Another offseason, another quest to find more starting pitching.
Last offseason the Yankees addressed this reoccurring topic by signing one of the best pitchers in baseball, Gerrit Cole. For the first time since CC Sabathia, the Yankees had a clear cut ace. Yet here we are this offseason, having the same conversation. With Masahiro Tanaka, James Paxton and JA Happ becoming free agents, Yankees fans are hypothesizing a young rotation with the likes of Deivi Garcia, Jordan Montgomery, Domingo German, Clarke Schmidt, Mike King and a rehabbing Luis Severino.
Instead of seriously considering this, I think it’s important for both fans and Brian Cashman to look back at recent history.
The 2020 Dodgers won the World Series with an incredible starting rotation. Yes their offense is great but the strength and depth of their rotation really stands out.
They have that 1-2 punch at the top of their rotation that Yankees fans dream about; Clayton Kershaw and Walker Buehler are both dominant pitchers. Their performances in the postseason are one of the reasons they won it all. The Dodgers were 3-0 in the World Series and 2-1 in the NLCS in Kershaw/Buehler starts.
The Dodgers rotation has incredible depth as well even with David Price sitting the 2020 season out. In the regular season, Julio Urias had a 3.27 ERA, Tony Gonsolin had a 2.31 ERA and Dustin May had a 2.57 ERA. I know the season was short and ERA is a debated stat, but you can at least make the argument that any of the Dodgers starters could’ve been the Yankees number two starter in 2020.
To me, that’s a problem. The Dodgers rotation has stability, depth and firepower while the Yankees rotation is filled with uncertainty spots 2-5. The best team on paper doesn’t always win the World Series. Most of the time they don’t. But the Yankees need to at least close this gap if they consider themselves a World Series caliber team.
The 2019 World Series winning Nationals had a strong 1-2 punch as well, Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg. Scherzer was a Cy Young finalist that year and Strasburg was dominant in the postseason. Strasburg got them two wins in the World Series and won World Series MVP. And after their 1-2 punch, the Nationals still had Patrick Corbin.
Even the teams that make it to the World Series have a great 1-2 at the top of their rotation. Take the 2020 Rays for example, with Blake Snell and Tyler Glasnow/Charlie Morton. The Astros had a great 1-2 with Cole and Justin Verlander in 2019. Cashman should aim for a 1-2 punch of this caliber for their best chance to win a World Series.
The Not So Obvious Solution
Unfortunately, the only obvious pitcher in free agency that can become a legitimate number two would be Trevor Bauer. With the Yankees cutting payroll, that option doesn’t seem possible. Within free agency, the only possible solutions for a number two would be a “low risk, high reward” flier, like Corey Kluber. But even signing a guy like that has its cons.
The Yankees need not only firepower but stability. Signing one of these “low risk, high reward” pitchers who ends up getting injured or is mediocre might not be the worst outcome financially. But it would be devastating for the rotation.
A trade would be the next possible solution. This option is also limited. Lance Lynn has already been traded. It’s unlikely that the Yankees would bring back Sonny Gray after his disappointing first rodeo in the Bronx. The Rays would never trade Snell within the division, let alone one of their rivals. The only obvious number two caliber starters who might be possible to acquire via trade, would be Kyle Hendricks or Carlos Carrasco. Other than those two, there might not be any other number two caliber pitchers on the trade market.
That leaves the Yankees in a difficult position. Although free agency and trades are limited, the Yankees will make a move this offseason to address the rotation. Let’s just hope it’s a legitimate number two pitcher because like they say, history repeats itself.