The Yankees, if the stars do not align, could very well find themselves with a shortage of starting pitchers (again!) in 2021. Is there a plan, Brian?
In theory, the Yankees roster on the day following the end of the 2020 season will be missing the names of Masahiro Tanaka, James Paxton, and J.A. Happ.
Each will appear on another list, though, and that one is named the Free Agent Class Of 2021. They’ll be in good company, joined by Noah Syndergaard, Clayton Kershaw, Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander, Zack Greinke, Chris Archer, and Mike Foltynewicz.
For the Yankees, it’s open season on each of the three starters, at least for now. No other team can say so much as a hello to any of them if they meet in a supermarket.
The 2020 season is in a lull, which makes for a perfect opportunity for Brian Cashman to touch base with each player’s agent to see if an extension is in the making.
But unless Cashman is flying well under the radar, Tanaka, Paxton, and Happ may have already thrown their last pitch as a Yankee, contingent on what happens with the mutated 2020 season.
Age and injury issues loom in the background for all three, but on the other hand, adding Gerrit Cole and Jordan Montgomery ( upper right) to the trio has the makings of a championship team when paired with the explosive Yankees lineup.
Yankees Decision – Masahiro Tanaka
Typically, there’s good news and bad news as the Yankees look at Tanaka (below).
The good news is he is a pitcher’s pitcher who has mastered the art of reinventing himself following an injury two years ago.
Tanaka and the Yankees decided not to have surgery and since then has been the team’s most reliable pitcher – especially in the postseason.
Tanaka’s devastating split-finger, a pitch that measures high a pitchers arm stress, is now used only sparingly, with his other pitches picking up the slack.
The bad news is that even at 32, Tanaka has been competing at a very high level in both Japan and America since he was eighteen. Thus the question, how many innings are left?
Still, Tanaka impresses as a savvy pitcher and person who quietly studies the game and his body. Of the three, he would be most missed by the Yankees.
Yankees Decision – James Paxton
Again, there are two sides to the towering lefty tagged as “The Big Maple.”
Paxton’s (below right) career is dotted with injuries. To say he’s injury-prone is oversimplistic, but his body is not holding up to the task of starting every five days in the big leagues. Never, for instance, has Paxton reached 200 innings in a single season.
And yet, when he’s on, he’s super on as witnessed by the no-hitter Paxton twirled when he was with Seattle.
The Yankees also have to be impressed by Paxton’s winning his final ten decisions with a 2.25 E.R.A.
But as we know, in baseball, it’s all about – what have you done for me lately? And if the 2020 season were underway, James Paxton would be on the sidelines awaiting the doctor’s okay to return fro=m offseason back surgery.
The Yankees will wait to get a look-see if and when the 2020 season gets underway before they make a move. This puts the ball totally in the hands of James Paxton.
Yankees Decision – J.A. Happ
J.A. Happ has a $17M Vesting option guaranteed with 165 innings or 27 starts in 2020. With a shortened or no season, that is a non-starter, meaning he becomes a free agent.
The vested option indicates the Yankees had an interest in keeping Happ around. But the board is erased, and both sides need to think again about their future.
Happ will be 38 when he plays the 2021 season. His value is he’s an innings-eater, and he is seldom injured.
Given the Yankees’ capacity to self-destruct, that alone raises his stock with the team.
But at some point, the Yankees will need to blend in the youth coming up from their farm system. Deivi Garcia, Jonathan Loaisiga Mike King, Clarke Schmidt, and Albert Abreu — are all in various stages of development.
Thus, Brian Cashman and Aaron Boone‘s decision may rest on this question. Will 2021 be an all or nothing year for the Yankees (stick with Happ, the veteran) – or do they gamble trying to kill two birds with one stone (a championship with a rookie or two)?
In Brian Cashman We Trust
It’s hard to believe the whiteboard in Brian Cashman’s office doesn’t list Plan A, Plan B, and Plan X if all hell breaks loose, containing multiple rotations for the Yankees in 2021.
One of those plans is likely to follow the axiom that a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.
After all, the three birds in question aren’t all that bad an option – no?
Plus, enter into the picture Luis Severino and Domingo German, both of whom will re-emerge at some point in 2021, and focus dims considerably.
In any event, this is one story worth following even amid re-run games on YES and ESPN. The stakes are high. In poking, checking is often the best play.
I’m not convinced of that on this one.