One glaring issue on the New York Yankees roster heading into 2017 is the starting rotation. The rotation looks like it will include Masahiro Tanaka, Michael Pineda, C.C Sabathia, Luis Cessa, and Bryan Mitchell or Luis Severino. It is by no means going to be a dominant staff, but it could benefit if Masahiro Tanaka carries his spring performance into the regular season.
Tanaka has only given us a small sample size, but the numbers show that he is ready to be the ace of the staff. In three Spring Training games, Tanaka has given up two runs on just three hits in nine innings pitched. He has not allowed any walks and has struck out a staggering 13 batters. On Saturday, he pitched four perfect innings, striking out seven. Much has been made of Tanaka opting to forego elbow surgery a season ago so that he would not have to miss an entire season, and that now looks to have been the right move. Tanaka has never fully relied on his fastball to be his out pitch, yet regardless of his partially torn UCL in his throwing elbow, he has more or less kept his velocity the same.
In 2017, we should see more of the same Tanaka that we saw in 2014 and 2016. This spring, he has used his slider and splitter to put batters out, simply using his fastball as a setup pitch. Everybody knows that Tanaka has potential to be a phenom starting pitcher in the MLB. After all, he went 99-35 with a career 2.35 ERA in his seven years playing for the Rakuten Golden Eagles in Japan. When Tanaka has confidence in his elbow staying intact, as he did last season, then he should be able to post a 15-20 win season and a sub-three ERA.
That, however, may not be enough for the Yankees to make a push for the playoffs in 2017. Michael Pineda, who is set to be number two in the rotation, has pitched five innings and given up two runs on four hits, putting his ERA at 3.60. That also is a small sample size, but two runs in five innings is not an improvement over how he pitched last season. The projected third starter, C.C Sabathia, has not seen a lot of action in Spring Training. He’s pitched just two innings, given up two hits, and has allowed one walk. The New York Yankees lineup might be a pleasant surprise, but this starting rotation looks extremely suspect from two to five. Sabathia is entering his 19th season in the major leagues, and he put up a below-average 9-12 record and 3.91 ERA in 2016. He is only getting older. Pineda did not have a special season by any means either. He went a dismal 6-12 and had a massive ERA of 4.82. So, not only do the Yankees not know who their fourth or fifth starters will be, they also can’t really have much confidence in their second and third starters. That is probably why talks have resurfaced that the Yankees are going after Chicago White Sox lefty starting pitcher Jose Quintana.
General Manager Brian Cashman said on Friday that he is trying to upgrade the Yankees roster, but what he really means is that the lineup looks like they will be able to produce runs, and the only way to have that translate into wins is to make sure his starting rotation is not a disaster.
The Yankees have loads of untouchable players on their 2017 roster such as Gleyber Torres, Gary Sanchez, Clint Frazier, and Greg Bird. They do, however, have some prospects that they could move. Right-handed pitcher Luis Severino, infielder Jorge Mateo, right fielder Aaron Judge and third baseman Miguel Andujar are all prospects that the White Sox might have a shot at getting. They will probably want one of the untouchables, but Cashman would be foolish to give any of them away. The White Sox will probably ask for Jorge Mateo and/or Aaron Judge. With Aaron Hicks, Tyler Austin, and Clint Frazier all coming through the system as capable outfielders, Judge might be the centerpiece of a deal.
If Brian Cashman wants his team, which appears to be ready for the 2017 season, to compete for a playoff spot a little bit ahead of schedule, then adding Jose Quintana is probably the piece that he needs. Quintana was solid in 2016, going 13-12 with a 3.20 ERA. He set personal bests in ERA, WHIP, strikeouts, and innings pitched. He was also selected to be an all-star. If the Yankees acquire him he will likely become the second or third starter, and the Yankees would be in a much better position to make a playoff run in 2017.