If I Were The GM: Starting Pitching, Please Find Me Some!
by Paul Semendinger
November 28, 2021
As the Hot Stove League starts to gear up and draw excitement, interest, and anticipation, I decided to share my thoughts (as I do each year) on who I would acquire for each position if I were the Yankees GM.
Previous Articles in this Series:
I believe the Yankees need more starting pitching. I believe they need a strong starter, at least one, to pair with Gerrit Cole at the top of the rotation… a rotation that I believe has many reasons for concern.
As it stands right now, the Yankees starting rotation for 2022 will be as follows:
Gerrit Cole – An ace. Yes. Absolutely. But, there is some room for concern. He is a top of the rotation starter, but his second half ERA last year was 4.14. His second half WHIP was 1.277. Whether that was due to a few bad innings, an injury, or transitioning from “sticky stuff,” I think it is fair to say that there is a concern there. Cole’s 2021 ERA (3.23) was his highest ERA since 2017. His WHIP was his highest as well. Yes, he’s an ace, but he’s an ace who didn’t have his best year in the year that he turned 30.
Luis Severino – He pitched six great innings in 2021. He pitched no innings in 2020. He pitched 12 innings in 2019. Severino’s second half ERA in 2018 was 5.57. It’s been along time (it’s been a long time, been a long time, been a long lonely, lonely, lonely, lonely, lonely time) since Luis Severino was a dominant pitcher. It would be foolish for the Yankees to rely on Luis Severino to be a core rotation piece in 2022. At best, he’s an unknown at this point. If the Yankees get 100 innings from Severino, that would be amazing. If they try to get much more than that, they’re foolish.
Jamison Taillon – He had a solid year, but his 144.1 innings were the most he has thrown since 2018. That’s a long time ago as well. Often times when pitchers take a big step forward, they follow that season with a small step back. I hope that Taillon continues to get better, but that’s no sure thing.
Jordan Montgomery – Monty was the Yankees’ second best pitcher in 2021. His 157.1 innings were the most he’s EVER thrown in a big league season. He has progressed in a positive direction, but, like my perspectives on Taillon, I think the Yankees have to be prepared for him to take a step back. The Yankees cannot count on each pitcher continuing to improve.
Nestor Cortes – His 2021 season was magical, fun, and unexpected. It was awesome. That being said, I feel very confident in saying that it won’t be repeated. Baseball history is filled with players who performed way above expectations for short periods. Cortes threw all of 93 innings in 2021. Talk about a small sample size! The players who surprise like this usually don’t repeat that unlikely performance. It seems very clear that Nestor Cortes will regress to the mean the way so many other players have over the years (see Torreyes, Ronald, or Chacon, Shawn, or Small, Aaron, or Sanchez, Celerino, or Spencer, Shane, or any number of players who made a fast mark and never sustained that level of play again). In fact, if there is a team in baseball that believes in Nestor Cortes, the Yankees should sell high and trade him now.
Domingo German – He pitched fewer than 100 innings to a 4.58 ERA. He’s not the answer.
ClarkeLuisDeiviSchmidtGilGarciaEtc – Every off-season we’re told that the next great Yankees pitcher is on his way. We’re also told, “No, this year it’s different… we know that the other guys didn’t work out, but this year, this pitcher (or these pitchers) are different. This time, this year, this guy is the real deal. Trust us this time. Would we hype a guy who isn’t that great?” This year we’re being told that the next great starting pitcher isn’t Nick Nelson or Chance Adams, or Justus Sheffield, or Ben Heller or Manny Banuelos or…. As I think about this, the big Yankees minor league pitchers who have done well, have been bullpen arms not starters. Think about it. Even the ones we were told would be starters, had their most success in relief. (See Loiaisiga, Jonatahan, or Green, Chad, or Betances, Dellin, or Chamberlain, Joba, or Hughes, Phil, etc…)
I’m sorry, but I need to see it to believe it before I am going to pencil in any up-and-coming Yankees arm as a starting pitcher who will make a difference in 2022. It just doesn’t happen often, and when it has happened, an injury seems to follow very quickly. Who was the last Yankee pitcher to come through the minors and have a positive impact as a starter for two or three consecutive years? (This I didn’t have time to research, but I’m thinking it was Andy Pettitte. If so, that was a long time ago. Andy Pettitte is in his fourth year on the Hall of Fame ballot.)
And That’s It. That’s the rotation as it stands right now. Yes, there is very real cause for concern.
The Yankees starting rotation as of now is full of question marks, hopes, and prayers. There is also only two left-handers there. I have been saying this for years, but the Yankees need good solid left-handed starters.
I also don’t think the Yankees have an abundance of young talent that they’re willing to trade, so the only way to improve the rotation, short of a blockbuster that I can’t predict, would be through Free Agency.
