TAMPA, Fla. — The New York Yankees’ 2021 season will rest on the potential of a pitching staff full of uncertainty. But regardless of any question marks, manager Aaron Boone hailed a new-look rotation that now boasts two-time Cy Young winner Corey Kluber and the second overall pick in the 2010 draft, Jameson Taillon.
“As I look at our pitching staff, and what I believe is the potential of that staff and the depth of that staff, I feel like it’s in a lot of ways as good as it’s been certainly since I’ve been here,” Boone said Wednesday afternoon during his first videoconference call of the spring.
He added: “When you look at the names, and the guys and the track records, there’s a lot of talented people. I think everyone can acknowledge that. I also acknowledge some of the risks and the questions that people will have when you bring in J-Mo [Taillon] and Corey, who haven’t pitched a lot in the last couple of years. We feel like they’re physically in a very good place and can be championship-caliber contributors to a team. But time will tell.”
The loss of veteran pitchers Masahiro Tanaka, James Paxton and J.A. Happ to free agency means that the Yankees may need to depend on the arms of two oft-injured pitchers, and on Luis Severino returning to his prior elite form after undergoing Tommy John surgery in late February 2020.
Kluber, a three-time All-Star with Cleveland, is 98-58 with a 3.16 ERA over 10 big league seasons, but has had back-to-back, injury-wrecked years. Kluber suffered a fractured forearm after being hit by a comebacker in 2019. The Rangers went on to acquire Kluber via trade from the Indians, but a shoulder muscle tear limited the 34-year-old to a single inning in 2020.
Taillon missed the majority of the past two seasons while rehabbing from Tommy John surgery, the second time he had to undergo the procedure to repair the ulnar collateral ligament in his throwing arm. The right-hander also had surgery for a sports hernia in 2015, and is a testicular cancer survivor. Taillon, 29, has thrown only 466 innings in his career, last pitching in the majors on May 1, 2019.
“Jameson and Corey both are ready to go,” Boone said. “Corey threw a few innings the other day to live hitters, J-Mo [Taillon] has had a number of bullpens, so they came in ready to go. Obviously, not having pitched a lot in the last couple of years, it’s going to be something we’re going to not only monitor here closely in spring training, but as the season unfolds. Hopefully they’re contributing and pitching well and thriving, but we certainly have to be mindful and that’s where the depth of our pitching staff is going to play a crucial role in hopefully allowing guys to stay healthy by protecting one another.”
Kluber and Taillon will join a revamped pitching staff, anchored by $324 million ace Gerrit Cole. Jordan Montgomery, who seems to be fully past his own 2018 Tommy John surgery, Domingo Germán, who is returning from an 81-game suspension for violating MLB’s domestic violence policy, and unproven rookies Deivi García (21), Michael King (25) and Clarke Schmidt (24) will also have shots at a rotation spot.
If the Yankees return to their elite offense, and get close to full seasons from sluggers Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton and Gary Sánchez, Boone believes pitching depth should be enough to get the club past its postseason early-exit woes.
During the pandemic-shortened 60-game 2020 season, the Yankees managed a remarkable degree of success given the amount of injuries, and at times underperformance, of many of their core position players. But pitching is what will define whether the Yankees can remain playoff contenders once they return to a 162-game season, particularly in the American League East.
“The amount of depth that you see on our roster now from a pitching standpoint gets me excited because I know, at their best, they’re capable of being top-flight starters. And that’s across the board,” Boone said. “Even when you consider our young guys that have gotten their feet wet, you can kind of dream of them being really good pitchers in this league. It’s certainly fair to have those question marks because we’ve brought in guys that [have had health issues], but we also like the upside of a lot of pitchers on our roster right now. Hopefully we get those performances from a number of them behind Gerrit that will put us in that conversation.
“And I believe we will.”