What no Shohei Ohtani means for the 2018 Yankees

In an otherwise quiet offseason thus far, the silence was finally broken this weekend when Brian Cashman chose Aaron Boone as the 35th manager in Yankees history, and the two-way Japanese megastar, Shohei Ohtani, ruled-out wearing the Yankee pinstripes next season. With those two announcements, two key questions heading into 2018 have been answered.

While Yankee fans were excited about the hiring of Boone on Friday night, the news about Ohtani quickly became the bigger headline just 48 hours later. The addition of the two-way Ohtani would have been a low risk, high reward play for the Yankees. It’s not every day that a 23-year-old who tops out at 102MPH off the mound and hits homers off the back of the Toyko Dome has a run at the free agent market. However, Ohtani’s decision is based less on what the Yankees had to offer monetarily, and more about Ohtani’s personal preference.

Cashman spoke with MLB.com’s Bryan Hoch on Sunday night. He said “I started getting a feel that wasn’t good a few days ago… I can’t change that we’re a big market and I can’t change that we’re in the East.” Cashman said everything in the pitch to Ohtani—a requirement he made to every team that wants to sign him—went as well as it could have gone.

It’s apparent Ohtani had this agenda from the jump, and it’s rumored he will wind up somewhere on the west coast before his December 22nd signing deadline. For the Yankees, they could have used another live arm in the rotation and another lefty bat to potentially make up for the weak DH numbers posted last season. However, not landing the unproven 23-year-old Japanese standout won’t derail where this Yankee team is headed.

During the 2017 season, the starting rotation proved to be the weakest aspect of the Yankees roster; the offense finished 3rd overall in MLB, the bullpen 1st, and the starting rotation 7th. Having every facet of your game rank in the top 10 by the season’s end is an admirable feat, but being one game away from getting to the World Series and winning the World Series are two very different things.

The good news is that we know Luis Severino, Sonny Gray, and Mashiro Tanaka are returning atop the rotation in 2018. Severino – who finished 3rd in the AL Cy Young voting this year and 4th overall in MLB, according to FanGraphs – is more than likely going to be the Opening Day starter. Gray will pitch in his first full season in the Bronx in 2018, and Tanaka – who finished the season exceptionally strong – decided not to opt out of his contract. All three possess top of the rotation stuff, and are a great core for the 2018 rotation.

Sonny Gray, a 3rd place Cy Young finisher in 2015, has been a model of consistency his entire career. Despite his 42nd ranking amongst starters in run support per game (4.7), Gray saw his K/9 spike to a career-high 8.5 last season. As for Tanaka, his horrid first half tells the story of his inflated 4.74ERA on the year. His improvements in the second half, along with his 2ER in 20 innings of work this postseason, leave reason to believe he can become the ace he was two years ago. While I’d bet on these guys to fill the first 3 spots of the rotation sufficiently—no Ohtani means the backend of the rotation is much less certain.

After the GM meetings wrapped in Florida a few weeks back, Brian Cashman said he was “excited” to negotiate a new deal for the 37-year-old CC Sabathia. Now that Ohtani definitely won’t play in pinstripes, my guess is that Cashman is more anxious than excited to bring back the lefty hurler. Sabathia’s return has almost become necessary now that the 4 and 5 spots in the rotation are void, which will probably bode well for CC’s wallet.

Three other options in addition to Sabathia that you could see fill out the gaps in the rotation are Jordan Montgomery, Chad Green, and Chance Adams. After finishing in 6th in Rookie of the Year voting, 24-year-old southpaw Jordan Montgomery should see an expanded role. With no innings limit next year, it will be interesting to see if Montgomery can improve on his 3.88ERA in 2018. Lauded for his curveball that he threw more than any other pitch last season, opposing batters hit just .170 when they faced the hook. During a 5 start stretch back in June, Montgomery went 4-0 with a 2.59ERA. If he can show that kind of consistency, he has the potential to be a staple in the 2018 rotation. 

Brian Cashman is also looking forward to giving the lights out Chad Green a chance to compete for a spot in the rotation when Spring Training rolls around. Working out of the bullpen this year, Chad Green was virtually unhittable. Boasting a 1.83ERA and an astronomical 13.4 K/9 rate, Green was a top 10 reliever in all of baseball this year. However, everybody remembers what happened to Joba Chamberlain, so expect Cashman and Boone to tread lightly. 

The Yankees 5th round pick from the 2015 draft will also have a chance to prove himself this spring. Chance Adams, 23, posted a 2.89ERA in 115 innings of work after his promotion to AAA-Scranton. Since 2015, Adams has posted a 2.33ERA in 3 different levels of minor league ball, with a 31-7 record and 9.3 K/9 rate.

Missing out on Shohei Ohtani is undoubtedly a disappointment for Yankee fans, especially considering that Cashman made it a point to accumulate international pool money in his many dealings this past summer. However, the Yankees have more than enough depth in their lineup, and while the rotation is still a bit of a wild card, the candidates to fill the voids are qualified to get the job done.

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