Richard Bleier may be the unspoken rotation candidate

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

One thing has become pretty clear this offseason: the Yankees like left-hander Richard Bleier a heck of a lot more than I realized. They’ve kept the 29-year-old journeyman on the 40-man roster all winter, opting to instead cut ties with potentially useful young players like Jacob Lindgren and Nick Goody when space was needed. Nick Rumbelow and Branden Pinder too, though they’re rehabbing from Tommy John surgery.

Bleier, who the Yankees signed as a minor league free agent last offseason, made his MLB debut last summer and did solid work for New York. He threw 23 relief innings with a 1.96 ERA (2.67 FIP). Bleier spent much of the season as a low-leverage option before seeing increased responsibility in September, when the Yankees were essentially holding open auditions for the bullpen. Things were wide open there for a while.

Although he worked out of the bullpen last year, Bleier has been a starter pretty much throughout his entire career, including early last season with Triple-A Scranton. As recently as 2015 he managed a 2.57 ERA (3.32 FIP) in 26 starts and 171.2 innings with the Nationals between Double-A and Triple-A. Bleier is a starter who just so happened to pitch in relief last year. Tons of guys break into the show that way. Especially older journeymen.

The Yankees have some openings at the back of the rotation and everyone involved has said the kids will compete for those spots in Spring Training. Luis Cessa, Luis Severino, Chad Green, and Bryan Mitchell are the leading candidates, and Adam Warren is coming to camp as a starter too. The Yankees have a history of doing that. Anyone who has been a starter in the past comes to Spring Training prepared to start, because hey, why not?

Bleier has not been mentioned as a rotation candidate — Brian Cashman listed Cessa, Severino, Mitchell, Warren, and Green by name when asked about rotation candidates last week  — but again, the Yankees tend to bring anyone who could conceivably start to camp as a starter. That includes journeyman types like Sergio Mitre and Esmil Rogers. Of course, Mitre and Rogers were former top prospects. Bleier is … not one of those. Big difference there.

Also, the Yankees seem to have a type, and Bleier is decidedly not that type. They love hard-throwers who miss bats. Who doesn’t? Bleier is a finesse southpaw who lives and dies by the ground ball. In his 23 big league innings last year, he struck out 13. He struck out 25 in his 58 Triple-A innings. That 171.2 inning season he had with the Nationals in 2015? Only 65 strikeouts. That’s a 9.5% strikeout rate. Lordy.

Bleier’s thing is ground balls, and he is quite good at getting them. He had a 54.1% ground ball rate with the Yankees last year. It was 61.9% in Triple-A and 65.0% two seasons ago with the Nationals. Combine the ground balls with few walks (4.4% in MLB in 2016, 4.6% in Triple-A in 2016, 2.3% in 2015) and you can survive with few strikeouts. Your margin of error is smaller — tough to strand a runner on third with less than two outs when you can’t miss a bat — but it can work.

Since batted ball data started to being recorded in 2002, the lowest strikeout rate by a qualified starter with a better than average ERA belongs to an ex-Yankee: Chien-Ming Wang. Wanger had a 3.63 ERA (125 ERA+) in 2006 despite an 8.4% strikeout rate because he got grounders (62.8%) and didn’t walk anyone (5.8%). Then again, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a non-Mariano Rivera pitcher generate as much weak contact as Wang. His sinker was something else.

Other pitchers have gotten by without low strikeout rates, however. Aaron Cook had several better than average seasons (in Coors Field, no less) despite a sub-12.0% ground ball rate because he got so many ground balls. Carlos Silva did it a few times too. Mark Buehrle is the gold standard of “effective despite few strikeout” pitchers, though compared to Buehrle, Bleier looks like Randy Johnson in terms of fastball velocity.

Just to be clear, I’m not advocating giving Bleier a chance to start. I just wonder if it’s something the Yankees will try. They clearly like him, as evidenced by the fact he’s, you know, still around. Guys like him tend to be among the first to lose their 40-man roster spots in the offseason. Bleier has three pitches (sinker, slider, changeup), he excels at something (getting grounders), and he has a history as a starter. When you get down to it, there’s really no reason not to try him in the rotation in camp.

Cashman says it’s “99% likely” the Yankees will not add a starter before Spring Training

(Jim Rogash/Getty)
(Jim Rogash/Getty)

All things considered, this has been a pretty quiet offseason for the Yankees. They did make one notable trade (Brian McCann) and two pricey free agent signings (Matt Holliday, Aroldis Chapman), but otherwise things have been really slow for a solid month now. That’s what happens with a weak free agent class and trade prices sky high.

