Ten days remain until Gio Gonzalez can opt out of his contract with the Yankees. The veteran lefty was brought in as rotation insurance last month just in case things went awry for the recovering CC Sabathia and Luis Severino. Gonzalez wasn’t necessarily in the Yankees plans, hence the minor league deal he signed with the April 20th exit date. Oh, how things have changed.
Initially, both Severino and Sabathia were expected to return by the end of April. Domingo German and Jonathan Loaisiga were only going to be stopgaps for a few weeks. Unless the team was going to run with a six-man rotation at full strength, there was no place for Gonzalez. Now, Severino won’t return until this summer. The good news is that Sabathia will be back this weekend, but without its ace, the Yankees will tap into the reserves longer than anticipated. How they choose to do that remains to be seen, but we’ll know for sure whether it’s Gonzalez or not by next weekend.
It would be a tough break for German to lose his rotation spot if he continues to pitch well over the next week or so. Granted, his first two starts were against Detroit and Baltimore, but it’s fun to watch his power fastball and sharp curve. Nonetheless, the Yankees have some flexibility with German. He still has a minor league option, so he could remain extended as a starter in Triple-A. Or, he could transition to the bullpen where his stuff should play. Speaking of his arsenal, it’s certainly superior to what Gonzalez offers now. Yet, German is still a bit of an unknown. He’s a much more volatile option because he tends to not pitch past the fourth or fifth inning.
Gonzalez would be a safe choice for the fifth starter role going forward. His stuff is not what it once was, but he’s still an innings eater. Unlike German, I feel pretty confident in Gonzalez pitching into the fifth or sixth every turn. One issue, if it even is a true problem, is that Gonzalez has no use as a reliever. So, if the Yankees really wanted to keep German in the rotation, it wouldn’t make much sense to stash Gonzalez in the bullpen. That would mean cutting him loose and thereby weakening the team’s pitching depth.
After a crummy spring training and first outing in Scranton, Gonzalez finally put together a brilliant outing yesterday. Perhaps the late start to camp is the excuse for the initial poor performance, but Gonzalez wasn’t doing himself any favors by pitching poorly. He could get two more starts in Scranton before his opt out. How he pitches in those outings might not matter. Voluntarily losing depth in a young season when the team is dropping like flies doesn’t seem like a wise idea.
An external acquisition, namely Dallas Keuchel, is the most plausible reason the team to send Gonzalez packing. There haven’t been any rumblings about such a move just yet. But as Mike wrote this morning, the Yankees probably will exhaust their internal options before turning outside the organization.
As Gonzalez’s decision day nears, there’s an old adage to keep in mind: a team can never have enough starting pitching. Chances are that the rotation will suffer at least another injury or two over the course of the season. Had Severino’s prognosis not been so daunting, the risk of rolling the dice with German wouldn’t have been a terrible decision. Now, it’s hard to imagine the team letting go of a solid big league option in Gonzalez.