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If I Were the GM: Looking Ahead to 2020 – The Starting Rotation

This article is the fourth in my series on how I would build the 2020 Yankees.

You can see the previous segments here:

Shortstop and Second Base

Third Base

First Base

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With my infield all set, I figured it was time to get to the starting rotation.

For years, I have been stating that the Yankees need to focus on the starting rotation. I feel that the Yankees unwillingness to spend big in this area has especially hurt them the last few years. IF (a big if) the Yankees had spent big when Justin Verlander or Gerrit Cole or Patrick Corbin or many other pitchers became available, they might have had at least one more World Championship, maybe more.

The Yankees’ talented young core is ready to win now. NOW. This is not the time to build for the future. The future is now. The future is this very minute. This moment is what they have been building for. Considering the talent all around the roster, this team’s biggest need is the starting rotation. The Yankees, I believe, need to add, two (not just one) big time pitchers to best position themselves to get back to the World Series.

With this being the case, if I were the General Manager, I would advocate strongly for ownership to allow me to spend, and spend big, to address the starting rotation. (I actually believe that the Yankees will spend big here this winter, so this premise isn’t all that unrealistic. At all.)

With my pockets full of cash, I am now ready to build a championship starting rotation.

But before I spend, I need to first look at what pitchers on the roster I am ready to plug into the starting rotation. There are three of them. Just three… (Remember, I traded J.A. Happ in order to be able to sign Carlos Santana.)

If I were the General Manager, among players currently on staff, the following three pitchers would be penciled as part of my rotation:

Luis Severino

Masahiro Tanaka

James Paxton

Each of those pitchers is a quality pitcher. Each are strong starters who should give 150+ innings of solid (if not exceptional) work. I also have reasons to believe that each will actually exceed expectations in 2020.

Luis Severino should finally be healthy. If healthy, he projects to be an ace-type starter. A healthy Severino is a difference maker. A healthy Severino would be one of the very best pitchers in the league. 2020 should be the year that Luis Severino puts it all together.

James Paxton now has a year in New York under his belt. In looking back at the 2019 season, it seems he really showed his mettle. Paxton pitched well in the post season, pitched extremely well in the second half of the season, but more, he helped save the staff by gutting out many starts in the first half of the season when he was probably not 100%. He did that without complaining. Over time I have become more and more impressed with James Paxton. I expect a strong 2020 season from him. I believe that he is a quality pitcher. I believe he wants to win. He also has an additional incentive – at the end of the year, Paxton will be a free agent. 2020 is the year he pitches for the big bucks.

Masahiro Tanaka is as steady as they come. He’s a rock who provides consistency to the Yankees’ rotation. He is the long time veteran presence in the rotation. I have no reason to believe that Tanaka will provide anything other than a solid 2020. He, too, will be a free agent after the season. 2020 could be Tanaka’s last year in the Bronx. I am sure he wants to go out a winner.

With that solid three man rotation, I have a strong core. 60% of my rotation is excellent. What I need now are two big time starters to enhance that core to make the collection, as a whole, championship caliber.

My first stop, is, of course, Gerrit Cole. I want Cole to be the Ace, the man to help take the Yankees to the promised land. He is the best pitcher out there. He’s probably the best pitcher that has been available in free agency for a long, long time. The Yankees have been reluctant to spend big the last many years, but they will be ready this winter to spend big on Cole. I tell Gerrit Cole’s agent, “Before you sign with any other team, bring your best offer to me. We are that serious. We want him and we need him in the Bronx.”

Done.

Except it’s not.

This exercise would be too easy if I just said, “Yeah, on my team we have Gerrit Cole.” That’s much too easy, so in my scenario, Cole’s agent does reach back out to me, with a number so large, so astronomical, so out of the ballpark, that ownership just can’t pull the trigger. (We’ll say that the Angels are offering him upwards of $35 million a year for seven years.) Cole’s agent says, “You need to significantly beat that offer for him to come to New York.” We just can’t do it. We played big, we looked to go big, but on Cole, it just got too expensive. Cole signs elsewhere. This wasn’t a case of the Yankees going cheap.. Sometimes the big fish gets away. I’m not happy about it, but I understand.

Because Gerrit Cole signs with the Angels, I find myself still in need of my first (of two) new starting pitchers…

As such, the first pitcher I sign is Madison Bumgarner. He is the lefty the Yankees need to add to the rotation.

I know, I know…many people think that MadBum is washed up. I beg to differ. I’ve written about this before, but I’ll say it all again. People think Bumgarner is old. He’s not. He’s only 30. Pitchers like Bumgarner, ones who don’t rely just on a hard fastball, guys who know how to pitch, often become better pitchers as they age. Bumgarner had disappointing years in 2017 and 2018. He came back to pitch well last year. I think he’s now ready to take it up another notch and be a premier pitcher again. He threw 207 innings last year. The Yankees need an innings eater. Bumgarner led the league in starts last year with 34. The Yankees need a guy who will go out there and pitch every fifth day. (The last time the Yankees had a pitcher who made 34 starts was C.C. Sabathia in 2010.) I also believe that pitching for a great team will help Bumgarner. Some players get awed by the pressure of pitching for the Yankees, I think New York is the place where Bumgarner will shine.

