Brian Cashman will never go into an off-eason feeling completely satisfied with his pitching staff.
As the longtime Yankees general manager often says in relation to his roster, pitching in particular: it’s his job to “never really be comfortable,” and that a given team can always be improved.
But as the winter officially got underway with last week’s GM meetings in Las Vegas, Cashman indicated if there’s one area of his club giving him at least a degree of comfort at the moment, it’s the rotation.
“I feel good about going into the wintertime having [Gerrit] Cole, Nestor [Cortes], [Luis] Severino, [Frankie] Montas as your first four, however you want to cut that, with [Domingo] German in the fifth spot,” Cashman said.
The Yankees featured one of the most effective and durable rotations in the sport last season, with a 3.51 ERA, fourth in the majors.
Cole went 13-8 with a 3.50 ERA in 33 starts, striking out a single-season franchise-record 257 but also allowing a career-high 33 homers. Cortes had the best year of any rotation member, 12-4 with a 2.44 ERA in 28 starts, and Severino, whose $15 million option for 2023 was exercised by the club Monday, went 7-3 with a 3.18 ERA in 19 starts. Montas, the Yankees’ headline trade deadline acquisition, struggled after coming over from the A’s, going 1-3 with a 6.35 ERA in eight starts.
Jameson Taillon, a free agent whom the Yankees have an interest in re-signing but they may find the righthander’s price tag exorbitant, went 14-5 with a 3.91 ERA in 32 starts.
“I think that’s a strong rotation right out of the gate,” Cashman said, referencing Cole, Cortes, Severino and Montas.
The Yankees saw Montas, a lefthander, as a legitimate No. 2- or 3-caliber starter to slot in behind Cole (and/or Cortes), but his Bronx career never took off. After mostly struggling on the mound, Montas was shut down the final three weeks of the regular season, and into the postseason, with a shoulder injury. Montas had a 3.18 ERA in 19 starts with the A’s at the time of the deal.
“We felt like he was the second-best starter on the market that was available,” Cashman said of Montas. “He has a lot of characteristics that we like in pitchers. He's got the ground-ball ability, the strikeout ability and it would've been nice to have him fully healthy.”
As for picking up Severino’s option, Cashman said during his end-of-season news conference Nov. 4 that the $15 million decision would be “an easy yes.”
“He's a really impactful pitcher,” Cashman said.
Cashman did not rule out addressing his pitching staff at some point this offseason but there are more glaring holes demanding attention. That starts, of course, with re-signing free-agent outfielder Aaron Judge, all but certain to land a mega-deal worth at least $300 million. The Yankees also need a leftfielder — they have an interest in bringing back deadline acquisition Andrew Benintendi but he is a free agent, as well — and have a hole at first base (they would like to re-sign free agent Anthony Rizzo but there will be plenty of competition on the market for his services).
The Yankees will explore the trade market in depth, as well, but even though Cashman wouldn’t say it outright, much of the club’s business will be on hold until the Judge situation plays out. And the timetable for that is anyone’s guess.
“Optimally, if you could wave a magic wand, we would secure Aaron Judge and retain him and have him signed as soon as possible,” Cashman said this week. “But he’s a free agent. He’s earned the right to be a free agent. So he’ll dictate the dance steps.”