Opinion: A case for the Yankees adding another starting pitcher

I’ve always been of the opinion that good pitching defeats strong, slugger-level batting, especially in a playoff situation.  I’m not alone in that opinion, either.

Of course, it helps in the regular season, too.  Let’s face it -- the starting rotation has been an issue for a while, and by “a while” I mean “prior to the 2019 season”. The bullpen, slated prior to the 2019 season as the best bullpen in MLB, is not the bigger issue here.  Even with the recent (and necessary) departure of Chad Green to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, as well as the injury to Dellin Betances, the bullpen still shouldn’t be the area of focus for improvement on the Yankees’ pitching staff.
The starting rotation, however, is growing more and more problematic by the day, and I mean that in the most literal sense.  During the offseason, the glaring hole in the rotation seemed apparent, at least to me.  Luis Severino would be the Yanks’ ace, but he still showed some inconsistency.  Masahiro Tanaka would remain as the No.2 guy, but he’s known for either pitching like a beast or crashing and burning in the fifth or sixth inning -- there is no in-between.  JA Happ was stellar during his first half-season as a Yankee, and I expected him to continue down a similar path in 2019.  CC Sabathia, while a legendary starting pitcher, is 38 years old -- and cannot realistically go more than 4.5 or 5.0 IP.  And Lance Lynn, while I wasn’t unhappy to say good-bye to him, left a hole in the rotation. 

Photo Credit: CBS Sports

While the Yankees thankfully made a trade for James Paxton in the offseason, there were already problems in the rotation, and then… Severino ended up with an inflamed rotator cuff.  Reports as of May 5th indicate he won’t return from the Injured List until after the All-Star break.  Happ has been very inconsistent as he goes back and forth from looking like his old self and letting up home runs in bunches.  Sabathia started the season on the Injured List and has since returned to the rotation, but it is difficult to determine how his season will pan out -- a 2-3 record in eight starts is not much to go on, especially since he's seemed to tire out by the fifth or sixth inning in his recent outings.  Tanaka is textbook Tanaka; he's been hit and miss this season, but the Yankees’ offense and bullpen haven’t shown up for him a few times as well (particularly on April 8th).  Jonathan Loaisiga, who opened the season seventh on the rotational depth chart, has only seen mild success so far and bounced back and forth between the majors and SWB.  He will be called upon again in place of Paxton for the next few weeks.  

Statistically speaking, the Yankees' starting rotation has still performed very well* - fifth in MLB in starter's ERA, fifth in opposing OBP, 8th in WHIP - but the larger issue stems from the continued injuries and lack of long-term experience from guys like German and Loaisiga.
*stats as of Tuesday, May 7

The brightest spot in the Yankees’ rotation comes in the form of Domingo German, who is 6-1 and leads the American league in several categories like wins, BAA, opposing batter OBP & opposing batter SLG.  He also sports a crisp 2.35 ERA -- a stark contrast to 2018, during which he was 2-6 with a 5.57 ERA and was back and forth between Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and the Bronx.  

But the latest issue in the rotation is a fairly new one: Paxton is just the latest Yankee to end up on the Injured List with left knee inflammation.  With any kind of luck, he won’t miss more than a few starts after GM Brian Cashman stated this past weekend his injury carries a "three-week max" timetable.

What with an already inconsistent situation, and the recent departure of Paxton, it’s time for the Yankees to look for reinforcements in the starting rotation.  Now the next question of this issue that remains is: what, or whom, do they need?  Someone who could put the rotation on an actual schedule, more than it has been in recent months and even years.  Someone who could start big games while Severino and Paxton remain injured, make up for the inconsistency of Tanaka, give Sabathia a few extra days of rest, make sure German doesn’t end up burnt out and make us all forget about how awful Happ has looked.  It’s too bad that there aren’t any free agents out there who could help…

… except there are.  It’s already May, and Dallas Keuchel is still without a team.  Now, it’s not as simple as just bringing Keuchel to New York without any catch.  The Yankees would have to clear a spot for him in the rotation - either by trading away someone, demoting someone to AAA, or releasing someone and eating the remainder of their contract.  All of those options seem unlikely with guys like Sabathia, Tanaka & Happ.  Not to mention, the Yankees are already over the luxury tax threshold and Keuchel won't sign a team-friendly deal. Alternatively, the Yankees could also move to a six-man rotation.

Photo Credit: Troy Taormina/USA Today Sports

Keuchel is a four-time Gold Glove winner, two-time All-Star and World Series Champion.  He brings a lot of postseason experience to the Yankees, or, to any team he’d join.  He’s familiar with many of the current Yankees, having faced them both in the regular season and in the postseason.  He’s also a known Yankee-killer, and eliminating Keuchel from the ranks of pitchers whom the Yankees would have to face would be, well, helpful.  While Keuchel doesn’t have to be the only possible solution to the problem with the Yankees’ starting rotation, he’s currently the most obvious choice. 

However, the larger issue at play here is much less about Keuchel, and much more about the Yankees’ rotation as a whole.  We won’t see Severino for quite a while, and Paxton will hopefully not be out for as long as Severino -- but he’s still out for the time being.  And I firmly believe that part of what happened to Severino in the second half of 2018 is that he simply burnt out.  Aaron Boone cannot afford to, and should not, allow that to happen to German in the current state of affairs.  With Happ currently struggling to settle in, Sabathia on the back-nine of his career, and Tanaka a wild card for the time being, it’s time for the Yankees to bring aboard another starter… sooner rather than later. 

Article by: Mary Grace Donaldson

**Editor's note: The Yankees would still face draft pick compensation for signing Dallas Keuchel ahead of the 2019 MLB Amateur Draft.  Keuchel has stated that he will not sign for less than he feels he's worth, and might be willing to wait until after the draft to sign if that's when the right offer would come along.  Should this be the case, the Yankees will have already gotten back James Paxton from his current IL-stint due to knee inflammation.**


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