Corey Kluber and the difficulty to build a good rotation

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It only took a few months, but the Yankees finally made a couple of moves last week. Randy, Matt, and I broke things down on the podcast yesterday, but I have a couple of more thoughts I want to add today. Let’s get to them.

1. Corey Kluber’s potential is tantalizing, but I don’t like the gamble. I really don’t want to evaluate this deal with the luxury tax in mind, but Hal Steinbrenner has left little choice. As much as I disagree with the goal to keep payroll below $210 million, it looks inevitable. So, I have to question the front office utilizing $11 million on Kluber. Per Roster Resource, the Yankees are now at $207.4 million in payroll for luxury tax purposes after adding Kluber and DJ LeMahieu. That leaves little room for improvements to the major league roster barring a salary dump. I think we all would like the Yankees to add to the pitching staff, but at this point, free agency appears out of the question. 

As an alternative, I think I’d have preferred Jose Quintana. I know, I know, boring. But I’m much more confident in him staying healthy and taking the ball every fifth day. Quintana’s been as durable as they come: he made 31 starts or more annually from 2013 through 2019. In 2020, he cut his hand before the season began and later had his season end due to lat inflammation, but I’ll take that over Kluber’s recent health. He’s made just eight starts over the last two seasons, and ended 2020 with a shoulder injury. Quintana signed with the Angels for $8 million this week, by the way. A similar deal would have left more budget room.

Of course, I hope I’m really wrong about this. I mean, I get the appeal of Kluber. There’s a nonzero chance that the Yankees have two or three aces by season’s end! Kluber, along with Gerrit Cole and Luis Severino, looks pretty damn formidable on paper. That’s pretty exciting, not going to lie. In any case, I’m far from the authority on this and the front office surely has good reason to bring in Kluber, risks and all. Hell, it’s not even just the front office that apparently prefers Kluber. A couple of projection systems think much more highly of Kluber, in comparison to Quintana, than I do.

ZiPS

  • Kluber: 118.2 IP, 3.87 ERA, 3.93 FIP
  • Quintana: 126.2 IP, 4.76 ERA, 4.54 FIP

Steamer

  • Kluber: 153 IP, 4.04 ERA, 4.08 FIP
  • Quintana: 156 IP, 4.39 ERA, 4.54 FIP

2. Not to excuse the Yankees, but it’s also really hard to build a rotation full of innings eaters. After spending a few hundred words on how I don’t really like the Kluber move, I think we could also back off on the front office a bit when it comes to building a rotation. It’s not easy! Look, we all want starters who are durable and effective. There aren’t many of those out there, though. Most other teams have the very same issue that the Yankees have in terms of starting depth. But one thing the Yankees have over the majority of other clubs? A true, bonafide ace in Gerrit Cole. That goes a long way.

Off hand, how many teams do you think have a better starting rotation than the Yankees do? I’ll give you a few, in no particular order:

  1. Dodgers
  2. Padres
  3. Mets
  4. Nationals
  5. Braves
  6. Maybe the White Sox?

That’s just my subjective list. So it came as a surprise for me to find that FanGraphs projects the Yankees to have the second-best group of starters in MLB. Yup, only the Padres rank ahead of the Yankees’ staff. Again, having Cole helps push the Yankees up in this list, but a number of solid projections follow him. Perhaps it’s time for us to have a little more confidence in some of the Yankees’ young arms like Deivi García, Clarke Schmidt, Jordan Montgomery, and Michael King. Now, do I still want more pitching? Of course. I just wanted to put things in perspective and give the front office a little bit of credit for what’s already in house.

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14 Comments

  1. Mungo

    The difficulty in building a good rotation is exasperated by the Yankees limiting themselves to the first luxury tax tier, limiting their current window. Snap in Tanaka and Odorizzi and the depth increases significantly with two mid-rotation arms. Couple that with Kluber and then Severino’s mid-season return, and suddenly the Yankees looks quite strong, leaving Garcia, Schmidt, German and Montgomery to battle out the 5th spot, deepen the pen, and serve as the necessary 6th, 7th and 8th starters needed over 162 games. Can’t add both? Pick one.

