By Chad Jennings
Has anything changed for the Yankees in the wake of Max Scherzer’s new deal with the Nationals?
Since the fall, Brian Cashman and Hal Steinbrenner created the public perception of fiscal restraint. With a bunch of big contracts (and big mistakes) already filling the payroll, the Yankees never positioned themselves as a favorite for Scherzer. Any thought to the contrary was based on past examples of the Yankees spending unexpected money for Scherzer-type players, but there was never any evidence that they were going to get involved this time.
In that way, nothing has changed. The Yankees weren’t supposed to get Scherzer, and they didn’t.
But with Scherzer off the market, the winter’s most popular “what if” scenario is off the board, leaving the Yankees with a rotation that is what it is.
Top five starters
These five have been in place since late December when the Yankees completed the trade for Eovaldi. Three of these players are in their mid-20s, and one exception is on a one-year, stop-gap contract. Even so, there’s such injury concern at the top that this rotation seems unreliable at best.
Major League depth
According to plan, Warren and Rogers should be relievers this season, but each has been a starter in the past — Rogers worked as a starter this winter — and so they could provide immediate rotation depth in spring training. Nova is expected back from Tommy John surgery around June or so.
Minor league depth
Jose De Paula
Whitley made 12 big league starts last season, but unless he wins a spot as a long man in the big league bullpen, he seems likely to land in the Triple-A rotation with Mitchell and De Paula (each of whom is currently on the 40-man). Severino is not on the 40-man and has just 25 innings above A ball, but he’s talented enough to potentially pitch his way into the mix. Can’t completely rule out guys like Matt Tracy and Zach Nuding, who could round out the Triple-A rotation, or a guy like Jaron Long, who’s likely heading for Double-A but made a huge impression last season.
Question is: Is this enough? The top five looks perfectly good, but that’s only if its healthy. There are plenty of alternatives in the mix, but each one seems to come with significant uncertainty (about upside, about health, about ability to consistently start at the big league level). So if the Yankees want to upgrade their rotation — either adding talent up top or adding depth at the bottom — what are their options?
1. Spend big – There’s still one high-end starter on the market, and he has a history of success in the American League East. But if the Yankees weren’t interested in Scherzer, what are the chances they’ll become interested in James Shields? He’s already 33, so his next contract is likely to carry him into his late 30s, which seems awfully risky at this point.
2. Take a chance – Beyond Shields, the free agent market really doesn’t have a reliable starter still available. Instead, the Yankees could roll the dice on a small contract — perhaps even a minor league deal with a non-roster invitation — with a veteran starting pitcher who comes with serious warts. Johan Santana recently got some attention, but guys like Chad Billingsley, Roberto Hernandez and Chris Young are also still out there.
3. Sacrifice the farm – The Yankees clearly prefer to keep their top prospects at this point, but they don’t have to. Cole Hamels is clearly available and signed to a contract that seems perfectly reasonable compared to Scherzer, but it would likely take a massive package to get him. The Nationals are reportedlynot pushing to trade Jordan Zimmermann, but he might be available. Is it worth giving up some of the future to add a pitcher for the present?
4. Wait and see – Nothing says the Yankees have to make a change right now. Last season, they managed to rebuild a rotation on the fly, and they could try to do the same this year if necessary. They could go into spring training with this group and adjust only if/when one of those top five starters goes down. If that doesn’t happen until May, they might have Nova ready to step in. If it happens in August, Severino might be ready.