Up until a couple of weeks ago, the Yankees seemed to have an extremely strong group of five starting pitchers. With Gerrit Cole, Carlos Rodón, Louis Severino, Nestor Cortes and Frankie Montas penciled in, the club arguably had the best rotation in the entire league. Unfortunately, the shoulder issues that plagued Montas last year are still lingering and he is going to miss the first month of the season. They still have an excellent front four but will now have to rely on their depth to start the season. Even if Montas is able to return to health and looks like his old self by May, it’s possible that one of the other four will need a breather and there will be continued opportunities for other pitchers. Teams almost never make it through an entire season using just five or six starters, meaning depth is always important.
Who does the club have on hand that could step up to fill in for Montas or any other injury? Let’s take a look at the options.
Germán, 30, is probably the most obvious and straightforward solution. He seemed to establish himself as part of the club’s future rotation in 2019 when he tossed 143 innings with a 4.03 ERA, 27.2% strikeout rate, 8.8% walk rate and 38.1% ground ball rate. But in September of that year, he was placed on administrative leave while the league investigated him for domestic violence. He ultimately received an 81-game suspension and flirted with retirement while serving it but ultimately returned.
In 2021, he was able to toss 98 1/3 innings over 18 starts and four relief appearances. He posted a 4.58 ERA while striking out 23.9% of opponents. Last year, shoulder problems sent him to the 60-day injured list in March and he wasn’t reinstated until July. He ultimately made 14 starts and one relief appearance, posting a 3.61 ERA in 72 1/3 innings. His strikeout rate dipped to just 19.5% and opponents hit just .262 on balls in play. That latter number is well below league average but not far off from his career mark of .272. It’s possible that he just has a knack for limiting damage but Statcast data doesn’t support that. He was in the 26th percentile last year in terms of hard hit rate and 25th in average exit velocity, though he was in the 57th for barrel rate. It’s possible that he would struggle to maintain an ERA under 4.00 but he avoids walks and would still be much better than the fifth/sixth starter on most teams.
Schmidt, 27 next month, was a first round pick of the Yanks in 2017. He pitched well as he moved up the minor league ladder and was considered one of the top 100 prospects in the league by Baseball America in 2020 and 2021. He’s had some brief time in the majors but his overall workload hasn’t been huge over the past couple of years. With the minors being canceled by the pandemic in 2020, he was limited to just 6 1/3 innings of official action in the majors. In 2021, an elbow strain kept him out of action for a while and he was only able to log another 6 1/3 in the bigs along with 38 minor league innings. Last year, he was frequently optioned and recalled, throwing 57 2/3 frames in the majors along with 33 in Triple-A, combining for 90 2/3 on the season.
When healthy enough to take the mound, he’s produced pretty solid results. His 70 1/3 innings at the MLB level have resulted in a 3.71 ERA, 22.5% strikeout rate, 10.7% walk rate and 44.6% ground ball rate. His minor league work has been even better, as he’s posted a 2.71 ERA over 71 innings in the past two years. He struck out out 31% of batters faced and walked 7.1% of them while getting ground balls on about half of balls in play. There are some things to like here but he still has an option whereas Germán doesn’t. Given that fact and his workload concerns, he might get nudged to Triple-A until a need arises.
García, 24 in May, flashed some potential in 2020 when he made six starts with a 4.98 ERA. That number might not jump out, but he was only 21 years old at the time, perhaps pointing to an enticing future with continued development. Unfortunately, that hasn’t come to fruition. In the two subsequent years, he’s only made a couple of big league starts while registering a 6.87 ERA in 154 2/3 minor league innings. He’s still young but he’s now out of options. Given his poor results in recent years, he could be given a long relief role in the bullpen or else designated for assignment.
Gil, 25 in June, has a 3.78 ERA through his first seven MLB starts but he’s not going to be available for a while. He underwent Tommy John in May of last year and won’t be a realistic candidate until midseason at the earliest. Like García, he’s now out of options and will need to either crack the active roster or else be designated for assignment. He’ll be able to pitch in the minors as part of a rehab assignment once healthy, but it will be decision time once the 30-day rehab period is up.