The Yankees will have some position battles in Spring Training, as always, but generally speaking, the roster is kinda set. There are no glaring needs. It’s not like they traded Chase Headley and don’t have a third baseman. New York does need pitching depth the way every team needs pitching depth, they’re just unlikely to add it. Brian Cashman all but confirmed it earlier this week.

“We have stay engaged with the marketplace, but I think more likely than not — 99% likely — we are going to be going to camp with what we have,” said Cashman on Jim Bowden’s radio show Monday. “That’s Tanaka, CC, and Pineda locked in to three spots, and then five guys competing for the final two spots between — in no order — Warren, Cessa, Green, Mitchell, and Severino.”

Cashman first said he wasn’t optimistic about adding pitching during the Winter Meetings last month, and he’s stuck to his guns. Hal Steinbrenner said pretty much the same thing. That’s typical Cashman (and Hal) though. He says he doesn’t expect to do anything all winter, then bam, something happens. Bottom line: you can never truly rule the Yankees out on anything. Anyway, I have some quick thoughts on this.

1. I still think the Yankees will add a starter. I know the Yankees insist they need to dump salary before making a move, but I don’t totally buy it. I have a hard time thinking they’ll pass up the opportunity to sign a player to a little one-year contract if something pops up. Maybe nothing will pop up! There are still so many low level starters on the market (Doug Fister, Jorge De La Rosa, Scott Feldman, Ryan Vogelsong, etc.) that surely one or two will still be on the market on the eve of Spring Training, right? Right??? Anyway, yeah, I think the Yankees will scoop someone like this up on cheap one-year contract at some point. Maybe even a minor league deal.

2. I feel pretty good about the young pitchers, actually. Cashman listed the team’s four most notable young starters in Luis Cessa, Luis Severino, Chad Green, and Bryan Mitchell. (Adam Warren ain’t so young anymore.) We saw all four of them in the show last season. Further down in the system are Jordan Montgomery and Chance Adams, and Dietrich Enns and Ronald Herrera. (Enns and Herrera are on the 40-man roster.) I’m a young pitcher skeptic; I always assume the worst when a young guy gets called up for the first time. I oddly feel pretty confident in this group though. I guess I was encouraged by what I saw last year. That and the fact there are so many of them. Odds are good one or two (or more!) will emerge as reliable options going forward. (I hope.)

3. Still, some veteran depth would be cool. At the end of the day, they’re still young pitchers, and their performance will be unpredictable and their workloads will have to be monitored. You don’t want to push these guys to the point where they’re at increased risk of injury, and if they struggle, you want to be able to send them to Triple-A if necessary. Development isn’t always pretty. Severino last year was a reminder of that. A veteran starter, even a scrap heap guy like Fister or De La Rosa, is a safety net in case the kids need to be shut down or sent down. And if not, great! The Yankees won’t let a scrap heap veteran stand in their way. Bottom line, the more pitching to protect the young arms, the better.

Young starters allow the Yankees to finally use a six-man rotation in 2017

Cessa. (Mike Carlson/Getty)
Cessa. (Mike Carlson/Getty)

It feels like only a matter of time until a six-man rotation becomes the norm around baseball. Individual pitchers are generally throwing fewer and fewer innings with each passing season, and with a full-time 26th roster spot seemingly on the horizon, soon it’ll be much easier to carry that extra starter. Right now it takes a little roster creativity to make a sixth starter work.

The Yankees, like many teams, have used a spot sixth starter at times the last few years. Someone gets called up, makes one start to give the rest of the rotation an extra day of rest, then gets sent back down the next day. We’ve seen Chase Whitley, Bryan Mitchell, and Chad Green used in this way the last three seasons. Mitchell, Green, Luis Cessa, and Luis Severino are candidates to do this in 2017. Jordan Montgomery and Chance Adams too, possibly.

Yesterday I wrote about the possibility of a tandem fifth starter system, which sounds great in theory, but probably wouldn’t fly in reality. It could work for a team in a deep rebuild with nothing to play for — the Rockies tried a four-man rotation and with four sets of tandem starters in 2012, when they lost 98 games — but a team trying to contend like the Yankees? Nah. Seems like it would be tough to pull off.

