On December 18, 2019, the New York Yankees held a press conference to officially introduce coveted free-agent ace Gerrit Cole as the newest member of the team after signing him to a record-breaking nine-year, $324 million contract.
Now, with the 2021 season looming on the horizon and free-agency decisions still to be solved, the Yankees rotation has a few question marks heading into the new year.
Former 2020 rotation arms like Masahiro Tanaka, James Paxton and J.A. Happ are yet to be signed for next season with Tanaka being the most likely candidate to return, but the Yankees still have plenty of internal options to assemble a competitive rotation should those pitchers land elsewhere this winter as general manager Brian Cashman outlined.
Here's a closer look at how the Yankees rotation might stack up for next season as the Bombers prepare for another title run.
No. 1 - Gerrit Cole, RHP
There’s no disputing who the top dog is in the Yankees rotation -- and one of the top dogs in the entire American League -- and that’s Gerrit Cole. Though Cleveland’s Shane Bieber earned the AL Cy Young this year, Cole has as much ability on the mound to stand toe to toe with anyone and should be one of the most fearsome forces in baseball next season in the Bronx.
No. 2 - Jordan Montgomery, LHP
After Cole, Montgomery is the most experienced starter (and the lone lefty) in the group with 46 career starts at the MLB level so far in his Yankees career. The 27-year-old southpaw had an up-and-down season in 2020 but showed promising signs in his last outing of the season in Game 4 of the ALDS against Tampa Bay (4 IP, 3 H, 1 ER, 4 K/3 BB). Monty has worked his way back from Tommy John surgery to position himself as one of the sure bets to be part of the Yankees rotation with high hopes and expectations for 2021.
No. 3 - Domingo German, RHP
The 28-year-old recently joined Brian Cashman and Aaron Boone to discuss his future with the team following a lengthy suspension for violating MLB’s domestic abuse policy, but Cashman did not exclude his name among the potential candidates to make up the Yankees rotation next year. Strictly in terms of on-field ability, German’s 18-4 season in 2019 showed how successful he can be against Major League hitters, even if he has scuffled a bit in his return to professional competition this winter in the Dominican Leagues.
No. 4 - Deivi Garcia, RHP
In a season unlike any other, Garcia was one of the shining bright spots for the Yankees as he demonstrated how effective his stuff can be at the highest level even at the age of just 21. The 5-foot-9 righty went 3-2 in six starts in his 2020 rookie season and has even drawn comparisons to the likes of Hall of Famer Pedro Martinez. While he may be a long way from matching the kind of dominance baseball fans saw from Pedro during his heyday, Garcia is on track to be a longtime starter in the Bronx for years to come.
No. 5 - Jonathan Loaisiga, RHP
One of the most electrifying arms on the Yankees 40-man roster, Loaisiga has bounced from the rotation to the bullpen since breaking into the big leagues on June 15, 2018. Still just 26 years old, Loaisiga has posted a K/9 rate of 10.4 over 79 1/3 career innings but has also surrendered his fair share of walks as well (4.0 BB/9). If he can harness that immense fastball ability and control his excellent off-speed stuff, Loaisiga could eventually pitch his way toward the top of the rotation if he continues to improve.
ON THE HORIZON
Luis Severino, RHP
The only reason Severino wasn’t included in the above list with the projected starters is that he’ll still be recovering from his February Tommy John surgery when the 2021 season begins. “Perhaps he’s a pitcher for you in June or July,” suggested Jack Curry on a recent Yankees Hot Stove. When Sevy does return, it remains to be seen what kind of stuff he’ll have on the mound, but when healthy, he has all the potential of an ace when at his best. That’s the version of Severino the Yankees and their fans hope to see when he makes his return next season.
Clarke Schmidt, RHP
Alongside Deivi Garcia was another breakout prospect with impressive stuff this past season, and that was Clarke Schmidt. The South Carolina Gamecocks product finished 2020 as the second-ranked prospect in the Yankees system, and hopes he can continue his development and claim a spot in the Yankees pitching staff next year and beyond. “If you look at my results last year I didn’t do what I wanted to do,” Schmidt told Meredith Marakovits recently. “I probably would say it motivated me even more. I’m at a place right now where I’m hungrier than ever to get back out there next spring.”
Michael King, RHP
Though King’s 2020 stats may not reflect his full potential, the young righty has proven throughout his professional career how sharp he can be on the mound with a career 2.93 ERA in four Minor League seasons. The Yankees have a bevy of impactful arms that can serve a number of roles, but King’s elite command and change-of-pace offerings alongside the high-velocity hurlers in the organization could help him serve as a swingman in either the rotation or bullpen going forward.
Miguel Yajure, RHP
The first wearer of No. 89 in MLB history(!), Yajure is another versatile arm that could make starts for the Yankees or be used in relief going forward. The 22-year-old made his debut back on Aug. 31 and pitched in three games for the Bombers, holding opponents to just three hits and one run over seven innings. Yajure is one of the many exciting right-handed talents coming out of the Yankees farm system in recent years, and he’ll definitely be a pitcher to watch as 2021 gets underway.
Nick Nelson, RHP
Another product of the Yankees farm system, Nelson made 11 appearances for the Bombers in 2020 and provided a number of impressive multi-inning relief efforts this past season. Though the Yankees utilized his talents out of the bullpen, Nelson came up through the Minors as a starter and will aim to make a case for himself next spring for either role on the Yankees pitching staff.
FREE AGENT POSSIBILITIES
Masahiro Tanaka, RHP
For the past seven years, Tanaka has pitched his way into the hearts of Yankees fans with gutsy postseason performances, his precision on the mound and a blue-collar approach to his craft. It might be hard to envision Tanaka suiting up in the Majors for anyone but the Yankees, but there’s sure to be a number of teams around the league with interest in the veteran righty this offseason if the Bombers decide to allocate part of their payroll elsewhere.
James Paxton, LHP
The 32-year-old southpaw showed flashes of brilliance during his time in the Bronx after landing with the Yankees in a trade from the Seattle Mariners back in Nov. 2018. An uncharacteristically pedestrian fastball paired with some injury concerns may complicate his free-agency future as he enters the market this winter but could also nudge him toward signing a one-year deal to try and regain his value and enter the market next year with brighter prospects.
Trevor Bauer, RHP
Mercurial as he may be, Bauer is far and away the best free-agent pitcher on the market this offseason and he could very well defy the one-year-contracts-only precedent he set for himself previously by capitalizing on his Cy Young season in 2020. At 29 years old and coming off an eye-popping 1.73 ERA season with the Reds, Bauer will come at a price, but he could help make the Yankees rotation as formidable as any in baseball should he land in the Bronx.
Corey Kluber, RHP Reports recently stated that Kluber, a two-time Cy Young winner with Cleveland, is expected to throw for prospective MLB suitors in January as he looks for a new deal in free agency. The 34-year-old has been limited to just eight starts over his last two seasons due to injuries, but his proven track record and a forthcoming opportunity to reestablish his stuff makes him a prime candidate for a short-term bounce-back contract with a championship contender, such as the Bombers.
Alex Wood, LHP
If the Yankees are eyeing potential low-risk, high-reward options to take the place of free-agent lefties like Paxton and Happ, then Wood could be an intriguing option. Though shoulder inflammation kept Wood sidelined for more than half the 2020 season, he bounced back with a huge performance in the clinching game of the World Series with the Dodgers and has been an above-average pitcher throughout his career (113 ERA+). Wood is still just 29 years old and could compete for a starting role or slot in as a relief option with the Yankees should they offer him a contract this winter.