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The Yankees have assembled a rotation. Or a jigsaw puzzle.
They now have the kind of starting pitching that wins in the postseason. Or the kind of physical histories that can undermine getting there.
Corey Kluber, Jameson Taillon and Luis Severino could form one of the best Nos. 2-4 starter groups in the majors come Aug. 1. Or the Yanks could be hunting starters by the July 31 trade deadline because Kluber’s 2020 starts plus those of Taillon and those of Severino come to one — for one total inning.
If beauty is in the eye of the beholder, then you can see the high ceiling constructed by the Yankees — or just all the flaws.
In 2018, Kluber, Taillon and Severino combined to go 53-26 with a 3.15 ERA in 97 starts. Kluber has managed eight starts since then, just one for one inning last year. Taillon has made seven, none last year. Severino has made five (two in the playoffs), none last year.
The Yankee trend of doubling down on starter talent rather than surer innings and health repeated Sunday when they completed a trade of four prospects to the Pirates for Taillon, who missed last season after Tommy John surgery.
In isolation, the Yankees made the kind of trade a contender with a deep farm system can make with a rebuilding club. It resembled what the Padres did earlier this month, also with Pittsburgh, to obtain another starter, Joe Musgrove, trading good quantity, but not overwhelming quality. There is Yankee risk in the prospect bundle, notably that a few teams really like Miguel Yajure because he has shown pitchability at such a young age (22) and Roasny Castillo is the kind of big-arm lottery ticket who finds his way into these types of deals.
The Yanks had been trying to obtain Musgrove and Taillon as a package for a few months. But Pittsburgh believed it could do better apart. So the Yanks just landed the starter who cost less ($2.25 million this year) and offers more in ability. Taillon, when last healthy for a full season, was showing the promise that made him the second pick of the 2010 draft between Bryce Harper and Manny Machado. He was 14-10 with a 3.20 ERA over 32 starts in 2018.
But this isn’t a trade made in isolation. It is made knowing Taillon is returning from Tommy John surgery, so is Severino, and Jordan Montgomery has made 11 major league starts since his June 2018 Tommy John surgery. Kluber is returning from tearing a shoulder muscle last year. Domingo German made his last major league appearance on Sept. 18, 2019, before being suspended under MLB’s domestic abuse protocols. Deivi Garcia and Clarke Schmidt have 40 ²/₃ major league innings combined.
That’s a strong inventory of talent. But under the best of circumstances figuring out how to get to 1,450-ish major league innings in a 162-game season is difficult to do without sacrificing capability or burning out a bullpen. Now, do it a year after a pandemic season of 60 games when no pitcher came close to their normal workload and there was no minor league season. Now do it with this group of Yankee starters with Michael King tossed in for further depth. The line will be fine between terrific and terrifying.
The Yankees will not get Severino back until a few months into the season and have no good feelings about bulk innings from anyone besides Gerrit Cole. It is going to take massaging to find respites with six-man rotations and skipping turns to keep the non-Coles from being overextended — the jigsaw puzzle.
In 2019, the Yankees won 103 games with just one starter (Masahiro Tanaka) qualified for the ERA title at 182 innings. J.A Happ had 161 ¹/₃, James Paxton 150 ²/₃, German 143 and CC Sabathia 107 ¹/₃. So it can be done, especially since the Yanks project to have a strong offense and bullpen again. Plus, they have not touched the best of their prospect base, so if suddenly a Kyle Hendricks or German Marquez or Luis Castillo comes available during the season, they are positioned to deal again. And who even knows with the COVID-19 pandemic whether there will be a 162-game season this year. The fewer games probably the better for this Yankee rotation to be maximized.
Maybe the Yanks keep adding to the group. But that is not easy. The $2.25 million 2021 salary made Taillon even more attractive as the Yanks edge toward the $210 million luxury-tax threshold, which is their 2021 season-opening budget.
Thus, the rotation pieces you see now are possibly what you get to open the season. With Taillon, the group got both more talented and more tenuous.
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