The Yankees also just can’t spend and spend and spend so they’ll have to find a good starting pitcher or two at a reasonable price.
If I were the GM, this is how I would see the available starting pitchers. (For this exercise I looked at the top starting pitchers as ranked by MLBTR who also gives an educated ballpark contract figure. I’ll base my decisions on that “market value.”)
Kevin Gausman (6 yrs, $138m) – A right-handed pitcher coming off his one good year at age-30. No.
Robbie Ray (5 yrs, $130m) – He is a lefty. He just turned 30. He has had some good years in the past. Initially I didn’t want the Yankees to go in this direction, but after going down this list, he is the pitcher who makes a lot of sense for the team. The Yankees do have the money. Maybe I can convince him to go four years at $120m…if so, I’m somewhat interested, but I would not give him give five years and I’d be reluctant to even go four. I think I have a more cost-effective plan that investing in Robbie Ray…
Max Scherzer (3 yrs, $120m) – There is no way I go multiple years on Scherzer. I’d go one $30m with a guarantee for 2023 based on innings and such, but I’m not giving Scherzer, who ended 2021 with a sore arm, three years. The Yankees could use his intensity, but I just can’t go three years for a pitcher who will turn 38 next summer.
Marcus Stroman (5 yrs, $110m) – He has indicated that he doesn’t want to be a Yankee. That’s for the best. I don’t think he is a one hundred million dollar pitcher.
Carlos Rodon (1 yr, $25m) – He is a lefty, but I wouldn’t pay big for a one-year pitcher coming off his best season in a long time. I’d go 2 years $20m, maybe even 2 years at $24m, but if he’s a $25m pitcher for one season, that’s an easy no.
Jon Gray (4 yrs, $56m) – This is a pitcher who has never quite put it together. He just tuned 30. He’s a righty. There’s a lot not to like. But, he should give the team who signs him 150+ innings. That’s not nothing. He also might be the type of pitcher that improves once he is out of Colorado. At $14m per season as predicted, I’d make a run at Jon Gray as a back-end starter/innings eater who has a good deal of upside. He would give the Yankees some needed depth. He is a sure of a sure thing on this list. He’s not an ace, but he’s a solid pitcher who could be good enough to be the #2 guy in the rotation.
Alex Wood (3 yrs, $30m) – Yes! At $10m per year, he seems like a steal. Yes, his 2021 was his best season in a while, but $10m per season is a good deal for a pitcher this good. YES. He’s a lefty. He is The Guy to get from this list. (I would have signed him already if I were the GM.)
Clayton Kershaw (1 yr, $20m) – If he’s healthy, there is no way he signs for that price… but if he is healthy and he would sign for that price, Yes, yes, and yes. Yes. And yes again. But, this is a mirage. So, no.
Yusei Kikuchi (2 yrs, $20m) – He is a lefty. He’ll give the team innings, but even at $!0m a season, he’s too expensive. Nope. At best he’s a back-up plan.
Alex Cobb (2 yrs, $16m) – I’m tempted, but no.
Zack Grienke (1 yr, $15m) – I’m not tempted. No.
Corey Kluber (1 yr, $12m) – He could still surprise, but I wouldn’t give him $12m. No way. I don’t give him a raise after his 2021 season. I’d offer one year plus an option, maybe. More, I think I’d say, “We overpaid you in 2021, now we’ll underpay. You owe us one.” I’d offer one year at $7m and I’d be willing to go to $8m. That’s all.
Danny Duffy (1 yr, $10m) – No.
The following pitchers weren’t assigned any value by MLBTR. As such, I’ll consider each as a player who might sign for about $7-8m for one year. I’ll consider each at that price point.
James Paxton – He might surprise, but no.
Johnny Cueto – No.
Rich Hill – No.
Collin McHugh – Yes. This is a pitcher worth looking at to provide a veteran presence at the back-end of a rotation.
Michael Pineda – No.
And that’s that.
The Yankees don’t have a lot of pitching depth and the free agent class is either very expensive or not that good. Because of this, it seems that the best bets are Robbie Ray (though I wouldn’t pay him “ace” money), Jon Gray, and Alex Wood. If I were the GM, I’d sign Gray and Wood. I’d get them on a yearly basis for less than Robbie Ray would cost annually. I’d rather hedge my bets on two guys than one. These pitchers also wouldn’t be signed for as long a contract as what it’ll take to get Robbie Ray.
I’m not thrilled with this new rotation, but I think it’s an improvement from where we started:
Jamison Taillon/Luis Severino
This also gives me the depth to trade Nestor Cortes and/or Domingo German if something becomes available.
I would also still have all the “up-and-coming” young arms.
This rotation would take much of the pressure off Luis Severino to have to be a #2 or even a #3. I’d be able to bring him back slowly. There would also be less pressure on Montgomery and Taillon.
The more I look at this rotation, the more I like it!