Frankie Monta’s injury: How the Yankees can fill the rotation, from inside with Domingo Germán to a trade

The New York Yankees started spring training on Wednesday. The first day of camp aims to be the happiest baseball day of the year. Everyone looks great, everyone loves the team they’ve put together, everyone feels really good about the upcoming season, and so on and so on. If you can’t be optimistic on the first day of spring training, when can you?

For the Yankees, that first day of camp optimism was quickly dashed when manager Aaron Boone’s first official statements were to announce that right-hander Frankie Montas will and will have shoulder surgery next week probably miss the season. Montas struggled with shoulder problems in the second half of last year and this off-season as well. Now he’s going under the knife.

“There have been a couple of different shutdowns where he was set up. He was rebuilding and just still wasn’t quite right, so now we’re at the point where he’s going to narrow it down and we’ll have a better idea of ​​the timeframe once that happens,” Boone said (video link). “In the best-case scenario, he would come back late in the season, but we’ll really know a lot after (the surgery) if they know exactly what they’re doing there.”

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Montas was New York’s most coveted trade deadline acquisition last summer when she gave up four potential clients (including the touted leftist Ken Waldichuk) to acquire Oakland’s ace for the remainder of 2022 and all of 2023. Instead, Montas is likely to miss 2023, meaning the Yankees got eight starts with a 6.35 ERA from the future free agent. There’s no other way to put it: it’s a disaster of a trade.

What’s done is done, and now the Yankees will move on without Montas and figure out how to replace him by opening day. This is New York’s updated rotation depth chart:

  1. RHP Gerrit Cole
  2. LHP Carlos Rodon
  3. RHP Luis Severino
  4. LHP Nestor Cortes
  5. RHP Frankie Montas (shoulder surgery)
  6. RHP Domingo German
  7. RHP Clarke Schmidt

Those are very strong top fours, so much so that FanGraphs still projects the Yankees’ rotation as the best in baseball. That said Cortes had to withdraw from the World Baseball Classic because of a hamstring injury, plus Rodón and Severino (and Germán) are no strangers to the injury list. New York’s rotation is full of upside but also risk of injury behind the extremely durable Cole.

How can the Yankees replace Montas? Not many quality options are currently available. Let’s go through the different ways the Yankees can fill out their rotation.

Stick to internal candidates

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That way, the Yankees will almost certainly replace Montas, at least initially. Germán has made 70 starts in split five seasons with the Yankees, including 14 starts with a 3.69 ERA and 1.16 WHIP last season. He’s inconsistent – Germán has stretches where he dominates for 8-10 starts and then gets hammered for 8-10 starts – although he generally settles in with the league average and the sixth player league average in the depth of rotation chart is pretty good.

Schmidt, who turns 27 next week, has been an up-and-down (mostly down) working deep arm for the past three years and has mostly played relieved in the majors. There are questions about whether Schmidt can start at the next level given his dubious fastball command and tendency to lean heavily on his breaking ball, but he’s a former first-round pick and is at that point in his career *, at which the Yankees have to play a part out what they have at it. The Montas injury frees up a rotation slot for Schmidt if the Yankees want it.

In addition to Germán and Schmidt, the Yankees have prospects Jhony Brito and Randy Vásquez as 40-man roster players in camp and journeyman Ryan Weber as an off-roster guest. Right-hander Will Warren, who broke through the New York system last year, is looking to open the season in triple-A. In all likelihood, the Yankees will leave with Germán as the No. 5 starter because they’ve done so for the past few years and because the role he was slated to be next in line in the event of injury in 2023 was slated.

Sign a free agent

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The best remaining free-agent starter came off the board earlier this week, when the San Diego Padres picked up righty Michael Wacha. The Yankees have given no indication that they intend to go after Trevor Bauer, either this offseason or at any point in the past. I don’t expect them to change course now, even with Montas injured and Bauer available in the league minimum.

Here are the top free-agent starters available according to FanGraphs WAR predictions for 2023:

  1. LHP Mike Minor: 0.9 WAR
  2. RHP Michael Pineda: 0.5 WAR
  3. RHP Dylan Bundy: 0.4 WAR
  4. RHP Chris Archer: 0.4 WAR
  5. LHP Dallas Keuchel: 0.3 WAR

Aníbal Sánchez and Alec Mills are the only other free-agent starters who expect to be better than the reserve level. If the Yankees sign a starter, it’s likely to a minor league contract. I doubt the Yankees would guarantee any of those pitchers a spot on the opening-day list. German has been better than them all in recent years and should be better than them in 2023 as well.

I should note that the Yankees reportedly want to stay below the $293 million threshold that comes with the highest tax rates. Cot’s Baseball Contracts currently estimates New York’s CBT payroll at $288.6 million. They have some money to spend, but not much as they want to save some leeway for trade deadline supplements.

The point is, the free agent starting pitcher market is mostly barren at this point. Bundy can give innings (140 innings with the Minnesota Twins last year), but they’re not quality innings. Archer is best suited at this point in his career as a one-time orderly, not a full-fledged starter, which limits his usefulness. There is currently no viable Montas replacement available on the market.

make a trade

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Difficult to trade in for rotational aid in spring training. No one wants to sacrifice pitching depth this time of year. Chris Bassitt, Sonny Gray and Chris Paddack traded this past spring, although it was an unusual spring due to the owner-initiated lockout. Spring training was essentially the second part of the off-season. Before last year, Jake Odorizzi was the last MLB starter traded in spring practice when the Tampa Bay Rays’ 2018 salary dumped him with the Twins. Not many starters are traded in February and March.

With the caveat that the trade market is constantly evolving, the Seattle Mariners could be the Yankees’ best chance of qualifying for an incipient pitcher trade. The Mariners reportedly dangled left Marco Gonzales and right Chris Flexen all winter. One will be their fifth starter and the other will go to the bullpen (probably Flexen since he pitched relieved in the second half of last year), and Seattle could reschedule either one. Gonzales has two years and $18.5 million left on his deal. Flexen is owed $8 million in 2023. They aren’t cheap.

Would the Atlanta Braves listen to Ian Anderson? I’m sure they would, not that they would betray him. Their willingness to move Anderson likely depends on Mike Soroka’s health and how comfortable they are with Kolby Allard and rookie Bryce Elder as depth behind Soroka. The Twins (Josh Winder?), Miami Marlins (Braxton Garrett?), St. Louis Cardinals (Dakota Hudson?), and Kansas City Royals (Brad Keller?) might be ready to trade with a starter could is the keyword. I’m sure the Arizona Diamondbacks would jump at the chance to terminate Madison Bumgarner and his contract, but I can’t imagine the Yankees doing that.

If you need a life jacket, the teams will throw you an anvil. During spring training and immediately after a serious injury is about the worst time to trade for a starting pitcher. The Yankees will be asking around, I have no doubt about that, but the conditions are ripe for inflated asking prices. With Germán and, to a lesser extent, Schmidt available as a viable plug-and-play fifth starter, the Yankees don’t necessarily need rotational help following Montas’ injury. You don’t have to rush anything.

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