TAMPA, Fla. — Rotation, rotation, rotation.
Aaron Boone, in his annual spring training kickoff news conference Wednesday, addressed a crosssection of topics relating to the 2021 Yankees who have, as always, expectations of a World Series bid.
No topic received as much attention than Boone’s rotation, a group that could excel because of the names likely to be in it but also could crash and burn because of questions surrounding some of those names.
"I think when you look at the names, and the guys and the track records, there's a lot of talented people, and I think everyone can acknowledge that," said Boone, who lost three starters — Masahiro Tanaka, James Paxton and J.A. Happ — to free agency after his club was ousted in five games by the AL East champion Rays in the Division Series. "I also acknowledge some of the risks and the questions that people will have."
Yankees pitchers and catchers officially reported for camp Wednesday, with the squad’s first workout scheduled for Thursday. Front and center in attention given will be a rotation with a strong anchor in ace Gerrit Cole but then an almost endless list of concerns regarding the pitchers likely to follow.
There’s, for example, Corey Kluber, a two-time AL Cy Young Award winner with Cleveland whom general manager Brian Cashman signed to a one-year, $11 million contract. Kluber, who turns 35 on April 10, is 98-58 with a 3.16 ERA in his career, but the righthander hasn’t pitched a full season since 2018 (he’s appeared in eight games total since) because of a variety of injuries, including a shoulder issue last season.
Cashman also acquired Jameson Taillon from the Pirates. Like Kluber, the righthander has experienced success in the big leagues (29-24, 3.67 ERA) but, like Kluber, Taillon hasn’t pitched a full season since 2018. In the 29-year-old’s case, that is because of recovery from a second Tommy John surgery 20 months ago.
"We feel like they're physically in a very good place and can be championship-caliber contributors to a team," Boone said, noting Kluber has been throwing to hitters and that Taillon has been throwing bullpens regularly with no setbacks. "But time will tell. Again, I think the amount of depth that you see on our roster now from a pitching standpoint gets me excited because I know at their best, they're capable of being top-flight starters. And that's across the board."
The rest of that board includes Jordan Montgomery, who debuted in 2017 and finished sixth in AL Rookie of the Year voting but who underwent Tommy John surgery in June 2018. The lefthander appears completely in the clear from that and the Yankees’ expectation is for the 28-year-old to be a significant contributor to the group.
That is also the case with Luis Severino, who could be ready two or three months into the season after having Tommy John surgery last Feb. 27.
Domingo German, coming off an 81-game suspension for violating MLB’s domestic violence policy toward the end of the 2019 season, will be in the mix, as will top pitching prospects Deivi Garcia, Clarke Schmidt and Mike King.
Injuries to pitchers are the No. 1 concern among those inside the game as MLB embarks on what it hopes is a full 162-game season after the COVID-19-shortened 60-game season of 2020. All of the aforementioned arms are likely to be needed at some point this season . . . and probably more if the Yankees are to break their World Series drought, which began in 2010.
"It's certainly fair to have those question marks because we've brought in guys that [have health questions], but we also like the upside of a lot of pitchers on our roster right now," Boone said. "Hopefully we get those performances from a number of them behind Gerrit that will put us in that [World Series] conversation, and I believe we will."