The Yankees appeared to be a finished product as they arrived in Tampa, Fla., this spring, but as is often the case, injuries can change that mindset in a hurry.
Luis Severino's right shoulder inflammation will keep him on the shelf for at least two weeks, putting the start of his season in serious doubt. Manager Aaron Boone called it “highly unlikely” that the Yanks' ace will be ready for his previously announced Opening Day assignment, casting questions on a rotation that, while very strong on paper, lacks substantial depth.
The easy answer would be to sign one of the starting pitchers still lingering on the free-agent market, with Gio Gonzalez and Edwin Jackson representing the most logical candidates. While some fans may call for the club to sign Dallas Keuchel, the reality is that he will cost a lot more than Gonzalez or Jackson for 2019 and is still seeking a multiyear deal. Given that the club is already exceeding the Competitive Balance Threshold for 2019, another significant free-agent signing (like Keuchel) will only increase New York’s luxury tax bill, as well as putting the Yankees in jeopardy of exceeding the CBT again in 2020 if they sign another elite free agent. In other words, he’s an unlikely fit for the Yanks.
According to a source, the Yanks like Gonzalez and might be inclined to place a call to agent Scott Boras to find out what it would take to sign him. The issue, of course, is what they would do with the veteran left-hander once Severino returns, as Gonzalez has made only six relief appearances during his 11-year career, the most recent coming in 2009 while he was still with Oakland.
Sabathia is 38 years old and has become a five-inning pitcher for the most part, his innings total declining greatly over the past five seasons. The Yankees could utilize Gonzalez as a long reliever or spot starter once Severino returns, giving Severino, Sabathia and Tanaka -- who has been pitching with a partial tear of his UCL for more than four years -- an extra day of rest during long stretches without an off-day.
Paxton, 30, has also experienced his share of injuries since breaking into the Majors in 2013, topping the 136-inning mark only once when he threw a career-high 160 1/3 innings last season for Seattle. As much potential as the Yanks' rotation has, there’s a history of fragility that could wreak havoc if the injury bug rears its ugly head.
The internal options to stand in for Severino include German, Loaisiga, Luis Cessa and Chance Adams, though none have proven themselves as viable long-term big-league starters. German is probably the most dynamic of the group, allowing a meager .181 average against his curveball last year, and the spin rate on his four-seam fastball was in the 95th percentile, suggesting it has a lot of deception.
With four off-days scheduled during the first 19 days of the regular season, the Yankees might be able to get through the first three weeks of the season with only four starters. Weather has the potential to render some of the off-days meaningless, but general manager Brian Cashman could decide to cross that bridge if (and when) he comes to it.
The Yanks used 12 starters last season, so Cashman is not going to panic if Severino is only going to miss a few starts.