As the Yankees look toward the 2019 season, the starting rotation will be chief among the facets the club will seek to improve. They need an ace. They need a strong No. 2 and heck, they need a back-end of the rotation arm.
As it stands, the Yankees have two starters -- Luis Severino and Masahiro Tanaka -- locked into roster spots. Yankees GM Brian Cashman has already stated he will try to trade Sonny Gray, while J.A. Happ and CC Sabathia are free agents.
So, how will the Yankees build the 2019 rotation?
The ace within
Severino was dialed in for his first 18 starts of the season, pitching to a 1.98 ERA, .195 BAA with 138 strikeouts in 118.1 innings. Severino was viewed as a Cy Young Award candidate heading into the All-Star break, but he seemingly lost everything afterward. He slogged through the second half, more resembling the pitcher that struggled in 2016 than the hurler on the ascent to be the ace of the Yankees for years to come.
Severino's finish to this season was disappointing and whether it was mechanics, fatigue, an injury or tipping pitches, all of those things can be fixed. The good news is that Severino will pitch the entire 2019 season at the age of 25. This is an extremely talented pitcher approaching his prime seasons. The point is there is room to grow and gain full season consistency, meaning the ace of the staff might still be sitting in front of the Yankees' eyes.
Teams enter the offseason with a checklist of sorts littered with names of players they believe would fit into a particular role with the club. That does not always mean that the players have a desire to sign with the team. In Patrick Corbin, there is a bonafide mutual interest.
Corbin, born in Clay, NY, just outside of Syracuse, grew up an avid Yankees fan. Earlier this year, he was crystal clear about his feelings when it comes to the chance to don pinstripes.
"It would definitely be great to play there,'' Corbin told USA Today. "I grew up a Yankee fan. My whole family are Yankee fans. My mom, my dad, my grandpa, everybody. Really, every generation of my family has been Yankee fans."
The Yankees could certainly use a top of the rotation starter to wedge between Severino and Tanaka. Corbin's fantastic season at the age of 29, puts him in line for a solid payday, one that the Yankees can easily absorb. Corbin's left-handedness and newfound strikeout ability (246 Ks in 200 innings) is a plus for the Yankees as is southpaw's ability to log innings (he reached 200 for the first time since he underwent Tommy John surgery prior to the start of the 2014 season).
The Yankees need that type of arm, a strong No. 2, with the upside of an ace.
Steady No. 3
Tanaka once looked to be in the same boat as Severino, on the verge of being the club's ace. He might have held the mantle for a short time in his tenure with the Yankees, but being the best starter on a club doesn't necessarily mean the pitcher is an ace.
After back-to-back seasons in which two very different pitchers emerged from the same individual, it is fair to assess Tanaka as a No. 3 type starter who can dominate at times, yet be brought back to Earth by the occasional clunker.
Tanaka is a 25-28 start per season hurler at this stage in his career, with the one consistency being that the effort he'll provide will be 100 percent each time out. Tanaka is gritty enough to push through starts without his best stuff, but is no longer a 200-inning pitcher that can carry the load on his back for more than a handful of starts at a time.
The Yankees don't want to shank one here. The Yanks have two options to fill the No. 4 slot in the rotation from the 2018 squad in Happ and Sabathia.
Each pitcher has expressed a desire to come back to New York and each has a particular fit with the club. Happ, despite the hiccup in Game 1 of the ALDS, has shown to be formidable against AL East squads and for the contract he'd warrant, surely fits the No. 4 role, with upside of No. 3 results. Meanwhile, Sabathia has figured out how to succeed by inducing soft contact, albeit without throwing a lot of innings per start.
Happ would seem to be the better choice in which the Yankees would feel comfortable knowing they have a 30-start pitcher with quality stuff coming out every fifth day. Of course, the club would also be wise to peruse the free agent market. Maybe a reunion with Nathan Eovaldi is in store? Charlie Morton and Tyson Ross could also be considered.
Five, six, seven and beyond
We cannot dismiss a reunion with Sabathia, especially at an inexpensive one-year cost. Sabathia as the No. 5 gives the Yankees a veteran presence to work with a solid grouping of youngsters -- righties Domingo German, Michael King and Jonathan Loaisiga, along with southpaw Justus Sheffield -- that will invariably be called on when one of the starters goes down.
Last season, the Yankees were set to roll with second-year pitcher Jordan Montgomery as the No. 5 starter and when he went down with an elbow injury that required Tommy John surgery, they were not properly prepared to cover the innings.
The four young and inexperienced hurlers should not be relied on for significant innings from the outset of the 2019 season. One or more might push themselves into the conversation as the season progresses, but the Yankees cannot make the same mistake they did in 2018 where it concerns depth. With that in mind, don't be surprised if there is a veteran sixth man added to the Triple-A roster during the spring to alleviate any pressure the club might feel to insert a youthful arm.