The Yankees are generally always interesting — big rep, big history, big-time players. But their recent rotation machinations have added a level of pinstriped intrigue that heightens even their ability to draw eyeballs, considering the risk-reward nature of pitchers such as Corey Kluber and Jameson Taillon.
Cue the adrenaline, because this rotation could bloom into a glorious collection of arms primed to dethrone the Dodgers. Or it might morph into a mess, the failure that destroys a hungry organization’s World Series dream.
If Gerrit Cole is Gerrit Cole, Kluber and Taillon prove healthy, Luis Severino comes back as himself around midseason and one or more of the kids soars, look out. Canyon of Heroes, anyone? Could Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton fit on the same float?
But if Kluber and Taillon can’t stay healthy and Deivi Garcia, Clarke Schmidt and Mike King aren’t ready to help and Sevy isn’t Sevy, yikes. Even D.J. LeMahieu and the brawny Yanks might not be able to hit their way out of that.
Uncomfortable questions, anyone?
But maybe these pitching risks were worth taking. Here’s why: High upside. Kluber was a two-time Cy Young Award winner with Cleveland and Taillon was a hugely celebrated talent with the Pirates before being felled by injuries.
Kluber has worked extensively with Eric Cressey, who is the Yankees director of player health and performance. Clearly, the club believes Kluber’s injury history won’t be a problem.
Taillon, meanwhile, comes with an endorsement, too — from Cole. The two were teammates in Pittsburgh and Cole told the New York Post that he told the Yanks, “If you are going to bet on somebody, if you are going to go to battle with someone, Jameson is the guy you want next to you.”
A scout from another team who tracked Taillon’s rise through the Pirates system recalled a talented pitcher with “real good stuff, top end of the rotation type.”
It’s difficult to predict, of course, how Taillon will come back after having a second Tommy John surgery. But, the scout said, “If he’s three-quarters of the way back, he will be pretty good.”
In 2018, Taillon had his best MLB season. It looked like this: 14-10 record, 3.20 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 179 strikeouts in 191 innings over 32 starts with the Pirates. For comparison’s sake, here are a few of the pitchers drafted after him in 2010: Matt Harvey, Chris Sale and Noah Syndergaard.
The Yankees also feel like they own scary, though mostly untested, young talent in pitchers such as Garcia, and have two pitchers who at least have promise and big-league seasoning in Jordan Montgomery and Domingo German.
The Yanks thought enough of Garcia, who will be 22 in May, to start him in a postseason game as an opener last season and club bigwigs believe he’ll one day be a star. Montgomery struggled to find consistency in 2020, but earned kudos by only allowing one run in four innings in a postseason start against Tampa Bay. German was 18-4 in 2019 before missing all of 2020 because of a domestic violence suspension.
Schmidt, King and Jonathan Loaisiga could offer talented starting depth for an uncharted season. Hovering over 2021 for any club is how their pitchers might be affected by 2020, a year unlike any other. What’s the fallout from a season that began with spring training, followed by a COVID-19 shutdown, followed by a “Summer Camp” followed by an abbreviated, 60-game season and, in the Yanks’ case, postseason play?
Clubs will have to sweat best practices in building up their pitchers. We might see some teams use a six-man rotation at times, openers or relief games in which two bulk-innings hurlers try to deliver the ball to the elite part of the bullpen.
Will the Yanks have enough pitching? If the rotation flops or loses key pitchers to injury, the club might regret passing on innings-eaters such as Jon Lester and, as a result, scramble to work the trade market.
Pitchers can be fragile. The 29-year-old Taillon, a mega-prospect who was the second overall pick in the 2010 draft (between Bryce Harper and Manny Machado, trivia nerds), didn’t reach the majors until 2016 in part because of injuries. He’s only made more than 25 starts once. He’s coming back from his second Tommy John surgery, so he might never be his best self again. He last pitched in an MLB game in May of 2019.
Kluber pitched only one inning last year because of a torn shoulder muscle and he’s only tossed 36.2 innings since the start of 2019. Montgomery has only made 11 starts since his Tommy John surgery in June of 2018. Garcia and Schmidt and other unproven pitchers likely face innings limits this year, too.
It’s impossible to know what will happen, of course, until the season tells us. But the Yankees have given the baseball world something to think about by stockpiling all that pitching brilliance, however risky some of the arms are.
What if they’re right?