SARASOTA, Fla. — Sure, the Yankees look like a powerhouse team. But if one potential weakness is lurking not too far beneath the surface, it’s an apparent lack of depth behind the top five in the starting rotation.
Veteran Alex Cobb is the last man standing among the top free-agent starting pitchers. A baseball source on Wednesday would not rule out the Yankees making a run at the 30-year-old righthander if his price drops enough and the Yankees can continue their quest to stay under the luxury-tax threshold, as they did when they signed former Mets second baseman Neil Walker on Monday
The Yankees know Cobb well from the American League East. He went 12-10 with a 3.66 ERA for Tampa Bay last season and has a career record of 48-35 with a 3.50 ERA.
One factor complicating Cobb’s free agency is that he rejected Tampa Bay’s $17.4-million qualifying offer, meaning his signing team will have to surrender one or more draft picks.
Prospect Chance Adams could have an opportunity to be the first man up when the Yankees need to dip down to Triple-A for a replacement starter. But the 23-year-old righthander didn’t help his case when he was rocked for five runs and seven hits (including two long home runs) in 1 2⁄3 innings of the Yankees’ 7-4 loss to the Orioles at Ed Smith Stadium.
“Hopefully, today’s a positive step for him,” manager Aaron Boone said before the game. That hope did not come to fruition on a sunny 65-degree day.
Adams, the Yankees’ No. 4 prospect according to Baseball America, gave up a two-run homer to center to Adam Jones in the first and another two-run shot to left to Jonathan Schoop in the second. Schoop was the last man Adams faced.
“Both fastballs. Both in,” a downcast Adams said. “Both a little too middle. Not in enough. Not high enough. Not good pitches, really.”
In his previous start, Adams threw two shutout innings against the Red Sox after giving up one run in an earlier relief appearance. His spring training ERA is 11.57.
“Command, I guess, wasn’t really there, but also my velocity is a little down,” said Adams, who added that lower velocity is typical for him in spring training. “I’m not throwing as hard as I’d like to right now. When you don’t have that extra velocity, when you miss spots without having good command, it doesn’t really add up . . . It hasn’t been too good of a spring for me.”
Adams, a fifth-round pick in the 2015 draft, went a combined 15-5 with a 2.45 ERA in Double-A and Triple-A last season with 135 strikeouts in 150 1⁄3 innings. The Yankees did not call him up at any point even though they used 11 starters in 2017.
The Yankees hope to not need as many as 11 in 2018. But they’ll certainly need more than five over a 162-game season. The rest of spring training will begin to determine the depth chart for starters six, seven and beyond.
Boone listed Adams, Luis Cessa, Domingo German and Wade LeBlanc as potential rotation add-ons during the season. He also named No. 3 prospect Justus Sheffield as a candidate “down the road.” Sheffield, 21, has not pitched above Double-A.
“We feel good about some of the options we have,” Boone said. “Short term and long term.”