Tandem starters might not be doable. But some sort of six-man rotation? That definitely seems possible. It doesn’t have to be a full-time six-man rotation, remember. That would require playing with a six-man bullpen (nope) or a three-man bench (yup). Let’s call it a modified six-man rotation, in which the Yankees use their young pitching depth as a series of sixth starters.

In a nutshell, you call one guy up for a spot start, send him down the next day, then six days later you call up another young starter to make the next spot start. The Yankees wouldn’t be able to call up the same guy for both starts — players must remain in the minors ten days after being sent down, unless someone is placed on the disabled list — but they have the depth to swing it. Something like this:

Day One: Masahiro Tanaka
Day Two: CC Sabathia
Day Three: Michael Pineda
Day Four: Severino (or whoever wins the rotation spot)
Day Five: Cessa (or whoever wins the rotation spot)
Day Six: Mitchell as spot sixth starter
Day Seven: Tanaka
Day Eight: Sabathia
Day Nine: Pineda
Day Ten: Severino
Day Eleven: Cessa
Day Twelve: Green as the spot sixth starter (Mitchell can’t be recalled yet due to the ten-day rule)

The exact names may change, but that’s the idea. And this is doable because the young starters have minor league option years remaining. Mitchell has one left while Cessa, Severino, and Green each have two. Montgomery and Adams, who are also spot sixth starter candidates, have yet to be added to the 40-man roster, so they have all three options remaining. Dietrich Enns and Ronald Herrera were just added to the 40-man and have all three options too. Can’t forget them.

Shreve. (Rich Schultz/Getty)
Shreve. (Rich Schultz/Getty)

Furthermore, the Yankees have optionable relievers, which is a necessity to make this spot sixth starter thing work. Guys like Johnny Barbato, Richard Bleier, Gio Gallegos, Ben Heller, Jonathan Holder, and Chasen Shreve can all be sent up and down without being exposed to waivers in 2017. Send a reliever down one day, call up the spot sixth starter the next, then send down the spot sixth starter and call up another reliever the day after that. See? Simple.

Keep in mind the Yankees don’t have to do this all season. April is, as always, loaded with off-days. The Yankees have three off-days in the first ten days of the regular season. They have eight off-days in the first 43 days of the regular season. Basically one every five days. Yeah. It’s not until mid-May, when they begin a stretch of 20 games in 20 days on May 16th, that the Yankees need to seriously consider using a spot sixth starter to give their regular rotation extra rest.

With any luck, the Yankees will be in position to consider using a spot sixth starter (or tandem starters!) all season. That will mean everyone will have stayed healthy and all the young starters won’t be needed to plug big league rotation spots. We know that’s very unlikely, which is why depth is important. Counting guys like Montgomery, Adams, Enns, and Herrera, the Yankees just might have enough arms to use spot sixth starters all year.

Remember, this is as much about the veterans as it is the kids. Tanaka and Sabathia would benefit from the extra rest now and then, as would the younger pitchers, especially since they’ll all presumably be on some workload limit. Cessa led the kids with only 147.2 innings in 2016. It’s not like these guys are all set to throw 190 innings in 2017, you know? Using a spot sixth starter, something the Yankees have done in the past and have the personnel to do this coming season, benefits everyone.

Young pitching depth could allow Yankees to use tandem fifth starters in 2017

(Rich Schultz/Getty)
(Rich Schultz/Getty)

Five weeks from tomorrow, the Yankees will officially open Spring Training as pitchers and catchers report to Tampa. It’s the biggest non-news day of the year. Nothing really happens that day, but still, it’s the start of the new season. Baseball will be back and that’s exciting. It can’t come soon enough.

The Yankees still have five weeks of offseason remaining to tweak their roster. At this point I would be surprised if they traded away Brett Gardner or Chase Headley, or traded prospects for a young pitcher with several years of control. They might still swing a cheap free agent signing, say a one-year deal for a veteran innings guy, and that’s maybe it. We’ll see.

As it stands, the Yankees can fill out the back of their rotation with their collection of young starters. Masahiro Tanaka, CC Sabathia, and Michael Pineda are the top three starters. These are the guys up for the final two spots, kinda sorta in order of their chances to win a rotation spot in Spring Training:

  1. Luis Severino
  2. Luis Cessa
  3. Chad Green
  4. Bryan Mitchell
  5. Jordan Montgomery
  6. Chance Adams

Give the Yankees a truth serum and I’m sure they’d say they want Severino to grab a rotation spot and run with it in camp. That’s what I want to happen, anyway. He has the most upside of those six starters. I’m not sure anyone would disagree with me there. Severino winning a spot and keeping it all season would be the best thing for the Yankees, both short and long-term.