  2. Alex

    Building a rotation isn’t particularly difficult, especially when you consistently have the highest payroll in baseball. Cashman is just absolutely terrible at it.

  3. DanGer

    Don’t be surprised when Chacin ends the year with 100+ IP.

  4. Wire Fan

    Are the Yankees going to make the playoffs barring some extreme combination of injuries and down performances?

    If so,then it is about 3-4 starters for the postseason. I’ll take Kluber’s upside and injury risk over Quintana’s lower level of performance and steadiness. And realistically 3mil isn’t opening up LT room for significant improvements.

  5. CentralScrutinizer

    2021 Kluber == 2019 Tulowitzki

    • DanGer

      Disagree. Tulo was injury prone his entire career and trending downward. They paid him league minimum and crossed their fingers he would keep Didi’s seat warm.

  6. Troy

    Durable does not get you wins in October. Would you want Quintana taking the ball to start Game 2? I wouldn’t. Kluber, ok. Paxton would be ok. We do not need junk innings. There is lots of depth.

    • The Original Drew

      I think Quintana/Tanaka would be great to start a potential game 4 of the playoffs if your 1-3 is Cole, Kluber and Severino.

      • Troy

        That assumes Sevy is back and in form. I think the Yanks made it clear they did not trust Tanaka in the 2020 post-season. I doubt anyone wants to trust Quintana at this point.

        But my view is that the Yanks have a lot of arms that could start, we need to know what those arms offer. If we bury them in the minors or an alternate site, we never discover that.

        Second, if none of them look like good options and/or Sevy is not looking like he will return strong, we can make a mid-season deal. Doing that (1) gives the kids a chance to shine early, (2) allows the Yanks to make a move on a pitcher who is going strong in 2021 (rather than signing someone and watching them go down in May), and (3) allows them to use less room under the cap.

        They have about $6 MM left. You are not getting much for that. But maybe midway through the year, there is a $12MM pitcher out there, that the other team has already paid $6MM to.

        We need someone in October not April.

        • Ramez hanna

          The Yankees didn’t make signing kluber and d j offical yet,I think they are packaging some players to trade for a pitcher

          • Troy

            Trying to make a trade of some sort. Rather than dump players for free

  7. Coolerking101

    They have Monty as the 40th best starting pitcher in all of baseball!!!! Putting that in perspective, they suggest Monty would be the best pitcher or second best pitcher for 60% of the teams in baseball. While I like the guy….that’s VERY optimistic.

  8. The Original Drew

    I got into a heated debate with Randy on twitter about this yesterday, but there is a ton of uncertainty in the Yankees rotation after Cole. You have either guys coming back from injury (or long layoff) and unproven but talented youth that are going to be on innings limits. Kluber can’t be their only move. The Yankees lost 3 starting pitchers to FA, and only replaced one of them.

    Kluber raises the ceiling and if everything breaks right can be that #2 starter they desperately need but that’s not something you can bank on. Teams will need pitching more than ever this season. Cole threw 91 innings including the postseason last year, is it responsible or reasonable for him to throw 200+ this year?

    I think as fans you can and should be absolutely critical of the team if Kluber is the only pitching move. Go over the LT and resign Tanaka or someone else that you can reasonably expect to give you 150 league average innings. Depth not only rewards you during the regular season but it will certainly reward you in October as well. Where your rotation can be Cole, Kluber, Tanaka, Severino with Montgomery, German, Deivi, all coming out of the pen to take some load off of Green, Britton and Chapman so they aren’t gassed by Game 5 of the division series like we saw. Hopefully off days will mitigate that risk as well, but again there is never such a thing as too much pitching.

    • george grossi

      when’s the last time “everything broke right?”

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