Now is the Time for Tandem Starters
The practice of utilizing an “opener” has become popular throughout baseball as teams search for ways to cover for their lack of starting pitching depth. Prior to Severino’s shoulder injury this past week, the Yankees were not one of the teams that planned to use an opener regularly. However, the Yankees are now faced with opening the season without 2/5 of their starting rotation. While much of the mainstream media has focused on the idea of an opener, I think there is a better path forward. I have long been intrigued by the idea of using the Yankees’ plethora of young arms as tandem starters. To summarize, I think there are multiple pitchers on the Yankees’ 40-man roster that would thrive in 2-4 inning stints due to some combination of inexperience, durability concerns, high-octane stuff, developing command, or the lack of a dependable third pitch. The Yankees could use this strategy to their benefit early in the season.
CC Sabathia will be on the Injured List for the first 10 days of the season, and will then serve his 5-game suspension. Luis Severino will not be able to pitch until at least mid-April, if not longer. This means that the Yankees will have 2 roster spots to fill when Spring Training ends. Additionally, there is not any good starting pitching available on the Free Agent market (yes, I know Keuchel is out there…he scares me, and I do not think he is a fit for Yankee Stadium, even on a short-term deal). As I outlined months ago, I think that there is significant value to be gained by allowing multiple young starters to pitch multiple innings in tandem once per week. The three healthy young pitchers most able to fill these roles right now are Luis Cessa, Domingo German, and Jonathan Loaisiga. Cessa was likely going to make the roster even prior to the injuries to Sabathia and Severino, so Loaisiga and German serve to fill the additional 2 temporary open roster spots. Here is what the early schedule could look like using this plan:
I ended the plan at 4/11 because Sabathia should be eligible to return by his turn in the rotation that week. The early season schedule is organized in a way that is conducive to the tandem starter plan. Also, I left Loaisiga out of the tandem on 4/10, because I wanted to give him as much rest as possible, considering his injury concerns. Loaisiga, Cessa, and German can cycle in and out of the long-man/starter role without over-taxing anyone. Additionally, all three pitchers will stay mostly stretched out, allowing any of the three to transition to a traditional starting role should any of them prove ready, and that pitcher can keep Severino’s spot in the rotation warm until he returns..
Given the weak options on the Free Agent market, the Yankees must look internally for options to replace a large portion of the rotation. Using tandem starters will allow the Yankees to gain on-the-field value in the short-term while continuing to effectively develop three young pitchers in an appropriately challenging environment. Using tandem starters for the first month of the season is a win-win for the Yankees. While using an opener is a tempting proposition, I think that the Yankees can gain an advantage despite a difficult situation by using tandem starters early this season.