Montgomery and Adams almost certainly need more Triple-A time — Adams has yet to pitch at that level and Montgomery has thrown only 49.2 innings there, including postseason — so the chances of them winning a big league rotation job in camp are small. It’s not impossible, just really unlikely. And after Severino, the next three names can really be put in pretty much any order.

In all likelihood we’ll see all six of those guys in the Bronx at some point this coming season. That’s usually how it goes. Getting through a season using only seven starters feels like a miracle these days. The Yankees do have a nice amount of young pitching depth — Dietrich Enns and Ronald Herrera are both on the 40-man roster and I haven’t even mentioned them yet — which could allow the team to be a little creative and use tandem fifth starters.

The tandem starters idea is pretty simple. One guy starts, throws four or five innings, then the next guy comes in and pitches the rest of the game. Perhaps it’s better to set it at times through the lineup rather than innings. The starter goes through the lineup twice, then the tandem starter comes in and goes through the lineup twice as well. Something like this, basically:

Day One: Tanaka
Day Two: Sabathia
Day Three: Pineda
Day Four: Severino
Day Five: Cessa and Mitchell

The names are interchangeable. Cessa could be the fourth starter with Severino and Mitchell the tandem fifth starters. Or Mitchell the fourth starter with Severino and Green the tandem fifth starters. Whatever the order, that’s the idea. Two young pitchers work in tandem in the fifth starter’s spot, essentially splitting the nine-inning game.

The tandem starters idea seems neat, but what exactly is the point? How does this help the Yankees? I see three benefits:

  1. More young pitchers see MLB time. It’s possible those young starters have all reached the point where they need to face big league competition to continue their development. Rather than use two in the rotation and send two to Triple-A, three would be in MLB, turning a lineup over multiple times.
  2. The bullpen gets a day off every five days. If the tandem starters are handling the fifth starter’s spot, then the bullpen won’t have to work so hard that day. It’s a chance to give the rest of the staff regular rest once each time through the rotation. It’s almost like a guaranteed complete game every fifth day.
  3. Workloads can more easily be controlled. These are young pitchers, remember. Cessa led the four youngsters with 147.2 innings in 2016. They’re not ready to be 200+ inning workhorses and will need their innings limited in 2017. The tandem starters plan makes that a bit easier.

At the same time, there is some downside here. How are the kids supposed to learn how to pitch deep into games if you keep yanking them after the second time through the lineup? This is a recipe for building a bunch of five-and-fly starters. And two, what happens in close games? You know everyone, from Joe Girardi to the fans, will want Aroldis Chapman on the mound in the ninth inning of a one-run game. That complicates things.

Ultimately, I feel like the tandem starter idea works better in the minors than it does in the majors. Winning is not the priority in the minors. Development is. You can use the tandem starter system in Triple-A, and hey, if you lose a game because the “second” starter blows a one-run lead in the ninth during his fourth inning of work, so be it. That doesn’t fly in the show, especially not when the Yankees insist they’re still trying to contend.

The tandem starter plan is a nice idea in theory that probably won’t fly in reality. Chances are the Yankees will have plenty of opportunities to use all their young starters this season anyway — they’ve had at least seven starters make 5+ starts in 14 of the last 17 seasons — so finding playing time probably won’t be an issue. Maybe come September, when rosters are expanded and the pitchers approach their innings limit, and the team’s place in the standings is more clear, tandem starters is a more viable idea. For now, it doesn’t seem doable, but not because the Yankees lack the personnel.

Aroldis Chapman could be even more effective by being less predictable with his fastball

(Ezra Shaw/Getty)
(Ezra Shaw/Getty)

By any objective measure, Aroldis Chapman is one of the best relievers in baseball and most dominant single-inning forces in baseball history. Chapman has struck out 42.6% of the batters he’s faced in the big leagues, including 44.2% over the last five seasons, the highest rate in history by nearly two percentage points. Craig Kimbrel (40.7%) and Kenley Jansen (39.8%) are the only pitchers within nine percentage points of Chapman.

