Other than AL Cy Young Award winner Gerrit Cole, the New York Yankees rotation was a bit of a mess in 2023.
The team finished 18th in baseball with a 4.44 starters’ ERA. Without Cole and his league-leading 2.63 ERA, their 5.06 ERA would have ranked 25th.
Yet it wasn’t supposed to be that way. Entering the season, the Yankees had one of the best rotations on paper. All five of their projected starters had been top-ten Cy Young finishers at some point in their careers: Cole, Carlos Rodón, Nestor Cortes, Luis Severino, and Frankie Montas.
But then Montas needed shoulder surgery in February. Not long after, Rodón started nursing a forearm strain. Cortes stumbled through the first two months of the season before landing on the IL with shoulder trouble of his own. Meanwhile, Severino missed the beginning and end of the season with injuries and struggled tremendously even when he was healthy.
Others stepped up to fill innings, to varying degrees of success. Clark Schmidt was a solid innings eater, making 32 starts with a 4.64 ERA. Domingo Germán filled a similar role until he was placed on the restricted list to address his alcohol abuse.
Michael King was phenomenal in nine starts, while Jhony Brito bled runs in 13 starts of his own. Both are now members of the San Diego Padres, heading over as part of the package for Juan Soto and Trent Grisham.
Thus, as the calendar flipped to 2024, the Yankees were left looking at a rotation full of question marks. Or, more accurately, a rotation led by Gerrit Cole, followed by a string of question marks.
Yankees Sign Marcus Stroman and Luke Weaver
General Manager Brian Cashman finally took some steps to address that uncertainty on Thursday, signing Marcus Stroman to a two-year, $37 million deal and re-signing Luke Weaver on a one-year, $2 million pact.
Stroman, an All-Star this past season, will slot into the middle of the rotation, providing the squad with some much-needed dependability. Weaver will presumably work as a long man out of the bullpen, ready to step into the rotation in case of injury.
Over two seasons with the Cubs, Stroman made 50 starts, pitching to a 3.73 ERA and 3.67 FIP. The previous year, as a member of the New York Mets, he led the majors with 33 starts, posting a career-best 3.02 ERA. He hasn’t had a major injury since he tore his ACL in 2015, and he has consistently been an above-average starting pitcher ever since.
Weaver isn’t nearly as exciting of a signing. His 6.47 ERA as a starter last season was the second-worst in baseball (min. 100 IP), beating out only Adam Wainwright’s ghastly 7.40 ERA. His 5.84 FIP was better but still the fifth-worst mark in the game.
For what it’s worth (beware: small sample size ahead!), the 30-year-old looked significantly better in his three starts with the Yankees than he did earlier in the season, striking out 16 batters in 13.1 innings of work. More importantly, he’s only around to serve as a depth starter, and the Yankees could do worse than the eight-year MLB veteran in such a role. If he succeeds, they have a club option for his services in 2025. If not, they shouldn’t have a problem cutting him and eating what’s left of his $2 million salary.
Are the Yankees Done?
While the Yankees addressed some major question marks with these signings, one big question remains: Are they finished upgrading the rotation?
If everything goes according to plan, this could be one of the best rotations in the league. Cole is the reigning AL Cy Young, and Rodón is only one year removed from being a serious Cy Young candidate himself. Meanwhile, Stroman and Cortes have All-Star upside, and Schmidt is more than qualified for a No. 5 role.
On the other hand, things could quickly fall apart. It’s far from a given that Rodón will stay healthy. Similarly, it’s far from a given that Cortes will rediscover what made him so successful in 2022. It’s too much to ask for Cole to repeat his Cy Young season, for Stroman to make another All-Star team, and for Schmidt to make another 32 starts. And needless to say, it’s too much to ask for Weaver to join the rotation full-time in case of any injuries.
If the Yankees want to erase their disappointing 2023 season from memory and ensure they return to the playoffs in 2024, they need at least one more piece for the starting rotation. So, who could that be?
As reported by Jon Heyman of the New York Post, the Yankees recently made an offer to free agent starter and reigning NL Cy Young Award winner Blake Snell. However, Heyman notes that “the sides were very far apart,” and it’s unclear if New York will still pursue Snell after signing Stroman.
Heyman also mentions that the Yankees didn’t have much hope about their chances of landing White Sox starter Dylan Cease or the likelihood of a reunion with free agent starter Jordan Montgomery. Again, it’s unclear if the team is still interested in adding any of these pitchers, or another player of their caliber, after bringing Stroman into the fold.
Less expensive options on the free agent market include Hyun Jin Ryu, Mike Clevinger, Michael Lorenzen, and former Yankee James Paxton. Any of those four would provide additional depth for the rotation, but none is necessarily any better than what the Yankees already have.
What’s more, the Yankees are already over the highest luxury tax threshold, so they might not want to add any extra payroll unless they’re getting a surefire, difference-making kind of player. On the free agent market, that means Snell or Montgomery. That’s it. Alternatively, trade candidates include Cease, Corbin Burnes, and Shane Bieber.
If the Yankees are serious about contending with the Orioles, Rays, and Blue Jays in the AL East, adding one of those starters is something they’ll have to consider.