Examining the A.L. East Starting Rotations (NY Yankees)
Examining the A.L. East Starting Rotations (NY Yankees)
By Cary Greene
March 14, 2022
Best Projected Rotation in AL East: YANKEES
● Projected WAR: 15
● Cary’s Rank: 2nd (the front end of the rotation, behind Cole, remains a concern)
● 2021 ERA+: 113 (-.6 Below World Series Winners Avg ERA+ of 113.6)
● Trade Value of MLB Starters: 90.1, Average Age: 28.7
● Total Payroll for MLB Starters: $58.6 million / Avg Per SP: $8.4 million
● AVG Yrs Team Control: 3.4
● Trade Value of MiB Starters: 58.5 / One Tier 2 Prospects / 2 Tier 3 Prospects
○ T2 – Luis Gil, Triple-A
● Staff Co-Ace: Gerrit Cole
How did the Yankees Build their Projected Rotation? (3 Free Agents / 3 Trades / 1 Draft Pick
● Signed Gerrit Cole in 2020 to a 9-year $325 million contract
● Drafted Jordan Montgomery in 2014, in the 4th Round
● Traded with Pittsburgh for Jameson Taillon in 2021 (in exchange for Miguel Yajure, Roasny Contreras, both of whom had very strong minor league campaigns last season, Maikol Escotto and Canaan Smith)
● Signed Luis Severino in 2011 as an International Amateur, for $225,000, then extended him in 2019 for 4-years and $40 million, is under team control for two more seasons
● Signed Nestor Cortes Jr in 2021 to a minor-league deal
● Traded with Marlins for Domingo German in 2014 (also acquired RHSP Nathan Eovaldi, 1B Garrett Jones in exchange for INF Martin Prado and RHSP David Phelps
● Traded with Marlins for Mike King in 2017 (receiving International Bonus Pool Money along with King in exchange for Garrett Cooper and Caleb Smith)
The Yankees have relied almost exclusively upon Free Agent Signings and Trades to piece together their starting rotation. Miraculously, Nestor Cortes Jr was required for a third time last offseason, on a minor league deal. Unfortunately, Garrett Whitlock was lost for nothing to the Red Sox in the Rule-5 Draft. That makes Jordan Montgomery and Luis Severino the only two Draft Picks that the Yankees have been able to translate into their rotation. Only the Orioles will have more initially Drafted starters in their rotation so the Yankees are not actually exceptionally bad at translating starting pitchers, believe it or not. What the Yankees are doing is wasting a ton of money on one single ace.
Brian Cashman is spending $36 million of Hal Steinbrenner’s money for the services of Gerrit Cole this year and for the Yankees to have any shot at winning a World Series championship, Cole has to be dominant. If we factor out Cole’s AAV for this season, would you believe that the Yankees are only spending $3.8 million per starter. Cashman is clearly skimping on bringing in quality free agent starters, choosing instead a strategy that is focused on a single ace. This may ultimately be the Yankees undoing.
Luis Severino was a legit front of the rotation starter in 2018, but that was a long time ago. He only threw 6 innings last year and 12 the year before that. He will absolutely be on an innings restriction so we can’t kid ourselves into thinking the Yankees have a second ace all lined up to slot in behind Cole, because the truth is, they don’t. They have Jordan Montgomery, Jameson Taillon, Nestor Cortes Jr and possibly Mike King. The Yankees probably need to address their rotation in a meaningful way this offseason, or risk having to rely upon what is by all means a bumper crop of Tier-3 and Tier-4 prospects. There very well could be a diamond in the rough hidden somewhere among the 15 minor league starters that make up this group of potential major leaguers. The Question is, is there one or two men among them that can step in behind Gerrit Cole and be an integral part of a postseason rotation?
Could the Yankees really look internally for solutions? Well, they don’t have a single Tier-1 Starter in the pipeline so there is no true-blue high-end talent, but as I’ve covered, that sort of talent is very hard to come by. The Yankees do have one single Tier-2 starter in their system. The good news is that this Tier-2 starter is in Triple-A and he’s had a cup of coffee already to boot. The bad news is that this starter is projected to walk almost five batters per nine innings. His name is Luis Gil and until/if his command improves, he’s not an answer. He’s also right-handed. The Yankees also have a few other prospects that may provide depth, but realistically none of them are pitchers that Aaron Boone could hand the ball to in game two of a playoff series.
Deivi Garcia has massive work to do if he wants to be a major league pitcher. Clarke Schmidt has to be massively built up as he’s only thrown a combined 44.1 innings in the last two years. Neither will be starting the season in the Yankee rotation but both might get opportunities to start games this season. Still, I doubt it would be wise to count on either of them being all that helpful.
Digging deeper into the pipeline, Luis Medina, who will open the season in Triple-A is projected to walk 5.4 batters per nine innings this season. Ken Waldichuk, also in Triple-A, needs time to refine his command as he’s projected to walk 4.3 per nine innings this year.