Vazquez, 24, has spent his entire career with the Yanks thus far, signing with them as an international free agent in 2018. He’s since moved his way up and spent all of last year in Double-A. He made 25 starts at that level, tossing 115 1/3 innings with a 3.90 ERA. He struck out 24.2% of batters faced while walking 8.3% and getting grounders at a 48.3% clip. He was added to the club’s roster in November to prevent him from being selected in the Rule 5 draft. He’s currently considered the club’s #9 prospect at Baseball America but has yet to pitch at the Triple-A level.
Krook, 28, is a left-hander that was drafted by the Giants but went to the Rays in the Evan Longoria deal. The Yankees grabbed him in the minor league portion of the 2020 Rule 5 draft. He’s since posted some solid results in the upper minors, though the control hasn’t been pinpointed. He spent last year at Triple-A, making 22 starts and seven relief appearances with a 4.09 ERA over 138 2/3 innings. He walked 12.1% of batters faced but struck out 25.7% and got grounders at a 55.7% clip. That was enough for the Yanks to add him to the roster at season’s end to prevent him from reaching minor league free agency.
Brito, 25 next month, has spent his entire career in the Yankees’ organization, having been signed by them as an international amateur out of the Dominican Republic. He split last year between Double-A and Triple-A, tossing 112 2/3 innings over 23 starts and three relief appearances. He only struck out 20% of faced batters but kept his walks down to a 7.7% level and got grounders on about half the balls he allowed into play. Like Krook, he was added to the club’s 40-man at the end of the season to prevent him from reaching minor league free agency.
Gomez, 23, was an international signee out of Venezuela, agreeing with the Yankees in 2016. He earned his way onto prospect lists over the next few years and got a spot on the 40-man in November of 2020 to protect him from Rule 5 selection. Unfortunately, injuries have limited him over the past couple of seasons. In 2021, he dealt with a shoulder issue and contracted COVID-19, ultimately only making nine starts on the year at Class-A. In 2022, he spent time at various levels and finished the year at Double-A, but was only able to log 47 innings on the year. The results were good, as he posted a 2.49 ERA while striking out 25.7% of batters faced, but it will be hard for him to carry a huge workload after pitching very little in recent years.
Clayton Beeter/Sean Boyle/Mitch Spence/Tanner Tully
None of this group are currently on the 40-man roster, meaning they will face longer odds of contributing this year, though they could always force the club into making room. Beeter is arguably the most exciting of the bunch. Selected 66th overall by the Dodgers in 2020, he was ranked that club’s #12 prospect by Baseball America going into 2022. That was after a 2021 season that saw him post a 3.44 ERA between High-A and Double-A while striking out 36.6% of batters faced. In 2022, his ERA jumped to 5.75 as he walked 14.3% of batters faced, but he was then flipped to the Yankees in the Joey Gallo trade. After the deal, he got his walks down to 10.6% and his ERA to 2.13. He struck out an incredible 37.1% of batters faced on the year between the two teams but only threw 77 innings.
If the Yankees feel these depth options aren’t enough, they could always look outside the organization for help. The free agent market still features guys like Michael Wacha, Dylan Bundy and Zack Greenke. In terms of trades, it’s possible the Mariners might be willing to move Marco Gonzales or Chris Flexen. The Brewers are suddenly loaded in rotation options and could theoretically do without Adrian Houser. However, all of those paths come with a complication for the Yankees, who are reportedly leery about crossing the final tier of the competitive balance tax. Roster Resources currently pegs their CBT figure at $292.3MM, just a hair under the final line of $293MM. Making any external addition without making up that difference will be a challenge. Trading the contract of someone like Josh Donaldson or Aaron Hicks would give them some more breathing room but the Yanks haven’t been able to find a deal so far.