The Yankees never seem to have enough starting pitching. It's why they went out and spent $324 million on Gerrit Cole a year ago, thinking that when the money was on the table in October -- not his -- they would finally have the kind of ace CC Sabathia had been for them the last time they won the World Series, back in 2009. It now feels so long ago to Yanks fans they imagine dinosaurs roaming the Bronx when their team won its last championship.
The last time the Yankees did win it all, their starting rotation was Sabathia, Andy Pettitte (then 37), A.J. Burnett and Joba Chamberlain, the only pitchers on the team to make more than nine starts. Since then, pitching hasn't been the only piece when you try to explain how the organization has gone more than a decade without getting No. 28. But it's been a big piece. The Astros had a better and deeper rotation when they won in 2017, and the same goes for the Red Sox in '18, the Nationals in '19 and the Dodgers in '20.
So this year the Yankees are trying a novel approach with guys they think could fill out manager Aaron Boone's rotation behind Cole. They're looking at a lot of high-upside pitchers who can potentially take them to another level. The catch? Many of them didn't pitch (or barely pitched) last season. It means that not only are they not running away from all the injuries they've had over the past couple of years -- and not just to pitchers -- they're practically embracing having been the "M*A*S*H" All-Stars.
The Yanks have agreed to a one-year, $11 million contract with Corey Kluber, once the ace of the Indians staff, but someone who pitched just one inning last year for the Rangers because of a torn teres major muscle in his right shoulder. They just acquired Jameson Taillon, who didn't pitch in 2020 because he was recovering from his second Tommy John surgery, in a trade with the Pirates. Luis Severino was once the ace of New York's staff, and he is expected to return this season after he missed all of last season because of Tommy John surgery.
The other contenders for spots in the Yankees' rotation are Jordan Montgomery, a veteran of Tommy John surgery himself, who had a 2-3 record in 10 starts in the shortened 2020 season, with an ERA of 5.11. And there is Deivi García, the promising kid they like to call Little Pedro, who started six games in '20, won three games against two losses, and had a 4.98 ERA.
The other possible contender for a spot in the rotation is Domingo Germán, who had also been a promising kid before he sat out last season, suspended by Major League Baseball for violating the Joint Domestic Violence Policy.
So here are pitchers behind Cole who, by the way, was everything the Yankees could have hoped for last October, all the way to Game 5 of the American League Division Series vs. the Rays:
Kluber: One inning pitched last season.
Severino (if and when he is healthy again): No innings pitched last season.
Taillon: No innings pitched last season.
Germán: No innings pitched last season.
Then come Montgomery and García, who did pitch last season, but not particularly well, with a few notable exceptions during the regular season. And when the Yankees finally gave García a start against the Rays in Game 2 of the ALDS, when the Yankees had a chance to take a commanding 2-0 series lead, they allowed the kid to pitch one inning.
There were a lot of reasons why the Yankees finally lost the ALDS to the Rays. It's never just one thing. New York stopped hitting in Game 5, the way it had in one season-ending game after another across the past four seasons. And the pitching that effectively ended another season for them was once again thrown by their closer, Aroldis Chapman, a fastball that Mike Brosseau (whom Chapman had buzzed with a 100 mph fastball earlier in the season) hit for an 8th-inning home run. So it's not just starting pitchers who have let the Yanks down.
But the Yankees just never seem to have enough. Now they will get after it, behind Cole, with six pitchers who combined to start 17 games last season and have four Tommy Johns among them. Call it the pitching Year of Living Dangerously at Yankee Stadium.
This may work out like gangbusters, of course. Kluber could pitch like his old self and Taillon could pitch to his best, which was 14 wins for the Pirates in 2018, and Severino especially could return to the form that saw him produce a 19-8 record in '18. For now, he hasn't won a game since '19, and the same goes for Kluber, Taillon and Germán.
"I'm confident that I'm ready to go," Taillon said the other day.
Taillon was originally drafted in 2010, the year after the Yankees last won a Series, between Bryce Harper and Manny Machado. Taillon now gets a chance at a second act with the Yankees. So does Kluber. And Severino. And maybe even Germán. The Yanks, trying to become what they used to be, placed a big bet on who all these pitchers used to be. There have been a lot of pitching staffs with the Yankees. Never one quite like this.