As good as he is, Chapman is not without his flaws as a pitcher. No player is perfect, after all. Chapman does walk a few too many hitters (career 11.6 BB%), and yeah, he’s made it known he prefers to work the ninth inning and only the ninth inning. Chapman can also be a bit predictable on the mound, especially when he falls behind in the count. (And since he walks so many batters, he’s behind in the count more often than the average pitcher.)

I first noticed this during Chapman’s short stint with the Yankees last year, but he was here and gone so quick — Chapman was on the active roster only 76 days between his suspension and the trade — that I never got around to looking into it. Since he’s back for at least three and possibly as many as five years, it’s time for a deeper dive. Here is Chapman’s pitch selection over the last three years:

Fastball Slider Changeup
Count Even 71.6% 22.2% 5.4%
Pitcher Ahead 68.8% 19.5% 10.5%
Batter Ahead 84.8% 11.9% 2.0%

There are two obvious caveats here. One, every pitcher throws more fastballs when they’re behind in the count. Last season pitchers threw a fastball 64.4% of the time when they were behind in the count. It was 56.2% when the count was even and 48.4% when ahead in the count. And two, not every pitcher has Chapman’s fastball. No other pitcher does. He’s one of a kind. Life is good when you throw 100 mph on the regular.

Chapman, when he falls behind in the count and needs to even things back up, will lean on his high-octane fastball and understandably so. It’s the most dominant fastball in baseball history. There’s no point in keeping it in your back pocket. Aroldis is leaning on that pitch when behind in the count more and more with each passing year too. It was 80.5% fastballs three years ago, 84.6% two years ago, and 89.1% last year.

Again, Chapman’s fastball is historically great, so throwing more of them seems like a good idea. Look at his numbers when he’s been behind in the count the last three years though:

Count Even: .199/.216/.269 (40 OPS+)
Pitcher Ahead: .068/.071/.083 (-40 OPS+)
Batter Ahead: .263/.526/.391/ (93 OPS+)

When Chapman gets ahead in the count, forget it. Game over. Opponents have a .154 OPS (OPS!) against him when he’s gotten ahead in the count since 2014. Crazy. When the count is even, Chapman is still dominant. The hitter might as well be down 0-2.

But, when Chapman falls behind in the count, he’s damn near average. Keep in mind a 93 OPS+ in those situations still isn’t great for the hitter, but relative to Chapman’s standards, it feels like a miracle. Hitting .263 against a guy throwing that hard is impressive, and I can’t help but wonder whether Chapman’s predictability with the fastball plays into that. Sure, he throws extremely hard, but if hitters know it’s coming, their life gets a little easier.

The best way to look at this is by isolating Chapman’s fastball. Here’s how hitters have performed against his fastball in the various count states over the last three years:

AVG ISO Whiff% Foul%
Count Even .210 .060 15.7% 20.5%
Pitcher Ahead .059 .005 25.0% 24.7%
Batter Ahead .389 .185 13.9% 19.4%

I literally lol’d at the .005 ISO against Chapman’s fastball when he’s ahead in the count. Aroldis has allowed one extra-base hit against the heater when he had the count advantage over the last three seasons. One. It was a Garrett Jones double on an 0-2 fastball in August 2014. (I went back through MLB.tv to see if there was any defensive funny business, but no, it was a booming double off the top of the wall on a mistake fastball down the middle. So it goes.)

Anyway, hitters have had more success against Chapman’s fastball when he’s behind in the count. A lot more success. They’ve hit for more average and power, and swung and missed a heck of a lot less. (A 13.9% whiff rate on a fastball is still insanely good, I should note.) I thought maybe this would explain the foul balls too — Aroldis does seem to give up a lot of fouls, doesn’t he? — but apparently not. Either way, Chapman’s fastball is not nearly as effective when he’s behind in the count, yet that’s the pitch he’s throwing nine times out of ten in those spots.

Based on this, it’s fair to wonder whether Chapman would benefit from using his slider and changeup a bit more often when behind in the count. Not necessarily when he’s down 3-0 or anything like that, but in 1-0, 2-0, or 2-1 counts, when a ball doesn’t put a man on base? Why not? The goal is to put something else in the back of the hitter’s mind and change the scouting report. That’s why Chapman’s fastball is so good when he’s ahead in the count. He throws the most sliders and changeups in those spots and the fastball plays up. Right now, hitters can sit fastball when he’s behind.

