Even though the Yankees exited the playoffs way earlier than we expected or wanted, there were two silver linings: Giancarlo Stanton raking and Gerrit Cole dealing. The latter was highlighted all the more by the general non-dealing of the rest of the Yankee rotation. And as the Yankees stare into the void of the offseason, I find myself thinking a lot about their starting rotation and pitching staff in general.
Over the last little while, the Yankees’ pitching strength has been their bullpen. Year after year, they have a solid relief core and that’s true now. Hell, their set-up guy in Zach Britton would be the closer on just about every other team, and the same might be true of Chad Green. This pattern seems to work for them; they win lots of games and most always make the playoffs. But the problem is that once they get there, their super-bullpen is a little less super, having been used to the point of being gassed by October.
A solution to this is for the Yankees to go after another reliever in free agency or a trade to deepen the bullpen. It’s a solution the Yankees could easily and rightly pursue. However, I think they need to take a different course: strengthening the rotation.
Yes, there’s a hot take for you, folks: a baseball team needs to strengthen its starting pitching. The Yankees have attempted this, with varying degrees of success, over the last few years. They’ve traded for Sonny Gray, Lance Lynn, JA Happ, and James Paxton. And, of course, they signed Gerrit Cole. But for the most part, these moves just filled out the rotation rather than adding necessary depth to it.
Going in to 2021, the only real sure thing in the rotation is Gerrit Cole. Happ, Paxton, and Masahiro Tanaka are all free agents and I’d wager only one of them–likely Tanaka–will ever pitch for the Yankees again. Even if they bring Tanaka back (yes, please), they’ll still be left with questions in the rotation, given Deivi Garcia and Clarke Schmidt’s youth and inexperience as well as Luis Severino’s Tommy John Surgery recovery. As such, the Yankees should sign Tanaka as well as at least one other starter, preferably two.
Signing multiple starters would have a threefold positive effect for the Yankees. First, it would add reliability and predictability to the rotation. We know what the Yankees will get out of Cole and what they would get out of Tanaka. Beyond that, we’re not sure. Second, and this is related to the first, it would give the Yankees a little insurance against the growing pains of Garcia and Schmidt. Sure, signing three starters might push one of them–or both–out of the five man rotation at times, but there will always be room, always be innings to go around. Third, and perhaps most important, is that signing more starters could help give the Yankee bullpen a break.
Given how much the Yankees rely on their bullpen and how vital a strong bullpen is to October success, keeping the relievers well-rested is of the utmost importance. Signing multiple starters can allow for this with more starter-pitched innings in the regular season. Additionally, any extra starters could be deployed out of the bullpen in the playoffs to give the high-leverage arms some rest in a time when rest is scarce.
I’m not saying the Yankees need to go wild and back the truck up for Trevor Bauer–frankly, I’m not convinced of him. But I would like them to bring back Tanaka and bring in some other starters–Marcus Stroman? Charlie Morton? For too long, the Yankees’ pitching success has been predicated upon their bullpen. I’m not sure they can reach the next level while continuing to do that.