The New York Yankees received some shocking and disappointing news Tuesday when it was announced that starter Jordan Montgomery would undergo Tommy John Surgery, ending his season.
It’s a significant blow to Montgomery, who has been one of the most underappreciated Yankees since the start of the last season. He led all rookie pitchers in fWAR last season with 2.7 in 29 starts. Montgomery isn’t projected back until the end of the 2019 season. It’s not unrealistic to think he won’t be in the Yankees plans until 2020.
The left-hander was placed on the disabled list on May 2nd, with the righty Domingo German filling in. German threw six hitless innings against the Cleveland Indians in his first big league start but hasn’t pitched well since. He has allowed 19 earned runs in 21 innings over his last four starts. The Yankees don’t want him to have to make 20-plus starts through the end of the season. German has shown talent in his starts, and in his most recent start against Detroit on June 4th, he pitched well into the seventh. But it’s hard to develop starting pitching in the majors and win a World Series the same year.
That leaves the Yankees hurting for a starting pitcher. It had long been speculated that the Yankees will go after a starting pitcher at the trade deadline, but Montgomery didn’t deserve to get booted. It was also debatable whether any of the starters the Yankees could conceivably acquire would displace Sonny Gray, Masahiro Tanaka or CC Sabathia from the postseason rotation. Additionally, the starting pitching market has so far not developed with really no impact starters available, that includes Texas’ Cole Hamels and Detroit’s Michael Fulmer.
But now, the Yankees are in a really tough spot with the Montgomery injury. They could wait until the deadline for the starting pitcher market to develop to get an impact pitcher, but it may not develop the way they want it. Entering play Wednesday, everyone in the National League was within a game of .500 except the Mets, Marlins, Reds and Padres. Out of those four teams only the Padres’ Tyson Ross seems like a solid addition. In the American League, the aforementioned Hamels and Fulmer will likely be available. The Royals might try to dangle Ian Kennedy and Danny Duffy, but neither have pitched well.
The big get may be the Rays’ Chris Archer, but he is having a down year and was placed on the disabled list on June 5th. More concerning is that the Rays may not want to trade their ace within the division. The Yankees reportedly tried to trade for Fulmer in the offseason, but he is also having a down year. He is arbitration-eligible through 2022, so it might take a big package to acquire him regardless of his performance. The starting pitching that is projected to be available is underwhelming to say the least.
If Montgomery was healthy, they could take their time for the market to develop and wait for the best deal to present itself. Maybe a deal never materializes, such as what happened in 2015, when the Yankees were in first place over the Blue Jays but hung on to their prospects. They could have looked to add a relief pitcher, or two, instead.
With Montgomery’s injury, however, the Yankees no longer have a choice. They must acquire a starter to displace German if they want to win the AL East. It’s going to take having the best record in baseball to win the division and avoid the one-game playoff of the wild card. It’s hard to do that with just four starters.
They also need to look forward to 2019 with Montgomery on the shelf for such a long time. Sabathia is also a free agent after 2018. So the Yankees will likely have two spots in the rotation to fill after the season. The Yankees could reasonably splurge for starting pitching in the 2018-19 offseason. Maybe top pitching prospect Justus Sheffield will be ready at some point next season. They do have options with how to fill out the rotation in the future.
But for 2018, the Yankees don’t have options, flexibility or enough starting pitching. They need a starter, badly. Unfortunately, it may force the Yankees to settle for a less than perfect option.
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