This is nitpicking to the nth degree, of course. Chapman is historically great even while throwing all those fastballs when behind in the count, so he doesn’t have to change anything to remain effective. This is more a look at a way Chapman can be even better, which is pretty crazy to think about. Mixing in a handful of sliders and changeups when behind in the count, just a few to stop hitters from sitting heater, could make a pretty significant difference.

Cashman indicates Luis Severino will go to Triple-A if he doesn’t win a rotation spot

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

According to Andrew Marchand, Brian Cashman recently indicated the Yankees will continue to develop Luis Severino as a starting pitcher next year, even if it has to happen in the minors. “He still possesses all that upside and ceiling, but obviously he will have to re-prove that in 2017 to earn a spot in the rotation at the Major League level. If not, the expectation is that he would go to Triple-A,” said the GM.

Severino, 22, was terrible as a starter and great as a reliever in 2016. He pitched to an 8.50 ERA (5.56 FIP) in 47.2 innings as a starter and a 0.39 ERA (2.29 FIP) in 23.1 innings as a reliever. Goodness. He was two totally different pitchers. Between big league stints, Severino had a 3.49 ERA (2.60 FIP) in 77.1 innings with Triple-A Scranton. Anyway, I have some thoughts on this and Severino’s future in general.

1. Of course the Yankees shouldn’t give up on him as a starter. Context: Luis Severino is ten days older than James Kaprielian. The Yankees would be foolish to give up on a guy this young and this talented as a starting pitcher based on 47.2 terrible starter innings (and 23.1 great relief innings) so early in his big league career. They’re in transition mode and their No. 1 goal should be maximizing their young assets, and in Severino’s case, that means continuing to let him develop as a starter.

Furthermore, the Yankees have basically no established starters under control beyond next season. CC Sabathia and Michael Pineda will be free agents next winter, and if Masahiro Tanaka doesn’t opt-out, that means something went wrong in 2017, most likely an injury. The Yankees have a nice collection of young starters and Severino is among them, along with guys like Luis Cessa, Chad Green, Bryan Mitchell, Jordan Montgomery, and Chance Adams. I don’t think many will argue with me saying Severino has the most upside of that group.

2. Severino needs to make up for lost development time. The Yankees probably wouldn’t have made the postseason without Severino in 2015 — they finished only two games ahead of the Angels, the first non-wildcard team — and at the end of the day, getting into the playoffs is the name of the game. Get in and you have a chance to win the World Series. Severino helped them accomplish that goal in 2015.

At the same time, I don’t think the Yankees did Severino any favors long-term by rushing him up through the minors. Look at his innings by level:

  • Rookie ball: 26.1 innings
  • Low-A: 85.1 innings
  • High-A: 23.1 innings (three during an injury rehab stint in 2016)
  • Double-A: 63 innings
  • Triple-A: 138.2 innings (77.1 innings after getting bombed in MLB early in 2016)

Severino was not some polished college arm fresh out of the draft. He was a teenager in full season ball and in Double-A by age 20. The statistical performance was excellent, no doubt about it, but there’s more to life than minor league strikeout and walk rates. Severino’s command has been pretty terrible in the big leagues, especially with his secondary pitches, and the Yankees didn’t give him a whole lot of time to work on it in the minors. It’s not a shock the kid has looked less than refined in the big leagues.

I get the temptation to stick Severino in the bullpen next year and help the Yankees win. They are still trying to do that, you know. The team didn’t spend $13M on a DH and $86M on a closer to not win in 2017. Putting Severino in the bullpen almost certainly makes the 2017 Yankees a better team. The best long-term move is letting him start though, even if he’s in Triple-A, because there are still plenty of things he can work on in games that don’t count.

3. At worst, he can be a shutdown reliever. It’s entirely possible Severino’s long-term future lies in the bullpen. He might never locate his slider and/or changeup consistently enough to start, and, frankly, I don’t have much faith in the Yankees turning him into a viable starting pitcher. It’s not just the scars of the Joba Rules either. Their development track record is pretty bad.

But, if nothing else, I do feel pretty confident Severino can at least be a really good relief pitcher if the starting thing doesn’t work out. He can dominate for an inning at a time by airing it out, even with less than stellar command. Many relievers do that, including a few in New York’s bullpen. The bullpen should be the fallback plan though. Keep trying Severino as a starter, and if it’s still not working in a few years, a relief role is a viable alternative.

