Remember when the Yankees were supposed to have one of the most dominant rotations in baseball? That didn’t last long. A couple months ago, they were set to boast a starting five of newly signed $324MM man Gerrit Cole, Luis Severino, James Paxton, Masahiro Tanaka and J.A. Happ. The shine has come off to a significant extent since the team won the Cole derby in December, however.
Severino – who, like Cole, is among the game’s premier starters – won’t pitch at all in 2020 in the wake of Tuesday’s news that he’ll need Tommy John surgery. Even before then, the Yankees were already reeling from the fact that the oft-injured Paxton will miss a significant portion of the season as a result of back surgery. The diagnoses Severino and Paxton received this month make it all the more fortunate for the Yankees that they added a legitimate ace in Cole, but their rotation (which doesn’t have clear answers in the No. 4 and 5 spots) looks decidedly worse than it did just a couple weeks ago.
At this point, it may be too late for the Yankees to find impact replacements for Severino and/or Paxton in free agency or via the trade market. But to the Yankees’ credit, they’ve shown an ability to overcome injuries and even thrive in the recent past. They seemed to lose one key player after another because of health woes last season (Severino, Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton and Dellin Betances, to name just a few), yet they still found a way to win 103 games, earn their first American League East title since 2012 and get to the last round of the AL playoffs. And the team always has the financial advantage over just about everyone else in the game, meaning it should be able to bolster its roster by way of an in-season trade(s) if needed.
For now, with the Yankees’ rotation looking so much less imposing than it did a little while ago, their best chance may be to win games by beating the opposition into submission with their offense. The club’s hope is that Judge and Stanton will actually stay healthy; DJ LeMahieu, Gary Sanchez, Gleyber Torres, Luke Voit and Brett Gardner will continue as quality complements; Miguel Andujar will bounce back from an injury-ruined season; and the likes of Gio Urshela, Mike Tauchman and Mike Ford won’t end up as one-hit wonders. A lot has to go right there, but if the Yankees’ offense does produce enough to give the team leads late in games, it’s in better shape than most with Aroldis Chapman, Zack Britton, Adam Ottavino, Chad Green and Tommy Kahnle comprising the majority of its bullpen.
As horribly as 2020 has already gone for the Yankees, they still look like the favorites in their division. The Rays are outstanding, but the PECOTA projections “only” peg them for 87 wins (12 fewer than the Yankees, though that was before they lost Severino). The Red Sox are quite talented, too, but they don’t look nearly as tough as they did before they traded their previous franchise player – right fielder Mookie Betts – as well as lefty David Price to the Dodgers a couple weeks. The Blue Jays have definitely taken steps forward since last season ended, but they don’t appear to be in the Yankees’ class right now, and the Orioles are, well, bad. So, even despite the hardships the Yankees are facing as they head into a new season, they still have the makings of a playoff team. However, with no Severino at all and a limited amount of Paxton innings, just how formidable do you think they’ll be?
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