The 2019 season is still a while away, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t take a way-too-early preview at the Yankees potential starting rotation.
With the 2018 MLB season nearing its end, fans are already looking ahead to this winter’s loaded free agent class. While Yankees fans have already shouted from the rooftops for big hitters like Manny Machado and Bryce Harper, many people may not realize how unstable the starting rotation looks as we head into 2019. Here’s a look at how the rotation could shape up.
Luis Severino, RHP, Yankees
Severino, though shaky at times in 2018, rebounded near the end of the year to look much closer to the Sevvy we had seen in 2017, posting a 19-8 record with a 3.39 ERA and 220 strikeouts. His stellar Wild-Card Game outing was followed by a shaky start in the ALDS where many believe manager Aaron Boone failed to pull him early when he clearly didn’t have it that night, perhaps due to a mishap in his pregame routine. Severino would be an ace or #2 on nearly every team in the majors (save MAYBE the Astros) and is a lock for the 2019 Yankees rotation, under contact through 2021.
Masahiro Tanaka, RHP, Yankees
Tanaka, after opting into the last three years of his contract with the Yankees last winter, enjoyed a great season in 2018, bouncing back from an ugly 2017 season to go 12-6 with a 3.75 ERA and 159 strikeouts over 27 starts. Injuries continued to be an issue for him as he missed a month of the season after an injury running the bases in a Subway Series game at Citi Field, but his elbow (which has been a cause of concern for a year now) held up fine, certainly an encouraging sign going forward for the 29-year-old pitcher. He figures to line up right behind Severino as either the #2 or #3 in the Yankees’ 2019 rotation.
Patrick Corbin, LHP, Free Agent (Spent 2018 with Diamondbacks)
Perhaps the most talked-about Yankees starting pitching free agent target, the Corbin has been quoted as saying that “I know the Yankees have had some interest in the past, and there were a lot of rumors this winter that got my family excited. It would have been cool. You just want to go where you’re wanted, and every team will have an opportunity.” and that “It would definitely be great to play there. I grew up a Yankee fan. My whole family are Yankee fans. My mom, my dad, my grandpa, everybody. Really, every generation of my family has been Yankee fans.” So given that Corbin clearly has interest in coming to New York, it would not be a surprise to see General Manager Brian Cashman get a contract done for the left-hander. Corbin went 11-7 with 246 strikeouts and recorded a 3.15 ERA this past season. While he might not become the ace of the staff, he posted a 4.8 WAR, higher than those of Severino (4.7) and Tanaka (2.9). Expect Corbin to be a top target for the Yankees this offseason.
J.A. Happ, LHP, Free Agent (Spent 2018 with Blue Jays and Yankees)
Happ was brought over midseason this past season at the trade deadline from Toronto in exchange for infielder Brandon Drury and outfielder Billy McKinney. He went 7-0 with a 2.69 ERA in 11 starts with the Yankees and became the team’s ace in August and September. Entering his age 36 season, he won’t be looking for more than a two or three-year deal. Happ has expressed interest in coming back, and Cashman isn’t one to pass up a low-risk, high-reward pitcher. With enough mutual interest, expect Happ to be another name the Yankees consider securing for 2019.
CC Sabathia, LHP, Free Agent (Spent 2018 with Yankees)
A fan favorite ever since he came to the Bronx in 2010, Sabathia may not be the gas-throwing, hitter-intimidating menace we once knew, but he still brings a lot to the table. After four disappointing seasons from 2013-2016, including giving up the most earned runs in the American League in 2014, CC learned to work with his breaking pitches in order to induce ground balls and not be hindered by a lack of the high-90s fastball he once possessed. He finished 9-7 in 2018 with a 3.65 ERA, his lowest since 2012. He is the longest-tenured pitcher on the roster and has won a World Series in the Bronx before. One of the biggest clubhouse veteran leaders, Sabathia has said on his R2C2 podcast with Ryan Ruocco that he would love to stay with the Yankees if possible, though he would entertain offers from other teams, unlike last year when it seemed he was either going to come back to the Yankees or retire. The Yankees should for sure consider bringing back Sabathia, both due to his rejuvenated career the past few seasons and his role on the team as a veteran and passionate voice in the clubhouse.
Justus Sheffield, LHP, Yankees (Spent 2018 with AA Thunder, AAA RailRiders, Yankees)
Sheffield heralded as the Yankees’ top pitching prospect, was acquired from the Indians in the 2016 trade that sent Andrew Miller to Cleveland for a package highlighted by Sheffield and Clint Frazier. He broke through to the majors in 2018 for a cup of coffee as a September call-up, though he struggled in his 3 outings, allowing 3 runs and 3 walks in 2.2 innings of work. Though this is an incredibly small sample size, Sheffield’s performance reflected what scouts have said, suggesting that his control issues could hinder him in his career. However, he did pitch rather well in his stints across AA and AAA, overall going 7-6 with a 2.48 ERA in 25 appearances (20 starts, 5 relief appearances). Sheffield could see work out of the bullpen in 2019 or could break through as a starter if the Yankees fail to add starting pitchers in free agency.
Jordan Montgomery, LHP, Yankees
Remember him? Montgomery broke through to the Yankees’ 2017 roster after an impressive spring training and ended up being one of the team’s more reliable starting pitchers, going 9-7 with a 3.88 ERA in 29 starts. With high expectations going into 2018, Montgomery injured his elbow in a May 1 start against the Astros and eventually underwent Tommy John surgery in early June. He is expected to be back midseason in 2019 and should figure to be a solid #5 starter or bullpen piece, much like Sheffield.
The Long Shots:
Sonny Gray, RHP, Yankees
Gray had a very disappointing 2018 season, starting the year in the rotation but eventually pitching so poorly that he was downgraded to a bullpen role. Overall, he went 11-9 in 30 appearances (23 starts, 7 relief appearances) and pitched to a 4.90 ERA with 123 strikeouts. He was even left off the Wild Card Game and ALDS rosters. His struggles, especially at home, suggested to fans that he simply did not have what it takes to pitch in New York and that a change of scenery might be best for him. Brian Cashman agreed in an interview after the season that a trade might be the best option for Gray, and said that the team would look to trade him this offseason. If Gray somehow makes the 2019 roster, it will likely be as a bullpen piece rather than a starter.
Madison Bumgarner, LHP, Giants
Bumgarner has been a favorite trade target of Yankees Twitter for many years, partially due to his legendary postseason resumé. He went 6-7 in 2018 with a 3.26 ERA in a season where he missed a significant portion of time with a fractured left hand. With the Giants seemingly entering a rebuilding phase, now might seem like the perfect time to strike on a Bumgarner trade. However, ultimately, the package the Yankees would have to give up for Bumgarner would almost certainly have to be centered around top prospect Estevan Florial, with some mix of other top names like Clint Frazier, Justus Sheffield, Albert Abreu and Luis Medina thrown in. It wouldn’t be a surprise for the Giants to ask for a young stud like Miguel Andújar or Gleyber Torres either.