4. What about a long relief role? If Severino doesn’t make the rotation to start the season, a potential alternative to Triple-A is a long relief role. I don’t mean a traditional mop-up guy who throws two or three innings in a blowout every two weeks. I mean a reliever who throws three or four innings every few days by design. Remember, the Yankees may have a bunch of kids at the back of the rotation, which means there figures to be plenty of short starts throughout the summer.

The upside of a long relief role is that Severino would still be helping the MLB team win, and he’d be giving the rest of the bullpen a regular day off. The downside is he might not get a chance to turn a lineup over multiple times. He might face 10-12 batters in a three-inning outing, so a few batters would see him twice, but that only helps him so much. Ideally, Severino would get a chance to go through the lineup three times as a starter in the minors. That won’t happen in a long relief role, not unless we’re talking extra innings or something. I don’t love the long relief idea from a development standpoint, but it’s an option.

Hal indicates two rotation spots will be up for grabs in Spring Training

Mitchell. (Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)
Mitchell. (Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)

At this very moment, with pitchers and catchers still eleven weeks away from reporting to Spring Training, the Yankees have three rotation spots accounted for. Masahiro Tanaka, CC Sabathia, and Michael Pineda will occupy the top three spots in whatever order. The other two spots? Those are up in the air right now, and Hal Steinbrenner indicated both could go to young pitchers.

“There’s going to be competition in the starting rotation (in the spring), we know that,” said Hal during a recent YES Network interview (video link). “We’ve got (Adam) Warren. We’ve got (Chad) Green, (Luis) Cessa, (Luis) Severino, (Bryan) Mitchell. We’ve got good options for two spots. That’s going to be pretty fun to watch, I think.”

The Yankees are going young wherever possible, so much so that they’ve been trading productive veterans for prospects since the trade deadline. The Brian McCann trade is the most recent reminder. Going young in the rotation is slightly different than going young in the lineup because of innings limits and things like that, but it is doable. Anyway, I have a few thoughts on this.

1. Hal is probably just posturing. The Yankees would say they’re planning to go young in the rotation even if they were dead set on acquiring another starter. There’s nothing to be gained from broadcasting your free agent and trade intentions. The Yankees have been connected to a few free agent starters this year, most notably Rich Hill and Jason Hammel, and I don’t think Hal’s statement changes anything. The fact the team has gone young and put their money where their mouth is these last few months makes what Hal said even more believable, and that’s good. It’s never good to appear desperate during free and trade talks.

Severino. (Elsa/Getty)
Severino. (Elsa/Getty)

2. Severino isn’t locked into a spot. Steinbrenner mentioned Luis Severino among the pitchers set to compete for a rotation spot and that’s reassuring. I don’t think Severino should be considered a lock for the 2017 rotation by any means. Not after what happened this year. Let Severino come to Spring Training and earn a rotation spot by showing he has faith in his changeup and can consistently locate his secondary pitches. And if he does that, great. Put him in the rotation. If not, send him to Triple-A to keep working on things. Severino would be far more valuable to the Yankees in relief than in Triple-A, but this is about the big picture here, and the team shouldn’t give up on him as a starter yet. Patience, yo.

3. The competition isn’t limited to Spring Training. Spring Training competitions are overblown. They happen every year in every camp, so they are worth following, but the competition doesn’t end on Opening Day. Whoever wins the roster spot — in this case two rotation spots — has to perform well to keep the job, otherwise someone else will get a chance. The Yankees have some nice rotation depth at the moment — in addition to guys Hal listed, there will also be Chance Adams, Dietrich Enns, and Jordan Montgomery in Triple-A — so if they give someone a few starts and he’s not cutting it, they can make a change quickly. You don’t win a roster spot in Spring Training and automatically get to keep it all season. The competition never ends.

4. How will the 26th roster spot come into play? Reports indicate MLB will adopt the full-time 26th roster spot with the upcoming Collective Bargaining Agreement, which will change how teams build their roster at least somewhat. My guess is most teams, including the Yankees, will use that roster spot on an extra pitcher. Teams would much rather run out of position players than run out of pitchers.

The extra roster spot would give the Yankees the flexibility to do something unconventional like, say, a six-man rotation or tandem fifth starters. They could have their fifth starter go through the lineup twice, then the tandem reliever comes in to go through the lineup twice as well. That’s an entire post for another time, but the 26th roster spot could definitely impact the way the Yankees build their rotation. Heck, maybe Hal meant they’re going to use a six-man rotation, sign a starter, then let the kids compete for the fifth and sixth spots. Who knows?