordan Montgomery respond after vast increases in workload in 2017? It’s fair to ask, but also important to remember that plenty of pitchers turn out just fine after a major innings spike. Severino’s innings pitched increased by 42 innings from 2016 to 2017, and was the clear ace of the staff last season. Can he deliver that workload again?
Back in 2014, a 23-year-old (same age as Severino now) named Sonny Gray pitched 219 innings after throwing just 182 innings the season before. How did he respond in 2015? He threw 200+ innings again while delivering his only All-Star season, and finished with a 2.73 ERA.
Still, should Severino or Montgomery need rest, there are other options to carry the load. Cashman has said Chad Green will get a shot at the rotation this spring, and could eat up some innings. Adam Warren can do the same when necessary. Perhaps a few months into the season is when Chance Adams gets his shot at the majors. The Yankees have arms to shoulder the load if their young guns need a break, so while Cole would have been a nice addition, the Yankees can be just fine without him.
After all, the winter isn’t the only time to make a deal. Cashman grabbed Gray last summer when the rotation needed help, and he still has the prospects to do the same if the 2018 Yankees wind up needing one more arm to make them the clear favorite in the American League. The Yanks have the offense to win games while figuring out the status of their rotation. After all, they did just get baseball’s home run leader and NL MVP winner.
Finding a starting rotation without question marks is an impossible task. Bringing in Cole wouldn’t have solved that. There would still be questions regarding his spike in home run rate last season, and if pitching in Yankee Stadium would have only worsened that trend.
The Yankees have a rotation that can be improved, but also one that shouldn’t be seen as a liability. If it winds up being one, then a move can be made while the bats pick up the slack in the meantime. The Yankees won 101 games in 2004 with arms like Jon Lieber, Javier Vazquez, a 39-year-old Kevin Brown, and one of the worst seasons of Mike Mussina’s career. So trust me, the rotation can be a lot worse.