The regular season has yet to begin, but the Yankees’ season is already off to an auspicious start. Without ace Luis Severino until May (at the earliest) and back of the rotation stalwart CC Sabathia until some point in April, the Yankees will have to begin the season with a depleted pitching staff. Opportunities for Luis Cessa, Domingo German, and Jonathan Loaisiga have opened up thanks to these injuries. That’s not ideal, even if you’re a fan of German or Loaisiga (apologies to Cessa, but I don’t know many fans of him).
Injuries happen, especially to pitchers, so it’s not a surprise that the Yankees are in this situation. It’s just unfortunate that they’re already in this predicament. Even when Severino and Sabathia return, someone is going to miss start(s) later on in the year. For now though, the team can only address the short-term issue and be optimistic about a rotation at full-strength by early May. There are a few things that could help the team wade through the absences of Severino and Sabathia.
Skipping starts when possible
There are five off-days through the end of April, which would allow the team to use a fifth starter (or opener) only four times in the first 29 games of the year. In the scenario diagrammed above, opening day starter Masahiro Tanaka would start seven times through April 30th, allowing him an average of just under five days of rest. Even though he has a reputation of being better with extra time off, his career ERA is better on four days of rest than five. Starters two through four would average 5.67 days of rest and pitch six times a piece. Skipping starts frequently can be taxing on a rotation, but because there are so many off days to begin the year, it doesn’t look terribly strenuous.
The benefit of skipping the fifth starter as much as possible is obvious: it results in fewer starts by an inferior pitcher. We already know that the fourth starter isn’t going to be anyone the Yankees originally planned for, so that’s a step down already. You know what that means about the fifth guy. All that said about skipping starts, there’s a saying about best laid plans. Weather could throw a wrench in this approach pretty quickly. Or on the bright side, maybe Cessa provides a shot in the arm!
Using an opener
Mike wrote about why this makes sense already, even if it makes you queasy. No need for me to regurgitate what he wrote as I’m basically in agreement. Rather, here’s the simple question to ask yourself: do you want Cessa or German facing the top of the order? Or would you rather bring them in when the sixth or seventh hitter comes due?
A light early season schedule
The good news is that there are some bad teams on the slate for the first month of the season. 16 of the season’s first 29 games will be against the Orioles, Tigers, White Sox, and Royals. All but three of those games will be at home. Not having Severino or Sabathia against those teams shouldn’t make a big difference as there isn’t much of an excuse to lose to them. Obviously, things happen and they’ll inevitably drop a few against those teams, but the point stands.
The other 13 affairs aren’t a cakewalk, particularly the Astros and Red Sox. There’s a west coast trip at the end of the month, which is always challenging even though there are two presumably non-contending teams they’ll face: the Diamondbacks and Giants. By that time, perhaps they’ll have Sabathia back, which would be a nice boost to close the month.
Signing a free agent
It doesn’t sound like the Yankees are planning to go the external route, but until Gio Gonzalez and Dallas Keuchel sign elsewhere, it can’t be ruled out. Based on what we know about the prognosis for Severino and Sabathia along with the light schedule and off days, I can understand why the Yankees don’t feel pressed for external help. Still, setbacks happen. There’s only so long they can bide their time without outside assistance unless the young arms step up.
One reason that being proactive for a free agent makes sense is because of a potential setback for Severino or Sabathia. What if, in a few weeks, we hear that either of the two need more time on the shelf, but neither Keuchel or Gonzalez are available? The Yankees would really be in a bind then. Sure, it would be a issue if everyone came back healthy on schedule with one of Keuchel or Gonzalez in tow, but that’s a good problem to have. These things sort themselves out. Like I said, someone else is bound to miss some time down the road, anyway. It’s not like a six-man rotation would be unheard of, too.