Inbox: Who will be Yanks' fifth starter in '21?

Beat reporter Bryan Hoch answers questions from fans

February 12th, 2021

Who do you think will win the competition for the fifth starter?
-- Julian G., Oakland, N.J.

Let’s figure that the first four spots go to Gerrit Cole, Corey Kluber, Jameson Taillon and Jordan Montgomery, in some order. Montgomery might be the No. 3 starter, given that he’s the only lefty. That sets up a fifth starter competition that would include Deivi García, Domingo Germán, Michael King, Jonathan Loaisiga, Luis Medina and Clarke Schmidt.

Given that group and based upon their performances last season, I would have to imagine that García enters camp as the favorite, but he’s by no means a lock. García’s big league service was accelerated last year. Even though he largely succeeded in that trial by fire, it wouldn’t be a shock if the Yankees believe that more development time is necessary.

Germán is the wild card in that mix to me; all indications are that he will be welcomed back into the clubhouse after his domestic violence suspension -- general manager Brian Cashman and manager Aaron Boone recently spoke to him on that topic.

We have a good idea of what Germán can offer to the rotation if he’s in top form; he was 18-4 with a 4.03 ERA in 27 games (24 starts) for the Yanks in 2019. But Germán has now gone more than a year without facing pro competition or working out at a club facility. Germán’s readiness is a big question coming into camp.

Any rumors about the potential addition of a left-handed bat to the lineup?
-- Timmy S., West Point, N.Y.

For weeks, it has seemed that a Brett Gardner return would be the likeliest remedy to an overwhelmingly right-handed lineup; at present, the only hitter from the left side on Opening Day projects to be the switch-hitting Aaron Hicks. That took on a new wrinkle with a NJ Advance Media report that Gardner and the Yankees have yet to open negotiations on a new contract.

Gardner has repeatedly said that he hopes to play his entire career in pinstripes, following the examples set by longtime teammates Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada and Mariano Rivera. He also said that he doesn’t want to play his final big league game in an empty ballpark, so it figures that Gardner intends to play in 2021 -- even if it’s not for the Yankees.

Even if Gardner isn’t in uniform for the first full-squad workout on Feb. 22, I won’t rule out his return. In other words: a Yankees Opening Day roster without Gardner? I’ll believe it when I see it.

Do you think the Yankees are interested in bringing back David Robertson?
-- Dereck G., via Twitter

As expected, the Yankees were among the teams who scouted Robertson’s showcase at the University of Alabama this week, where he was said to have touched 91 mph. A return to the Yanks would be a fitting bookend for Robertson, who turns 36 in April and has already served two tours with the club.

A non-roster invitation and incentive-laden contract seem appropriate if that’s something Robertson would consider. Given the Yankees’ apparent intent to remain under the $210 million luxury tax threshold and with more items still potentially on the shopping list, a guaranteed deal may not be available.

How far away is Jasson Dominguez from the Majors?
-- Steve M., via Twitter

It’s easy to get excited about Dominguez, a hulking 18-year-old outfielder nicknamed “The Martian” who has been compared to Bo Jackson, Mickey Mantle and Mike Trout by scouts -- hey, no pressure, only three of the greatest all-around athletes the sport has seen!

According to MLB Pipeline, Dominguez is expected to make his pro debut in 2021, and the switch-hitter is projected to make his big league debut in '24. That seems conservative to me; if the hype is real, I’d bet the under.

How many fans do you expect to begin the season at Yankee Stadium?
-- Emilio L., Cidra, Puerto Rico

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said this week that arenas and stadiums with seating capacities of 10,000 or greater will be permitted to operate at 10 percent capacity beginning on Feb. 23; Yankee Stadium’s official seating capacity is 46,537, according to the team’s media guide.

The Yankees called Cuomo’s announcement “an encouraging first step,” adding, “The safety of everyone who enters Yankee Stadium remains our top priority.”

Last summer, the club partnered with Ticketmaster to create a “pod” seating diagram in which 12,000 to 15,000 fans could be accommodated at Yankee Stadium. Hopefully, conditions permit its use by April 1.

Are there any more additions coming to the bullpen?
-- Michael R., New York, N.Y.

Trevor Rosenthal was connected to the Yankees earlier in the offseason, but that seems to have gone quiet in recent weeks. I still wouldn’t rule out a few more hurlers joining the party; we’re now days away from the official report date for pitchers and catchers, which some of the free agents may see as an artificial deadline to latch on with a club.

At present, Aroldis Chapman, Zack Britton, Luis Cessa, Chad Green and Darren O’Day seem to be bullpen locks, which probably leaves three spots up for grabs. Worth noting: Yankees coaches are high on Nick Nelson, who could fill a similar role to the one that Jonathan Holder was assigned last year.

What exactly is Miguel Andújar’s role on this team? Should they trade him?
-- Ray S., Bronx, N.Y.

With Gio Urshela recovering from offseason surgery to remove a bone spur from his right elbow, Andújar figures to receive most of the early reps at third base, as Urshela might not play in an exhibition game until the second week of March. That will provide Andújar with a chance to showcase his talents, not only for the Yankees, but also for the other 29 clubs.

If Andújar is on the Opening Day roster, his role is likely similar to what it was in 2020 -- a backup at the infield corners and an occasional fill-in in outfield corners. Andújar could see time at designated hitter as well, of course, though that still seems to be Giancarlo Stanton’s full-time gig.

It’s no fault of Andújar’s, but it’s difficult to see how he’d replace Urshela, Luke Voit, Clint Frazier or Aaron Judge at any of their respective positions unless injuries strike (which, knowing the Yankees, is always a possibility). They don’t have to trade him, but it’s something they’d consider if the right package came along.