Two Tier-4 prospects who had big seasons last year may be the most likely to impact the team this year. The first and slightly further away of the two is Hayden Wesneski, who moved from High-A to Double-A throughout the bulk of last season before being promoted to Triple-A at the end of the year. He’ll likely need some solid time in Triple-A before he’s ready but he’s got very good control and his numbers across the board suggest the potential to crack the back end of the Yankees rotation this year may exist.
The second and probably the closest to being ready to help the Yankees is 22 year-old lefty JP Sears, who has largely flown under the radar but has very good command and overall numbers. Sears very quietly was placed on the Yankees 40 man roster this year, in order to protect him from the Rule-5 Draft and I was very stoked to see Cashman do this, instead of risking another Garrett Whitlock fiasco.
Sears pitched half a season at Scranton last year and he sported a 2.87 ERA for the Rail Riders, while averaging 11 K9 and 1.1 BB9 so he is truly on the verge of a call up. Are we looking at the next Andy Pettite here? Well, Pettit was a 22nd Round pick in 1990, he wasn’t a high end prospect. Sears was Drafted in the 11th Round in 2017, taken 333rd overall, by the Mariners, who subsequently traded him to the Yankees along with righty Juan Then for power reliever Nick Rumbelow – who has been ineffective at the Major League level. Neither pitcher was a hyped prospect.
While there are no comparisons between the physically imposing Pettit and the diminutive 5’11” Sears, they actually do share something in common. Pettit of course threw a cutter that opposing hitters couldn’t do much with. They knew it was coming, but the pitch had a lot of late break. Meanwhile, Sears works off of his fastball primarily. According to the Clinton Lumber Kings pitching coach Doug Mathis, “You can’t hit what you can’t see” and that’s exactly what Sears fastball has been every step of the way.
Sears began his career flat out over using his fastball, but hitters simply couldn’t touch it. Mathis called the pitch an “invisi-ball.” It apparently looks different coming out of his hand, as if the 93 to 95 mph high spin-rate offering has another gear. Sears mowed down Double-A and Triple-A hitters last year, attacking with his heater nearly 65% of the time and it does feel like he’s simply going to force his way into the Yankees rotation, if Cashman has the wherewithal to permit it. Sears also features a Change-Up and a Curve, both of which are intriguing and vastly improving secondary pitches.
There really isn’t a lot in the Yankee system’s cupboard in terms of high end starting pitching prospects, but uncanny prospects like Janson Junk are lurking in Double-A so there are some interesting options who could become the next out of nowhere starter ala the Tigers late Mark “the Bird” Fydrich, who was my favorite pitcher as a kid. Fydrich of course burst on the scene in 1976 for the Tigers, then he was gone. Injuries derailed him but he was a prospect who really came out of nowhere and to this day, I look for the next “Bird” to crash “the Show.” I always wonder, do the Yankees have a pitcher stashed somewhere who could take the American League by storm?
Based on how little the Yankees spend on anyone not named Gerrit Cole or Aroldis Chapman, I think an investment of resources might really help the Yankees move the needle and I’d almost consider reshaping the rotation a bit while doing that. Why not feature at least three really good lefties? The Yankees play 82 games a year in a ballpark conducive to left-handed starting pitching. The last thing the Yankees want is for opponents to come in on a road trip and stack a lineup full of left-handed hitters. If Cashman is going to allow this – and I’ve said this once before but I’m truly serious here – he may want to petition the league to allow some emergency construction at Yankee Stadium so they can move the right field fence back and the left field fence in. Thoughts?
As far as potential starting pitching targets that might help the Yankees in the immediate future, Carlos Rhodon is an available free agent that might be a very good dice roll on the Yankees part, but he’s had shoulder and elbow issues and has missed 213 games in the past three years. However, he’s trending in the right direction and he did throw 132 innings for the White Sox last season. His 12.6 K/9 to 2.4 BB/9 ratios and his 2.37 ERA were both fantastic last year. He also pitched very well to right-handed batters (.240 avg against).
Sean Manaea, who is on the block with the A’s would be another such target. Manaea hogged up 179.1 innings last year, pitching to a 3.91 ERA with a 9.7 K/9 to 2.0 BB/9 ratios and Steamers is projecting that he’ll hold opposing batters to a .254 average while stranding 73.8% of his allowed base runners. He’s murderous against left-handed Batters, who only manage to hit .204 against him but what’s most intriguing is that right-handers hit 37% of their batted balls in the air off him and 53% of those are medium contact fly balls. That’s a lot of outs to left field and center field in Yankee stadium. He also induced 43% of those right-handed batters to hit ground balls, so that would account for his excellent stranded runners stats because he generates a lot of Double Plays.
Given that pitching wins championships, why not go for both Rhodon and Manaea? Then, perhaps the Yankees could reshape the rotation and transition into their next era of dominance as a well balanced team, akin to ALL of the Yankee World Series Championship dynasties of the past.
In my next two pieces, I’ll look at the bullpens and finish up with a detailed review of the Yankee farm system, as it compares in true context to the teams the Yankees compete against.