I’ll also share a couple of comparison pitchers to Bumgarner whose success I think he’ll mirror. I’ll cite three lefties. First is Jimmy Key. Key came to the Yankees in 1993 as a 32 year-old. He promptly went 18-6 and 17-4 in his first two years in the Bronx.

On Madison Bumgarner’s Baseball-Reference page, the first lefty that he is most similar to (after his Age-29 season) is Mickey Lolich. Lolich wasn’t great as a 29 year-old. His ERA went up, his WHIP went up…he lost 19 games. As a 29 year-old, Lolich had his worst season in years. After that Age-29 season, Lolich went 25-14 and then 22-14 as a 30 and 31 year-old pitcher.

Eddie Lopat came to the Yankees (from the White Sox) for his Age-30 season. Lopat went on to go 17-11, 15-10, 18-8, and 21-9 in his first four seasons in pinstripes. Steady Eddie helped pitch the Yankees to a host of World Series.

No, Bumgarner isn’t old. He’s just getting getting started. Bumgarner signs with the Yankees for four years, with a fifth year player option. He will quickly become a Yankees legend, the rock who solidifies the rotation.

I need one more starting pitcher.

I think the easy answer for the fifth spot would be Zack Wheeler. He’ll also be entering his Age-30 season. He seems primed for excellence. Wheeler’s injuries seem to be behind him. He knows how to pitch in New York. He would be an outstanding pick-up. Alas! I try to also get Wheeler, but after Cole goes for so much money (Stephen Strasburg went for mega dollars as well) Wheeler’s cost is driven up and he, too, is priced out of our budget.

I start looking down the list of available free agent pitchers and am not overly inspired. The only other pitcher that interests me is Hyun-Jin Ryu. I like him, but he’s a bit older and supposedly wants four years. I don’t think he’s the guy to get. Dallas Keuchel is also a pass, though I consider it for a short while.

This isn’t easy… I lost out on Gerrit Cole and Zack Wheeler. I was never in on Stephen Strasburg. The rest of the collection doesn’t overly inspire me.

I reach out to the Indians again, but they aren’t selling Corey Kluber to my Yankees.

I go back to that free agent list and find a player who would bring leadership, smarts, and consistency to the staff. In spite of his successes, word is that he’d accept a one-year deal to play for a winner. He’s also a lefty. He’s a pitcher I’ve coveted for years. In 2018, this starter gave his team 32 starts. Last year he started 27 games. He’s not great, but he’s steady. He’s reliable. He’d be the league’s best #5 starter. I’m betting he could win 14 or more games at the bottom of a rotation.

Cole Hamels comes to the Yankees one a one year deal, with a team option for 2021, to round out my staff.

In the wings, just waiting to get their shot are three excellent pitchers with a ton of upside. First is Jordan Montgomery. In 2020, I slowly bring him back by not forcing him into the fire. He’ll be the sixth starter and long man out of the bullpen. I stick Montgomery’s locker right between Bumgarner’s and Hamels’. I tell him to just listen and learn. Jordan Montgomery will be primed to be an important member of my 2021 rotation.

Twenty one year-old Deivi Garcia begins the year in Triple-A. I’ll keep a close eye on him, but I will resist the temptation to rush him to the majors. With the possibility that Tanaka, Paxton, and Hamels will all depart after 2020, I will also need Garcia in 2021. He gets a few cups of coffee in 2020 just to be part of the big show to begin to acclimate. I sit him next to Masahiro Tanaka and tell him to watch and learn from this master.

Mike King is also a stone’s throw away at AAA. I’m hoping he stays steady and good. There’s a possibility that he plays a role on this squad.

But the hope is that my starting five stays healthy and on regular rotation. If each of those pitchers gives the team 27 starts, we will have covered 135 of the team’s games. Jordan Montgomery gets 15 starts along the way to have those six pitchers covering 150 of the games. King and Garcia hopefully get a couple of no-pressure late September starts to help them also build for 2021 and beyond.

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Absent from this is, of course Domingo German. Until the facts come out we don’t know anything about his future with the Yankees or in baseball.

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In closing, just to be clear… I’d love for the Yankees to sign Gerrit Cole and then Madison Bumgarner. My third choice for a starting pitcher would be Zack Wheeler. I just don’t see Stephen Strasburg as a Yankee, for whatever reason.

In this exercise, I tried to not just accept all those easy choices and I forced myself to deal with an imaginary market that wasn’t going entirely the Yankees’ way.

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My 2020 Yankees as reported thus far:

MGR – Aaron Boone

PITCHING COACH – Dave Righetti

1B – Carlos Santana

2B – D.J. LeMahieu

SS – Gleyber Torres

3B – Miguel Andujar

UTL – Gio Urshela

LF –

CF –

RF –

SP – Masahiro Tanaka, James Paxton, Luis Severino, Madison Bumgarner, Cole Hamels

(Jordan Montgomery, Deivi Garcia, and Michael King are waiting in the wings.)

#IfIWereTheGM

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