As the Yankees look to remodel their own rotation, much as the Mets did a year ago, perhaps it’s only fitting that one of those potential building blocks is borrowed from Queens, after a brief layover in Detroit. And if not for the Mets’ desperate need for a bat at the 2015 trade deadline, there’s an outside chance Luis Cessa may have started for them Tuesday night rather than in the Bronx, where he faced the Blue Jays.
Cessa wears pinstripes now, in part, because the Mets traded him and Michael Fulmer to the Tigers for Yoenis Cespedes, a swap that greatly benefited both teams. And even a third, when you factor in Detroit then flipping Cessa to the Yankees, along with Chad Green, for lefty reliever Justin Wilson. This is important to remember because — depending on the severity of Green’s current elbow injury — Brian Cashman possibly turned Wilson into two-fifths of his 2017 rotation, as early as it might be to start predicting such things.
For now, Cessa, 24, is merely trying to keep the Yankees alive in the wild-card hunt, and he’s been doing a pretty decent job. Cessa, who is 2-0 with a 3.09 ERA as a starter, allowed six hits and two runs over 5 1⁄3 innings before Joe Girardi got bullpen happy in Tuesday night’s 7-6 win over the Blue Jays. He’s the third Yankees’ pitcher to make a start this season before turning the age of 25, along with the aforementioned Green and Luis Severino, the first time it’s been done since 2011, when Ivan Nova, Phil Hughes, Hector Noesi and Dellin Betances were considered the kiddie corps.
Those four have long since split apart, obviously, with Nova catching a second wind since his July trade to the Pirates and Betances benefiting from that same fire sale to quickly ascend to closer in a week’s time. Who knows where this next generation may wind up. For Green, sidelined by a sprained UCL and strained flexor tendon, it could be an operating table at the Hospital for Special Surgery before this year is out.
If not, Green should be competing for a spot in the ’17 rotation, along with Cessa and Severino, as this winter’s weak free-agent class probably won’t allow Cashman to fortify that part of the team with his checkbook. As of now, the top choices are shaping up to be 43-year-old Bartolo Colon, the oft-injured Rich Hill or even Nova, who is 4-0 with a 2.89 ERA and 0.991 WHIP in six starts for Pittsburgh. The other route to a quick outside fix would be packaging some of Cashman’s newly-acquired prospects for an ace like Chris Sale.
“We’ll see how it goes,” Cashman said before Tuesday’s game. “We’ll be busy, if the market allows us to be.”
In the meantime, the Yankees have another three weeks to evaluate this group, which has the opportunity — however slim — to pitch them into the playoffs. CC Sabathia has a vesting option that insures he’ll be back, Masahiro Tanaka has another year left before his opt-out and Michael Pineda is arbitration-eligible for one more season. Beyond that, it’s Cessa and Wednesday’s starter, Bryan Mitchell, at the front of the line with Severino, who the Yankees have been trying to fix by moving him to the bullpen.
So far, that strategy seems to be working. After switching him to a relief role, Severino has thrived in shorter bursts, and has yet to allow a run in 11 1⁄3 innings, a span of five appearances. While he’s still trying to get his changeup back, Severino has regained some confidence, which has boosted the Yankees’ wild-card hopes along that learning curve.
”I’m not juggling the development line now,” Cashman said. “This team’s in an effort to try to win, so, it’s all hands on deck.”
And there’s more further down, too. Scouts have raved about Chance Adams, a 22-year-old righthander who was 8-1 with a 2.07 ERA at Double-A Trenton. Justus Sheffield — the 20-year-old lefty acquired from the Indians in the Andrew Miller deal — went 3-1 with a 2.08 ERA at Class A Tampa. Whether they’ll be part of the youth brigade in the Bronx someday, or flipped for an established ace, remains to be seen.