In saying a prospective 2024 Yankees’ rotation “has a chance to be outstanding,” Aaron Boone also said that was the feeling about the 2023 version.
“Going into this year we felt like it had a chance to be a real strength for us,” Boone said before the Yankees' 6-1 loss to the Blue Jays Wednesday night at the Stadium in the second of three games against their AL East rival.
The group did have its moments, certainly, with Gerrit Cole’s season leading the way, a season that is likely to net the Yankees’ ace his first career Cy Young award. Cole, slated to start Thursday night, is 13-4 with a 2.81 ERA, with 208 strikeouts in 192 innings.
After Cole, who of course will front the 2024 rotation, it was a mixed bag. Carlos Rodon, signed in the offseason to a six-year, $162-million deal to slot in after Cole as the No. 2, never got his season going. The lefthander started the year on the injured list with a forearm strain and didn’t make his debut until early July. Though he’s shown recent flashes of being the kind of pitcher the Yankees thought they were signing, Rodon is 3-6 with a 5.90 ERA in 12 starts.
Nestor Cortes, coming off a breakout 2022 in which he went 12-4 with a 2.44 ERA, started slow this season and then had shoulder issues that plagued him pretty much the rest of the way. Cortes, also expected to be in the 2024 rotation, will finish this season on the IL with a left shoulder strain.
Then there was Luis Severino, due to hit free agency after the season and highly unlikely to return. The righthander, with the organization since 2011 when he was signed out of the Dominican Republic at the age of 16, didn’t make his first start of 2023 until early May because of a spring training lat injury and the highlights were few and far between from there. Severino, done for the year with an oblique strain, went 4-8 with a 6.65 ERA in 19 games (18 starts).
Somewhat remarkably, the Yankees’ season did not collapse under the strain of the injuries/poor performance of Rodon, Cortes and Severino (not to mention Domingo German, who went 5-7 with a 4.56 ERA before being placed on the Restricted List Aug. 2 to receive treatment for alcohol abuse).
The Yankees ability to, at the very least, tread water with their rotation was, in large part, because of the performances of Clarke Schmidt and rookies Jhony Brito and Randy Vasquez. Schmidt, after a rough first month, helped stabilize the rotation and, from May through July, was its most effective member, outside, naturally, of Cole. Schmidt, 9-9 with a 4.65 ERA in 31 games (30 starts), isn’t guaranteed a rotation spot next season but will compete for one in spring training. As will, as of now, Brito (8-7, 4.52), Vasquez (2-2, 2.56) and Michael King. The latter, a bullpen standout the last couple of seasons who never lost his desire to be a big-league starter, has so far taken advantage of the late-season audition he’s been given. King came into Wednesday night’s outing against Toronto 1-2 with a 1.93 ERA in six starts. He bolstered those numbers in the loss, allowing one run and five hits, while striking out 13, in seven innings. He threw a career-high 101 pitches.
“On paper, that’s a pretty good group to go into [next] spring with,” one rival AL scout said. “Definitely some questions, but there’s a lot to like.”
And there could be more, depending on the result of the bidding war that will take place this winter for Japanese righthander Yoshinobu Yamamoto. The Yankees are super interested in the 25-year-old righthander, whom they’ve had in-person eyes on since the World Baseball Classic in March (general manager Brian Cashman and advisor Omar Minaya just returned from Japan where they saw Yamamoto throw a no-hitter). But as much as the Yankees like the pitcher, they are hardly alone in that regard, as there will be no shortage of teams offering huge dollars.
“I think if you look at the potential people that would fill that rotation, it has a chance to be excellent,” Boone said. “It didn’t work out like we expected this year but when you look at the people, there should be some excitement about the potential of those guys, we just obviously have to get them healthy, get them posting, get them to perform at a level we expect.”