Here’s the real wild card. With the exception of Severino, every Yankee starter battled through an injury at some point in 2015. With Tanaka, there’s always a question with his elbow, and he did miss time with a forearm strain during the season and had surgery to remove a bone spur in his elbow in the offseason. With Pineda, there’s a question with his shoulder, and with Sabathia, there’s a question with his knee and rehabilitation from alcoholism. Eovaldi also missed the last month of the season with inflammation in his right elbow, an elbow that has undergone Tommy John surgery before. The question isn’t whether the Yankees rotation can be good; the question is, will it stay healthy enough to be good?
Luckily for the Yankees, they do have some starting pitching depth. Nova put up superior numbers to Sabathia in spring training, but with Sabathia’s contract, the lefty always had the upper hand in that battle. Nova is first in line to step into the rotation should a starter go down due to injury or ineffectiveness. Unfortunately for Mitchell, he crossed bad luck once again when he fractured his left big toe, this after taking a line drive to the face last season. Mitchell will likely be out for four months, which is a shame because he had an incredible spring in which he posted a 0.57 ERA with 12 strikeouts in 15.2 innings. Following Mitchell are two right-handed pitchers the Yankees acquired from the Detroit Tigers in return for left-handed setup man Justin Wilson. Cessa is the more intriguing prospect of the two, with Green being the other. Cessa earned a spot in the bullpen after pitching well this spring. He is a converted infielder who started out in the Mets system. He possesses a low-to-mid-90’s fastball with good command. He’s in the bullpen now, but he’s just a tick below Nova on the rotation depth chart. Green is a 24-year-old right-hander also acquired in the Justin Wilson trade, but he did not have the success that Cessa had this spring. Green will begin the year in Triple-A, but hopefully for the Yankees sake, he will not be needed too early in the season.
Beyond Miller, Betances, Shreve, and Nova, the Yankees bullpen is made up of relatively inexperienced right-handers. Take a good look at this bullpen now, because it most certainly will be different by the season’s end. First of all, Aroldis Chapman will be back as the closer when his suspension ends in a month, which will displace one of the above names. Two, Cessa and Nova are part of the Yankees rotation depth, meaning they will be called upon to fill in the rotation should any of the starters go down with injuries. As far as production goes, Miller and Betances are elite relievers. Shreve has returned to form after a disastrous September. The 23-year-old Barbato is an interesting right-hander who performed well enough this spring to earn himself the James P. Dawson Award, which is given annually to an outstanding rookie in spring training. The Yankees took a flyer on Yates when they acquired him from the Cleveland Indians in the offseason, and he earned a spot in the bullpen by firing eight scoreless innings this spring to go along with eleven strikeouts. When Chapman returns, the Yankees bullpen has a chance to be one of the best ever.
Plan B: The Scranton Shuttle
The Yankees’ crop of Triple-A bullpen options has been appropriately named the Scranton Shuttle. There are almost too many pitchers to name, so I’ll just highlight a few. The most recognizable right-handers of the group are Branden Pinder and Nick Rumbelow, two relievers who were featured at the end of last year. While neither was particularly impressive, they were able to log crucial innings in the middle of a playoff race. Pinder pitched to a 2.93 ERA in 27.2 innings in 2015, but he struggled with command, walking 14 batters and giving up 28 hits. Rumbelow’s ERA was higher at 4.02, but his peripheral statistics were slightly better overall with a 1.34 WHIP and a .254 BAA. On the left-hand side, the Yankees were very high on a pair of southpaws, both of whom were cut fairly early in spring. Jacob Lindgren, the Yankees second-round pick in 2014, was a youngster the Yankees expected to move through the system quickly. Lindgren did, in fact, making his big league debut in 2015. However, the lefty struggled in a brief stint, was sent down, and ultimately dealt with arm trouble the rest of the season. Expect him to get called up at some point in the year, but only if the Yankees really need an extra lefty in their pen. The other southpaw is James Pazos, who made eleven appearances at the end of last season. Pazos performed well, albeit in just five innings of work, but he did not allow a run and held hitters to a .176 batting average. Pazos had a good shot at winning a spot in the pen, but he struggled with command this spring. Like Lindgren, expect Pazos to make an appearance as a part of the Scranton Shuttle at some point this season.
And there you have it — a detailed contingency plan for the New York Yankees roster for 2016. It certainly pays to have insurance, especially when you’re in the hunt for a 28th World Series Championship. Like the late Yogi Berra once said about insurance in an Aflac commercial, “If you get hurt and miss work it won’t hurt to miss work.”