With Paxton out, the Yankees should add one more starter

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Yesterday’s news stunk. Now that we know James Paxton won’t be back until May at the earliest, the Yankees’ rotation depth is a tad thinner. It’s still a great rotation! But as the saying goes: you can never have enough pitching.

With a presumed rotation of Gerrit Cole, Luis Severino, Masahiro Tanaka, and JA Happ, the Yankees have one spot up for grabs. At the moment, the Yankees have a number of competitors for that fifth starter role. From Jordan Montgomery, Mike King, Luis Cessa, Jonathan Loaisiga, and Deivi García, the 40-man is full of options. Hell, perhaps non-roster invitee Clarke Schmidt could surprise and win a job. In any event, adding one more arm to the mix can’t hurt.

At this point of the offseason, free agency is slim pickings. So is the trade market. Nonetheless, there are some options worth considering. Let’s dig in to a few briefly.

Collin McHugh

McHugh has mostly pitched in relief for Houston in recent years, though he did start eight games in 2019. He hasn’t been a full-time starter since 2017, but I wouldn’t fret too much about that. The 32 year-old righty could transition seamlessly into the bullpen midseason and probably be quite effective in such a role. Since 2018, McHugh has thrown 106 relief innings and recorded a 2.25 ERA and 2.94 FIP in the process. Also in his favor — he’s a Statcast darling:

He’d probably work best in brief two to three inning starts, an opener of sorts. But as a fifth starter, you can do a whole lot worse than McHugh even if you never get any more than four or five innings out of him each start.

One big concern, however: McHugh ended 2019 shut down with elbow pain. I haven’t been able to find any updates on him since September when he was shut down. Either way, a minor league deal is absolutely worth a shot.

Trevor Cahill

Things didn’t go so well for Cahill last year. The Angels picked him up after the righty had a strong 2018 for Oakland, but unfortunately for them, Cahill flopped. In 102 1/3 innings split between the rotation and relief, he recorded a 5.98 ERA and 6.13 FIP.

Even with a very poor season, there’s still some appeal to Cahill. The 31 year-old sinkerballer is just a year removed from a strong campaign, as previously noted. That year, he posted a 3.76 ERA and 3.54 FIP in 110 innings.

Further, I wonder if Cahill’s curveball has some appeal. It was his third-most used pitch at a 21.8 percent last season, just behind his sinker (28.3 percent) and changeup (23.4 percent). Yet, its spin rate is in the 96th percentile. It also gets roughly two inches of vertical movement above average and almost 5 inches of horizontal movement above average. We know the Yankees like breaking balls, so perhaps there’s a recipe for success here with increased usage. I mean, it looks like a pretty good offering:

Cahill’s probably going to get a minor league flyer, so why not give him an opportunity?

Danny Salazar

After years of sitting in the mid-to-upper 90s, Salazar underwent shoulder surgery and missed all of 2018 and almost all of 2019. When he returned last year, he pitched one game before a groin strain shut him down for the rest of the way. And unfortunately, he didn’t look so hot.

It hasn’t been all smiles for Salazar lately.

Salazar’s fastball average 86.5 miles per hour in his one game last summer, a far cry from his old form. With that in mind, Salazar is purely a lottery ticket. He’d be far behind the likes of Montgomery and others in the fifth starter race, but I figured he deserved mention because of his past.

Taijuan Walker

A few of you have asked about Walker in recent weeks. Still just 27, Walker was once a top prospect for Seattle before he was traded to Arizona. He was quite good in his first season with the Diamondbacks in 2017 before Tommy John surgery cut short his 2018 campaign. In those two seasons combined, he pitched 170 1/3 innings and notched a 3.49 ERA and 4.03 FIP.

In 2019, Walker returned for one game at the very end of the season. He made a one inning start against San Diego and his velocity was back to prior levels (93.3 miles per hour), which was a good sign.

Unlike the others on this list, Walker will probably get a major league deal. His age, return and distance from his surgery, and former prospect status merit one. It seems like the Yankees don’t want to make any more 40-man roster moves, so I’m not sure they’ll go this route.

Update, 12:25pm:

So apparently I completely missed this — thanks @zs190 for pointing this out. This strikes me as a little odd considering he sat around 93 back in his one inning in September. I should have also mentioned that he strained his shoulder capsule last year during this rehab from TJS.

These are a few red flags, though I wonder if he’s building up arm strength as he gets back into action after a long layoff. He was healthy to return to pitch in September, so unless this is some sort of new undisclosed injury, I’m guessing it’s still a buildup.

Others

There are some other pitchers with name value in free agency, but that’s about it. It’s been a while since Ervin Santana, Matt Harvey, or Andrew Cashner have been anything special. Sure, Cashner had a nice run with Baltimore to start last season before getting traded to Boston, but his strong start was full of helium. Also, if Aaron Sanchez was healthy, I’d have mentioned him earlier.

Anyway, I’d feel much more confident in any of the Yankees’ internal options over the other free agents on the previously linked Fangraphs list, though I suppose a minor league contract never hurt anyone.

Trades

Our offseason plan called for a trade with Colorado to acquire Jon Gray. That would be a pretty solid get and ultimately make Happ expendable once Paxton returns. Absolutely nothing indicates that Gray is on the block right now, though. On top of that, there really are no other rumors floating around. Teams’ rotations are pretty set with pitchers and catchers reporting in less than a week. Nonetheless, I’m sure Brian Cashman will do his due diligence just in case.

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4 Comments

  1. mikefoxtrot

    indeed, the Yankees would do well to aff deGrom as a replacement.

    failing that, whattheheck is adding a replacement level starter going to do????

    the Yankees already have 3 or 4 guys ready to serve as temporary rotation pieces until German and Paxton return

  2. JG (Ben Francisco)

    There’s a good reason all these guys haven’t been signed yet even though it makes sense on paper.

  3. RetroRob

    I’ve been hoping the Yankees give McHugh a look even prior to the Paxton news. The main question, obviously, is the state of his elbow. He was lights out in the pen in 2018. Have him start a few games until Paxton returns, and then off to the pen. Might be a good replacement for Cessa, who was serviceable but certainly could also be upgraded. Walker’s interesting too, but it’s a bit of a problem if he can’t be counted on in the early going.

    I’d stick with Montgomery, Lasagna and King. Could even throw Cessa in the mix. If lucky, Happ looks good and they can move him by June once Paxton and then German return.

  4. dasit

    i would rather bring back sergio mitre (say his name three times…) than witness andrew cashner in pinstripes

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