John Harper, SNY.tv | Twitter |
On a day when Brian Cashman addressed the Yankees' first mini-crisis of the year, I thought it was revealing that he left the door open to acquiring another pitcher, even as he made a point of expressing confidence in his depth.
"I can't rule anything out," he told reporters in Tampa, "but the main focus is what we've got."
That could just be his way of saying he'll only jump in on Dallas Keuchel or Gio Gonzalez, the two most attractive unsigned free-agent pitchers, if their price falls to a bargain level.
But I think it's also at least a subtle acknowledgement that Luis Severino's shoulder inflammation shook up the organization a bit, and perhaps made Cashman re-consider the importance of adding some insurance to the starting rotation.
Not that Severino's injury is considered serious, but he was the horse in their rotation, young and strong at age 25, the one guy who was a lock to make his 30-plus starts. Now he'll likely miss at least the first couple of weeks of the season.
Severino's unexpected vulnerability becomes more significant because there were already questions about the other starters in the rotation. Consider:
James Paxton has never thrown more than 160 innings in a season, due to an assortment of injuries over the years.
Masahiro Tanaka's partial tear in his elbow ligament still puts him at risk, even though it's been a non-issue since he returned from the original injury in 2014.
J.A. Happ is 36, an age when injuries become more of a concern for pitchers.
CC Sabathia is 39 with bad knees and a heart condition that required a procedure in the offseason, getting him off to a bit of a late start in spring training, raising some question about his readiness to start the season on time.
In addition, Jonathan Loaisiga, the most likely candidate to replace Severino in the rotation, has a history of arm injuries as well that limited him 80 innings last season -- 24 in the big leagues -- and 44 innings in 2017.
Same for Domingo German, another potential fill-in starter, whose innings have been severely limited by injuries in recent years.
That's a lot of uncertainty for a team that is facing World Series-or-bust expectations in 2019, and all the reason the Yankees should need to take advantage of the March-availability of Keuchel or Gonzalez, and sign one of them.
Because Keuchel -- repped by Scott Boras -- apparently is still holding out for a four or five-year deal, Gonzalez seems like the more logical guy, as someone the Yankees could sign to a two-year contract, perhaps in the $24 million range.
The left-hander with the big curve ball is coming off a mediocre season in which his walk rate was his highest in nine years, but after an August trade from the Nationals, he finished strong for the Brewers in a pennant race, pitching to a 2.13 ERA over five starts.
"They tinkered with his mechanics and he was throwing his breaking stuff around the plate with better bite and more consistency," a National League scout says. "When he's doing that he can still be very effective."
Gonzalez, at age 33, has been durable as well, making at least 31 starts each of the last four seasons -- and it was only two years ago that he pitched to a 2.96 ERA over 201 innings with the Nationals.
Keuchel, meanwhile, has pitched at a higher level when at his best, winning the Cy Young Award with the Astros in 2015, and at age 31 he's a couple of years younger. But injuries to his neck and shoulder in 2016 and 2017 limited his innings and took a toll on his ability to pitch with late movement and precision, which he needs with his 90-mph fastball.
Last year, Keuchel was healthy and pitched 204 innings, but he gave up 211 hits -- the most of any starter in the AL and another indication that his stuff has regressed.
"Nobody will give him a five-year deal. I'll be surprised if he gets four," an AL exec texted on Wednesday. "Still a groundball guy but nothing elite about him anymore."
Yet the same exec believes Boras will have Keuchel hold out for a long-term deal, counting on a contender losing a top starter to a serious injury at some point to create a need.
All of which points to Gonzalez as a more likely option if the Yankees decide to make a move. Sure, you can make the argument that Cashman loaded up in the bullpen to help the Yankees absorb rotation-related problems, but that only goes so far.
You can also make the argument that Aaron Judge & Co. are going to bludgeon a lot of bad teams during the regular season, allowing the Yankees to wait until the July trade deadline to add more starting pitching.
Except even early-season wins could wind up being the difference in what is likely to be another close race with the Red Sox, and the Yankees desperately want home-field advantage if they wind up playing the Sox again in the postseason.
Above all, they need a healthy Severino come October. But adding some insurance to help get there makes more sense than ever.