The Yankees should be actively, nay-fervently pursuing a top pitching free agent this winter and need to do their do-diligence on just about every available arm.
From aces like Gerrit Cole and Steven Strasburg to under-the-radar names like Josh Tomlin and Jhoulys Chacín, the Yankees would be doing the entire city of New York a disservice if they left any stone unturned.
That being said, the Yankees have to land one free agent starter and really should be aiming to add two. The reason they need two is that they were only confident enough to roll out three starters in the postseason Yankees free agent pitchers even resorted to a bullpen game in Game 4 of the ALCS.
Best case scenario, those three aforementioned starters will be supplemented by two new free agents. However, if the Yankees only sign one new pitcher, and god forbid they do not sign anyone, it is important to have a sense of how everyone else fared on the bump for the Yankees in 2019.
So as the hunt for starting pitching drags along through the bleak, baseball-less winter months, here is a little summary of every player (besides Openers) to toe the rubber in the first inning for the Bombers. These individuals should be in the back of every fan’s mind.
Of the nine players to start this season, only eight are returning after CC Sabathia’s retirement. I have placed those eight into three categories: Mortal locks, fringe starters, and emergency arms.
Mortal Locks: Luis Severino, Masahiro Tanaka, James Paxton
These are the Yankees three surefire starters currently on the roster. Unless the Yankees sign three or more free-agent starters (which I can almost rule out entirely), these three guys will start a lot of ballgames for the Yankees. And that is great because all three pitched well this season in the playoffs and the team has invested resources or a lot of time and development into Sevy, Tanaka, and Paxton.
Severino: 3 starts, 12 IP, 1.50 ERA, 1.000 WHIP, 12.8 K/9
Due to a shoulder injury, Sevy showcased his skills in a painfully small sample size this season. However, In 2017 and 2018, Severino finished in the top ten for Cy Young voting. 2019 was supposed to be a huge year for him. There is a good reason to believe he could have sustained similar numbers over the course of the season had he been healthy.
Health has been Severino’s biggest issue in his other three FULL seasons in the majors. From 2016-18, Severino’s ERA from August-October is 4.30. While that is not awful, his ERA from 2016-18 in the other five months is 3.63 which includes a bad beginning of 2016. This means nearly a full year of rest and rehabilitation may really help Severino stay fresh through 2020 as he gears up for a dominating campaign.
Tanaka: 31 starts, 182 IP, 4.45 ERA, 1.242 WHIP, 7.4
Tanaka’s second-worst statistical year still earned him an All-Star appearance. Also, he pitched so well in the postseason, his lofty regular-season ERA can be forgiven. Not to mention, he leads all pinstriped pitchers in innings, so he really was the workhorse for this rotation. He nearly reached an average of 6 innings per start and in today’s MLB, that is very valuable.
At only 30 years old, he should be coming into his real prime as he matures, which is exciting because he already displays such a calm demeanor.
He is getting some bone spurs removed from his pitching elbow, but he should be ready for Opening Day. Hopefully, he will only be the Yankees 4th starter which can be very dangerous to have such an experienced arm anchoring the rotation.
Paxton: 29 starts, 150.2 IP, 3.82 ERA, 1.281 WHIP, 11.1 K/9
The Big Maple pitched some huge games down the stretch for the Yankees, including a 10-0 record in August-October of the regular season. He also pitched well against the rival Boston Red Sox with a 3.28 ERA in 24.2 IP with a glistening 0.973.
If the Yankees do not sign Cole or Strasburg, Paxton will rightfully remain the Yankees ace and should earn the Opening Day start.
Keep in mind, Paxton and Cole shared similar numbers before each of them were traded, with Paxton slightly edging Cole out as the better pitcher. The difference is Cole went to Houston and was groomed with advanced data and analytics. Larry Rothschild is out as pitching coach and a new, more data-driven pitching coach could unlock an even better form of Paxton.
Fringe Starters: Jordan Montgomery, Domingo German, Jonathan Loaisiga
These three guys will battle for the one or two rotational spots that are left over after free agency settles itself. The thing is, with Strasburg and Cole as Scott Boras clients, they might not sign until Spring Training begins. That means the three fringe starters could be battling for a spot that ends up not existing. At the least, one of these guys will win a job come to Opening Day.
Montgomery: 1 start, 4 IP, 6.75 ERA, 1.750 WHIP, 11.3 K/9
Like Severino, this was a minuscule sample size. Unlike Severino, his sample size does not seem to reflect on how he would perform with a full season.
The Yankees have only gotten one full season out of Jordy in 2017 and he finished 6th in rookie of the year voting after posting a 3.88 ERA and 116 ERA+.
The lengthy lefty can get batters out without posting high strikeout numbers and could really impress if he has the opportunity to pitch a full season.
German: 24 starts, 143 IP, 4.03 ERA, 1.147 WHIP, 9.6 K/9
Moving forward with German, fans and the team have to put his dark past in consideration. He was placed on administrative leave for punching his girlfriend. It is awful, and honestly, despite his great numbers in 2019, he does not deserve a spot on the team. Unfortunately, a look around the league and into the Yankee bullpen, and it is apparent baseball organizations are willing to ignore domestic abuse in order to build a winning team.
German got out to a hot start but leveled off as the season progressed. Also, in 2019, fans have to be wary of deciding a player is good base doff win-loss numbers.
Loaisiga: 4 starts, 31.2 IP, 4.55 ERA, 1.484 WHIP, 10.5 K/9
Jonny Lasagna was a decent surprise for the Yankees this year and provided some reliable innings out of the bullpen. Bouncing between the majors and minors, Loaisiga was able to get good experience against MLB hitters, while also having a chance to work on his starting routine.
Feel free to swap Loaisiga with Happ on this list. Neither has a good shot to fill the fourth or fifth rotation slot. Loaisiga’s age and raw talent give him an edge here.
Emergency Starters: JA Happ, Steven Tarpley
Happ: 30 starts, 161.1 IP, 4.91 ERA, 1.295 WHIP, 7.8 K/9
Happ gave the Yankees a good number of innings, but his susceptibility to the longball caused him to end up in the bullpen for the playoffs and that is where he should stay.
He is signed through the 2020 season with an option for 2021, and with the way free agency is shaping up, Happ will find himself in more bullpen articles than starting rotation articles.
This should not be taken as an insult, but just goes to show where this Yankee rotation is headed.
Tarpley: 1 start, 24.2 IP, 6.93 ERA, 1.986 WHIP, 12.4 K/9
Tarpley’s numbers are hard to work around, but then again, it is hard to pitch in a makeshift, embarrassment of a baseball field overseas for your first MLB start.
His season numbers took a hit after allowing four runs on four hits in one inning in London. Tarpley is another longshot for a spot, but getting the nod from Boone at least means something.
Featured Image: Masahiro Tanaka, Wikipedia Commons; Arturo Pardavila III