The Yankees could lose Jordan Montgomery for two months after being diagnosed with a flexor strain. It’s the worst come to life for Yankees fans. Okay, maybe not the worst fear. Aaron Boone confirmed later that there’s no indication Jordan Montgomery will require surgery, and the decision to set him on the 10-day disabled list rather than the 60 means there’s some optimism in his ability to recover relatively quickly.
Still, the Yankees are now looking to fill somewhere around ten starts that Monty was pegged to take. The team will get creative with off days and other juggling, but someone is still going to have to step up and plug this now very obvious hole in the rotation. We can sort these someones into two buckets; internal and external options.
Montgomery could be out up to 2 months with flexor strain. No throwing 2-3 weeks. Out 6-8 weeks total Boone confirmed on @mikeson just now.— Sweeny Murti (@YankeesWFAN) May 2, 2018
Truth be told, there’s not much here. It’s too early in the season for the bad teams to be selling, and even if they were, the Yankees are operating from a positive of negligible leverage. If the Tigers really were dangling Michael Fulmer or the Rays were willing to talk about Chris Archer, the price for either pitcher would be sky-high. Not only are both teams in no rush to sell off their top assets, but knowing the Yankees have such a visible hole in the rotation means they’ll ask whatever they want. Seller’s markets are not the place to find a bargain.
Further, the Yankees really do seem confident that Montgomery will come back with most of the season left to play, for reasons noted above. Adding a top-level rotation piece would squeeze a starter out of his role once Montgomery returned, and if the Yankees weren’t willing to do that over the offseason, it’d be very surprising for them to do it in the first week of May.
So with no real external options, someone currently in the Yankees farm system has to step up. The immediate and obvious choice is Domingo German. After a sterling 2017 split between Double-A and Triple-A, German got the chance to show the Yankees how he could do in the big leagues with a handful of appearances last season and being a key long man so far in 2018. He’s certainly been pegged as a possible starter and also has the makeup to become a Chad Green-type pitcher, with the ability to work multiple innings and strike out every other hitter he faces.
If there’s a drawback to German it’s that he hasn’t actually started a major league game before. As we’ve seen with other players—like Chad Green himself—being asked to face 20 batters is a different kettle of fish than facing 10, and while Sunday is going to be German’s first chance to show us he can handle an order at least twice through, there’s no guarantees.
So, German is the safe choice. But should Brian Cashman want a bolder approach, he’d have to turn to the stock of pitching prospects. Chance Adams is probably not an option, as the righty has struggled in Triple-A to start the year. Josh Rogers would be the best option from the current Scranton roster, as he’s looked good with a 3.00 ERA/3.32 FIP in his first 30 innings with the RailRiders. One worries about his strikeout totals and flyball rates translating to a hitter-heavy league, but at just 23, he’s at least worth a close look by the front office.
Further down the line we find the crown jewel of Yankees pitching prospects, Justus Sheffield. The 21-year-old is lighting it up in Double-A Trenton, striking out more than a dozen men per nine. His walk rate leaves something to be desired, and of course he hasn’t pitched at the highest level of the minors yet. Sheffield is really good, and should continue to get better, but it would be very out of character for Brian Cashman to rush the development of his best prospect remaining in the minors. If Montgomery were out all year, or another pitcher should hit the DL, it may be time for Sheffield, but for now Justus is postponed.
The last option available to the Yankees is to tandem, or tag team, the outstanding Montgomery starts. Similar to something the Rays are doing this season, the team would designate pitchers for the first two or three innings, then the middle block of a game, followed by using the regular high-leverage relievers at the end of a game. The Yankees could do this with pitchers like German, AJ Cole or Adam Warren when he returns from injury, and still have the likes of Green, David Robertson and Aroldis Chapman in reserve for the late innings.
All this is moot should German go out on Sunday against Cleveland and pitch like he did yesterday against the Astros. This is, for now, his rotation spot to lose, but there’s no need for either Boone or Cashman to stick to him if it doesn’t work. The Yankees have the internal options to weather a temporary storm.