The big baseball news of Thursday night was the Yankees adding lefty Carlos Rodón to their rotation on a six-year, $162 million deal. After retaining Aaron Judge and Anthony Rizzo, the next major box to check this offseason for Brian Cashman's front office was adding a big arm to the rotation and he got it done.
The Yankees now have a five-man rotation with very high upside, but there are questions throughout. Let's dive in.
The upside: We've all seen it. Cole is arguably the best pitcher in baseball to have not (yet?) won a Cy Young. He's finished second in voting twice and has four top-five finishes. He's twice led the majors in strikeouts and led the AL with a 2.50 ERA in 2019. On any given day that he takes the ball, he's capable of carrying his team with a dominant outing. That's an ace, easily.
The question: For being a dominant pitcher, why does he give up so many home runs? He led the AL with 33 homers allowed last season. He allowed a home run in all three of his playoff starts and, in fact, has given up at least one home run in his last nine playoff starts going back to 2019. The long ball problem was the main culprit in him being inconsistent last season, pitching overall to a 3.50 ERA (111 ERA+, his worst since leaving Pittsburgh by a wide margin).
The upside: In the last two seasons, Rodón has made 55 starts and is 27-13 with a 2.67 ERA (157 ERA+), 0.998 WHIP and 422 strikeouts against 87 unintentional walks in 310 2/3 innings. On a rate basis, he's been one of the best, most dominant pitchers in baseball. He's a lefty ace to stand tall alongside the righty Cole!
Oh, and here's a good stat: In fourseam fastball whiff rate (with 1,000 pitches minimum) last season, Cole was No. 1 and Rodón was No. 2 in all of baseball. The Yankees have the heat.
The question: Rodón dealt with shoulder injuries in 2016 and 2021 and had Tommy John surgery in between. This means he started, by season,12, 20, 7 and 2 games, respectively, from 2017-20. In 2021, it looked like his career year, but he only managed 23 innings in five starts after Aug. 7. As noted, the shoulder injury was a concern. Even in making 31 starts last season, he averaged just 5 2/3 innings per start, adding up to 178 on the season. That was his career high.
Can he stay on the mound all season and, if he does, will he still be full strength for the playoffs? Or will he wear down in October and falter when the Yankees need it most?
The upside: We just saw it! Nasty Nestor was one of the breakout stars of 2022, making the All-Star team and finishing eighth in AL Cy Young voting. He's capable of resembling an ace through the lineup twice or even three times. If he were slotted third in a playoff rotation, it would be reasonable to expect him to hold his own or even come out on top a good number of times.
The question: Is it repeatable?
Cortes was never highly-touted. The Yankees lost him in the Rule 5 draft to the Orioles and then the Orioles gave him back the following April. Then he was traded to the Mariners for "future considerations," hit minor-league free agency and re-signed with the Yankees. He started 2021 in the minors.
He was a full-time starter last year, but it was for 28 starts and 158 1/3 innings. He went through a bit of a rough patch through the middle of the season, too. It's good that he's only the three instead of being counted on as an ace, but there still has to be some level of concern that 2022 will end up being a fluky season for the southpaw.
The upside: The two-time All-Star has third- and ninth-place finishes in Cy Young voting to his credit. In those two seasons, he was 33-14 with a 3.18 ERA (137 ERA+), 1.09 WHIP and 450 strikeouts in 384 2/3 innings. He flashed plenty of that upside last season, too, when he was 7-3 with a 3.18 ERA (123 ERA+), 1.00 WHIP and 112 strikeouts in 102 innings. He looked like his old self when on the mound.
The question: Again, it's staying on the mound. Those ace-level seasons were 2017-18. He made just three starts in 2019, zero in 2020 and appeared in four games in relief in 2021. Last year, he was out between July 13 and Sept. 21. Arm issues have hampered much of his career, including shoulder issues and then Tommy John surgery, the latter of which came with several setbacks during his rehab. Last year, it was a lat strain.
He can be great when he pitches. He also has zero 200-inning seasons and only two more than his 102 last season, with the most recent of those being 2018. There has to be concern about getting him through the full season and then, if he does, how well he'd hold up through a potential deep playoff run.
The upside: The fifth man of five on this list who flashes ace upside, Montas looked like a Cy Young candidate in 2019. Through 16 starts, he was 9-2 with a 2.63 ERA (164 ERA+), 1.12 WHIP and 103 strikeouts in 96 innings. In 2021, Montas finished sixth in AL Cy Young voting with a strong all-around season (3.37 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 207 K, 187 IP, 3.6 WAR). Last year before he was traded to the Yankees, he had a 3.18 ERA with 109 strikeouts in 104 2/3 innings.
The questions: That 2019 season mentioned above? Yeah, it stopped abruptly because he was suspended for a PED violation. He was then bad in 2020.
In eight starts for the Yankees, after the trade, last season, he had a 6.35 ERA. It's only been 6 2/3 innings, but he has a brutal 9.45 playoff ERA.
At a bare minimum here, we're dealing with inconsistency, plus a shoulder injury last season.
When he's good, he's outstanding, but the track record is littered with landmines. Which version do the 2023 Yankees get for most of the season? How about when it matters most?
In all, the Yankees have a rotation that is capable, when things are pie-in-the-sky humming, of looking like five aces. It also isn't difficult to see stretches where they have multiple members of the rotation on the injured list while at least one other is struggling to keep runs off the board. It could be a roller coaster of a season with this group. Most roller coasters are fun, though, and there's enough upside here to believe this will be one of the best rotations in baseball.
The Yankees haven't won the AL pennant since 2009 and that's ages for this franchise. They've gotten to the ALCS three times in the last six seasons and all three times they were eliminated by the Houston Astros. The defending World Series champions are going to have a very strong rotation next season, but they did lose Cy Young winner Justin Verlander to free agency while the Yankees brought in someone capable of pushing for a Cy Young award. They now aim to topple their nemesis and finally get back to the World Series. They have the rotation upside to get the job done, but they'll need to answer a lot of questions in the process.