Gerrit Cole solidifies the rotation for the New York Yankees, but there’s more to this elite unit than one dominant pitcher.
Gerrit Cole is a Yankee. The buzz around the winter meetings was confirmed on a late Tuesday night when Jon Heyman of MLB Network reported that the star pitcher had agreed to a nine-year contract with the New York Yankees.
As the madness has cooled and the dust has settled, one thing has become clear, the Yankees have the best rotation in baseball.
Starting at the top of the rotation, Cole has become the new ace of the staff. Many have called his 2019 season one of the most dominant seasons in baseball history. He’s the only pitcher in major league history to record a sub 2.50 ERA and showcase a K% over 37.5. There were only three pitchers in all of baseball who had a higher K% than Cole, all of whom were relievers. His 13.82 K/9 was the highest among qualified starters in a single season in major league history. Cole is in the peak of his prime and clearly one of the top pitchers in all of baseball. Now imagine how a team must feel when they look at the series schedule and see who is backing up the ace.
Behind Cole is Luis Severino. He missed almost all of last season and the Yankees still won 103 games. Now imagine how good the team will be with Cole and Severino at the top. These are two guys who, at their best, are two of the top 10 pitchers in all of baseball. Both are flamethrowers and strikeout artists. Who falls behind those two?
That’s right, James Paxton falls behind them. All three ranked in the top 10 in K-BB% over the last three seasons per Fangraphs. The top of the rotation is nasty and will be nasty for the foreseeable future.
Once again, an opposing team looks at the scheduled starters and sees those three guys. That has to be an ominous feeling, even for the best hitters in the league. The top of the rotation contains three guys who can dominate opposing lineups on any given night. But that’s not all.
The fourth starter on the staff is Masahiro Tanaka. The Japanese born hurler averages slightly above 3.0 fWAR for his career. He dominates in the playoffs and in recent years, he’s been the Yankees go-to-guy in the tight moments.
And he’s the fourth-best starter on the staff? Yes, he is, and that’s what separates the Yankees from other teams with elite rotations. The depth they have. The Indians might be the only team to match the amount of depth the Yankees have but with rumors of a Corey Kluber trade on the horizon, that could change.
The Yankees’ final rotation spot is up for grabs. Right now, the logical choice is J.A. Happ. However, multiple reports state that the Yankees are currently shopping the veteran left-hander. Word around the winter meetings is that several NL teams are interested, one of them being the Brewers.
Happ struggled a lot in 2019, but he’s actually a good bounce-back candidate. The main reason for his struggles was a decreased velocity in his fastball but it started to come back as the calendar turned to September. His swing-and-miss ability was still there slightly, he just struggled to put hitters away. He is owed $17 million with a vesting option for a potential third year. Yankees might move him to the bullpen at some point to avoid him reaching that vesting option. If the Yankees do trade Happ, who could potentially follow him?
Jordon Montgomery would be the most likely to follow Tanaka and he provides a solid option as a fifth starter. He is coming off Tommy John surgery and expects to be fully healthy when it’s time to report for camp in February. Montgomery showed promise with some strikeout ability during his young career. Paired with new pitching coach Matt Blake, Montgomery could make serious strides. Beyond him, there is Jonathan Loaisiga, Michael King, and Deivi Garcia. Domingo German is a potential option as well.
With the 26-man roster, the possibility of bringing back the opener is not out of the question either. Chad Green is an elite reliever and his extreme versatility gives manager Aaron Boone options. He appears to be comfortable in that role as well. If the Yankees keep Happ, this could be his new role. The role of the “bulk guy”. This would keep Happ from meeting his option and limit the number of times he’d face certain hitters. Luis Cessa also remains an option for the bulk guy.
The Yankees aren’t done spending on starting pitching. Alex Wood remains available and he has the Brian Cashman steal signing written all over him. This would most likely mean Cashman is going to trade Happ. The Yankees have a lot of options to fill out the back-end of the rotation, a lot of them very good options. The dominance at the front of the rotation and the ridiculous depth on the back-end gives the Yankees their best rotation in years.
In a matter of hours, the Yankees have become World Series favorites, and for the first time in a long time, the starting rotation is a big reason why.