According to Brian Cashman, the Yankees are at “99 percent-plus that what we have is what we're going to camp with.” That means the team’s rotation of Masahiro Tanaka, CC Sabathia, Michael Pineda, and a handful of stardust is very likely to make up their Opening Day roster. As problematic as that reality is toward the 2017 team, it is even worse for the 2018 squad when all three starters will be free agents at the end of next season.
Tanaka has the ability to opt out of his contract next winter—something he will do. CC and Pineda will also be gone, however, as things stand now, they don’t have anyone lined up to fill in. Luis Severino is still highly questionable going forward, and Luis Cessa, Chad Green, Adam Warren, and Bryan Mitchell can hardly be expected to pitch 150+ innings this year or next. The Yankees need pitching now, and they need pitching next year. If nothing is going to work out now, maybe they need to focus on the future. Maybe Nathan Eovaldi is still part of that future.
2016 Statistics: 24 G, 124.2 IP, 4.76 ERA, 4.98 FIP, 7.00 K/9, 2.89 BB/9, 0.7 WAR
Age on Opening Day 2017: 27
Position: Right-handed starting pitcher
After undergoing surgery to repair his torn flexor tendon and UCL, we all know that Eovaldi will not be a factor in 2017. There’s a real chance that his career peters out from here, because, despite his youth, this will be his second Tommy John surgery. However, if the Yankees think that there is even a chance that he can make his way back to being an effective pitcher in his own time, they should think about keeping him around while he rehabs.
The Yankees cut bait with him earlier in the offseason when they were projected to be on the hook for around $7.5 million, but a cheaper deal over, say, a two-year period could make sense for both sides. Eovaldi gets a guaranteed paycheck while he recovers along with top-notch facilities and medical attention as he begins his rehab. For their trouble, the Yankees get a wild card commodity on a cheap deal that could end up helping them in the long run.
This is something they have actually tried before. They signed reliever David Aardsma to a two-year deal as he returned from Tommy John surgery. The first season was expected to be the rehab year while the second would bring the value back. Of course, they ended up cutting him in spring training 2013, but the idea was a good one and should be a tool that Cashman keeps in his bag of tricks. In the last few years they have made a habit out of releasing hurt prospects like Slade Heathcott and Nick Rumbelow, only to re-sign them days later. If there’s a chance that Eovaldi can contribute in 2018, they should make the investment now.
This offseason has been light on talent, but the 2018 class doesn’t look a whole lot better when it comes to pitching. You have Jake Arrieta, but then the next best include Marco Estrada, Jaime Garcia, Danny Duffy, and Chris Tillman. There is also Alex Cobb and Yu Darvish, who are both just returning from Tommy John surgery. Even if you want the Yankees to get a big free agent pitcher to replace who they are losing, who are they going to target, other than Arrieta?
Eovaldi wasn’t exactly a success in the Bronx—they didn’t fix him or unlock him—but he was a known quantity, which I’d take in the back of my rotation any day. Who knows, if his time as a starter is behind him, his fastball (if it ever comes back) could make him an interesting bullpen arm. Eovaldi’s injury was devastating, but he’s still very young. We don’t know what happens to him from here, but I believe the Yankees should cover their bases, so to speak, and keep him in the fold for now and for the future.