The rotation options who could help solve Yankees’ biggest issue

The rotation options who could help solve Yankees’ biggest issue

February 21, 2019

TAMPA — This is a time of year when all the best-shape-of-my-life hokum and general optimism of spring can create illusion. But as a collective, the Yankees appear early in great shape physically, mentally and in talent.

The 95-plus-win projections feel proper thanks to a power lineup and bullpen, and playing in a still bedraggled American League that had me wondering last year if the Yankees won 100 games or the opponents lost 100 to them.

I exited after more than a week in Yankees camp wondering what would derail 95-plus. Miguel Andujar might again default to defensive footwork from the Enes Kanter video library. Gary Sanchez could continue to be the worst goalie in the world. And would you be surprised if Aaron Boone steps to a microphone on March 6 to say Troy Tulowitzki is not injured, it is soreness, and so the Yankees are just backing off a little — and we never see Tulowitzki again?

Even a $220 million roster steeped in talent cannot be made bulletproof against the scriptless variances of a season, namely dips in performance and injury.

Still, the greatest threat to 95-plus wins lies with the rotation. There are enough red flags combined with enough questions about depth that if the Yankees have simultaneous starters go down, they would be counting the days until the Giants make Madison Bumgarner available in July.

To be fair, the same worries existed last year and Jordan Montgomery broke physically and Sonny Gray in performance. And among Luis Cessa, Domingo German, Jonathan Loaisiga and trades for J.A. Happ and Lance Lynn, the Yankees problem-solved to 100 wins.

Cessa, German and Loaisiga each had multiple good starts last year, but not enough to earn a rotation spot. They still might be enough — protected by that pen — to again provide adequate rotation depth.

Nevertheless, I wonder if the stalled free-agent market might be helpful to the Yankees. The still-unemployed Dallas Keuchel and Gio Gonzalez are certain to get major league deals. But could the Yankees, say, sign to a minor league contract a Clay Buchholz, Edwin Jackson, Ervin Santana, James Shields type, just to have a been-there, done-that vet in conjunction with the inexperienced Cessa, German and Loaisiga?

Even if such a veteran did not make the majors, he would get the structure of spring training, be seen competing by scouts and given contract opt-outs on, say, June 1 and July 1, as the Yankees move closer to when Montgomery may be an alternative as he rehabs after Tommy John surgery.

Without saying to whom, Brian Cashman revealed, “We’ve been offering those [minor league deals to starters] out like Chiclets.” The Yankees GM said even the secondary veterans at this late date continue to hold out for major league deals. The Yankees, without an open rotation spot, do not want to offer guaranteed money and a 40-man roster spot.

So, for now it is Cessa, German and Loaisiga — all of whom, while lacking track records, probably have better pure stuff than most, if not all, of the lingering free agents. Cessa is out of options so, if he is not traded, he would almost certainly make the roster in long relief. Michael King, who emerged in the minors last year, was supposed to be in this competition, but incurred a stress reaction in his right elbow and is weeks from even beginning spring training anew.

Pitching coach Larry Rothschild said he believes Chance Adams never fully regained strength following 2017-18 offseason surgery to remove elbow chips. So perhaps the once well-regarded prospect could revive, or maybe an Albert Abreu, Deivi Garcia or Trevor Stephan could move as quickly as Loaisiga last year.

Rothschild said Montgomery is progressing well, but that he would not even think about the lefty until he is pitching in rehab games, which is months away.

This puts a premium on the Yankees’ rotation staying healthy, which, despite similar red flags last year, it mainly did. Yet, even in the best scenarios, CC Sabathia and Masahiro Tanaka have shown they will need short injury pit stops during the season. James Paxton has been on the DL in each of the past five seasons and seven times in all. Sabathia (38) and Happ (36) are the first and third oldest starters in the AL (Justin Verlander is No. 2). Luis Severino had been durable the last two years, but also throws a fastball with the highest average velocity among starters in the majors.

Worries about rotation health and depth lurk in 30 spring training sites. But not all 30 have $220 million payrolls, 95-plus-win projections and legit title aspirations. The Yankees do. Thus, their concerns begin at the start.

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