It might be a new season, but the injury bug has followed the Yankees into 2020.
On Tuesday, Yankees GM Brian Cashman revealed that starter Luis Severino needs Tommy John surgery, this news less than a week after he was shut down after experiencing soreness in his forearm.
The sky is falling! The World Series hopes are kaput! Why do bad things always happen to the freakin’ Yankees?!
Well, now that that’s out of the way, let’s assess the situation.
As it stands, the Yankees have Gerrit Cole, Masahiro Tanaka, J.A. Happ and two more slots to fill in the rotation given the injury to James Paxton, as well. There’s a pretty good shot that lefty Jordan Montgomery fills out one of those spots, which means we have a good old-fashioned fifth starter battle coming from Tampa. Also, a reminder: Domingo German is currently serving a suspension for domestic abuse, so New York won’t be able to use him until later in the season.
The Yankees are “lucky” to have developed some MLB-potential arms over the past few seasons, because they’re likely going to have to lean on the farm system to fill those spots. But here’s the issue: No matter the potential, asking a prospect to fill the spot of a potential No. 2 guy is like asking a New York pizza cook to guest chef at one of Gordon Ramsay’s restaurants. It could work out, but there’ll still probably be a noticeable drop-off in quality when you take that first bite.
With that said, there’s no shortage of in-house options for New York to fill out that spot for Luis Severino. Here are a few.
Garcia was a hot name in 2019 and with good reason. The 20-year-old righty has made his way to the top of the Yankees’ prospect rankings, and he’s the No. 92 overall prospect in baseball, per MLB Pipeline.
The question, like a few others on this list, is durability: Not only is Garcia (presumably) not yet ready for a major league workload over a full season, but his diminutive stature has some scouts questioning whether he’ll be able to endure as a big league starter.
But if there’s ever a time to figure it out, it seems like it’s now.
King was acquired from the Marlins in 2018 after the trade for Former Yankee Great Garrett Cooper, and dealt with an inury-plagued 2019 season. He pitched just two innings in 2019 at the big league level, but his progress through the minors has been both surprising and welcome for the Bombers.
With a 1.085 WHIP through 377 minor league innings, King has polished control and sits mid-90s with his fastball. He’ll be a player on this team in 2020, as long as he keeps developing. Maybe that time could come sooner than later if he has a solid spring.
With a 2.37 ERA with the Double-A Thunder last season, the 2017 first-round pick’s MLB arrival could also come sooner rather than later. Consider this, too: Schmidt jumped Garcia in MLB Pipeline’s rankings for 2020, at No. 88. Garcia sits at No. 92 overall.
Schmidt, 24, pitched just 17 innings at Double-A last season, so he’ll likely need a little more seasoning in the minors either to refine or “prove it” — unless he has a massive spring. It’s all on the table right now for New York, which is going to need the pitching for now and the future. Schmidt won’t just be a patch guy if he keeps improving. He could be a rotation answer in 2021 and beyond.
Loaisiga has something that a few others on this list don’t: MLB experience.
The Yankees likely don’t want to start the clocks on Garcia or Schmidt unless absolutely necessary, and given the experience that Loaisiga already has at the major league level, he’s a likely candidate for the spot.
The issue — if you can call it that — is that Loaisiga’s live arm seems to fit better in the bullpen than it does as a starter at this point. In 2019, his reliever ERA sat at 3.20 while his ERA as a starter skyrocketed to 6.75 over four starts.
The Yankees are still favorites in the division, so it could be an experiment worth conducting over the first month of the season to see whether Loaisiga can stick in the rotation. If not, there are other guys who could vie for that fifth spot come May, and they’re all on this list.
The big lefty was on a surprising ascent before Tommy John surgery derailed that ascent. “Gumby” pitched to a 3.88 ERA in 29 starts in 2017 and a 3.62 ERA in six starts in 2018 before being diagnosed with a torn UCL.
With injuries to both Paxton and Severino, Montgomery seems to be a lock for the rotation out of spring training for one of the last two spots, unless something goes very, very wrong. With the departure of CC Sabathia, they’ll also likely appreciate having that second lefty in the rotation while Paxton is out, too.
Cessa is an interesting case. The 27-year-old can hit the high 90s on the gun, but his massive inconsistencies even as a spot starter pushed him strictly to the bullpen in 2019. It seems like the window for Cessa to be a starter is closed, but desperate times, and all that.