Think quick. No Googling. Do you recall who started Game 7 of the ALCS for the Yankees when their season ended last October at Minute Maid Park?
Not Luis Severino, the resident prodigy. Not Masahiro Tanaka, the pitcher paid $155 million to be the team’s ace.
It was 37-year-old CC Sabathia, the elder statesman- turned-stopper in 2017, and the Astros knocked him out in the fourth inning.
This remains relevant as the Yankees prep for 2018, with pitchers and catchers scheduled to report Tuesday at Steinbrenner Field. Brian Cashman has to wonder if the same rotation is enough to get the Yankees one more victory this year — without relying on Sabathia to deliver it.
The Cubs got anxious enough to reportedly agree to a six-year, $126-million contract with Yu Darvish, a starter linked to the Yankees during the offseason. Cashman, ever mindful of that $197-million luxury-tax threshold, likely was trying to clear more payroll before making a serious push for him. Now Darvish will be pitching for the Cubs, a potential Yankees opponent in October.
For all the saber-rattling over this winter’s stalled free-agent market, Darvish did pretty well, pulling in a guaranteed $21 million per year, with reported incentives that could push the figure even higher.
The question now is what happens to the other top arms on the market, such as Jake Arrieta, Lance Lynn, Alex Cobb, Andrew Cashner and Jason Vargas, to name a few. Should the Yankees feel compelled to make a bid for another front-of-the-rotation piece? Do they need to?
“Like every team, if we stay healthy, I like what we have,” pitching coach Larry Roths child told Newsday’s Erik Boland. “But the odds aren’t with us. If you go year to year and look at the staff staying healthy, you’re not going to use five starters in a year and you’re lucky if you get in under less than 10, really.”
Let’s examine last season. The Yankees deployed 11 starting pitchers, with six making more than 10 starts. Four had at least 27, with Severino (31), Tanaka (30), Jordan Montgomery (29) and Sabathia (27) bundled fairly closely.
Considering the lingering — if maybe unwarranted — concerns regarding Tanaka’s elbow and Sabathia’s age, the Yankees did seem lucky, as Rothschild said. Don’t forget, they lost Michael Pineda to Tommy John surgery at the All-Star break after his 17-start contribution.
Replacing Pineda by trading for Sonny Gray was a great move by Cashman, although Gray was cursed by a lack of run support from an otherwise relentless lineup. Overall, the rotation was fortunate in that area, ranking sixth in the majors with 4.9 runs while their starters were in the game.
That’s the crux of the internal debate for the Yankees. After trading for Giancarlo Stanton — and investing nearly $300 million to do so — can they afford to lean on the same starting core, possibly boosted by top prospects Chance Adams and Justus Sheffield?
We’re confident that scoring runs isn’t going to be an issue. And with a deep, airtight bullpen, new manager Aaron Boone won’t have to put stress on his starting pitchers, giving them a better opportunity to not only remain healthy but stay strong into September.
At this time last year, the rotation was considered the Yankees’ biggest weakness. Their starting pitchers outperformed just about every prediction, ranking fourth overall in K/BB ratio (3.25) and WHIP (1.24) and fifth in ERA (3.98) and opponents’ batting average (.242).
But this season, the Yankees aren’t about beating expectations. They have to live up to them, and that includes the rotation, too.