Inbox: Are the Yanks done adding pitching?

Beat reporter Bryan Hoch answers questions from fans

January 22nd, 2021

With DJ LeMahieu and Corey Kluber both set to wear pinstripes this coming season, according to sources, the Feb. 15 report date for the Yankees' pitchers and catchers is fewer than four weeks away. Let’s dig into the Inbox to see what fans are talking about:

With , Kluber and others, do you get the sense Brian Cashman and Hal Steinbrenner feel that this will be enough pitching?
-- John C., Charlotte, N.C.

Cashman’s stance is that you never have enough pitching, especially in the rotation, so it is not surprising to hear the Yankees connected to pretty much every possible name in the free-agent and trade markets. Kluber’s impending addition does provide a better idea of how the rotation could look to begin 2021.

Kluber’s close relationship with Yanks director of player health Eric Cressey suggests that the team is convinced that the "Klubot" is ready to be a workhorse towards the front of the starting five. If there were red flags to the contrary, the Yankees conceivably would have had the inside track on that information long before Kluber’s showcase in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.

Other rotation members project to be and , plus a spring battle that includes , and . The organization is also optimistic that will continue to progress in his return from Tommy John surgery, penciling him in as something of a Trade Deadline pickup in June or July.

“I don’t think there’s an extensive amount of weakness,” Cashman said recently. “It’s a good club already, despite losing some players in free agency. I can reinforce and add to it if I can within a framework. I have a very strong nucleus in place, a roster that’s almost full and that we’re proud of. We want to make sure that we can find ways to make our fans even more proud of it.”

Who is one Yankee poised for a breakout that may not be on people’s radars?
-- Nick C., New Jersey

made 11 appearances at the big league level in 2020, and coaches have touted the right-hander among the young hurlers to watch. Pitching coach Matt Blake said that he believes Nelson’s skill set could permit him to get both lefties and righties out consistently, either from the bullpen or as a starter.

“I think we're excited by the steps he took,” Blake said. “He had one outing that was rough in Philly [on Aug. 5], but I think he took steps down the stretch to show his offspeed more, use his changeup, use his slider. He’s learning about himself and trusting that he can be a high-level Major League pitcher. The stuff is there; it's just a matter of the consistency.”

How do you see the catching situation playing out? Will and split time all season?
-- Chip A., Lubbock, Texas

Based on what we saw toward the end of last season, it seems fair to assume that Higashioka will catch most of Cole’s starts, though I would expect to see Sánchez and Cole work together in the spring. From there, the breakdown largely will depend on Sánchez’s performance. My best guess is that Sánchez will catch most of the games, perhaps a 65-35 split. In short, he will get every opportunity to prove that his 2020 season was an aberration. If the Yankees did not believe that to be true, they probably would have non-tendered Sánchez in December.

“Gary had a great attitude all throughout the postseason, regardless of the fact that I played more,” Higashioka said recently. “He was always rooting for me and supporting me when I was playing, and I was doing the same for him when he was playing. I think just having that professional attitude and knowing that winning comes first is going to make us successful.”

Cashman mentioned that teams with new training staffs tend to experience injuries at the start. Is there reason to believe that injuries won't be a significant issue this season?
-- Tim S., New York

That is the hope. Before Spring Training, Cashman spoke with Robby Sikka, the medical director for the NBA's Minnesota Timberwolves. Sikka told Cashman that he had crunched the numbers on similar programs over time, predicting that the Yankees would experience a rise in injuries during the first year before seeing improvement in subsequent seasons. Cashman had scoffed then, replying, “Yeah, that’s not going to happen.”

But it did; the team believes that the abrupt halt last March and the accelerated ramp-up in July contributed to many injuries around the league. Having a full offseason and (hopefully) spring to run the programs should help.

What is the possibility of moving to save some money for a starter? Could that lead to a reunion with ?
-- Greg M., Raeford, N.C.

It is not out of the realm of possibility. Tanaka is thought to be interested in returning to New York, though he has said that he is ready to entertain all viable suitors -- including those in Japan, where his contract could be more lucrative.

Using back-of-the-napkin math with some help from Cot’s Baseball Contracts, the Yanks have approximately $6 million to spend if they are to remain under the $210 million luxury tax threshold. Ottavino is owed $8 million in the last year of the three-year deal that he signed before the 2019 season.