LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Starting pitching depth was always a concern for the Yankees. Even after bringing back J.A. Happ and trading for James Paxton this winter, the Yankees came into spring training with a rotation that was an injury away from trouble. Brian Cashman apparently never stopped looking for insurance. With their starting depth already being stretched thin by an injury to their ace Luis Severino, the Yankees GM brought in help.
The Yankees agreed to terms with veteran lefthander Gio Gonzalez on a minor-league deal that would give him an invite to major league camp, Monday night. The deal, reportedly worth $3 million, has an opt-out in mid-April, but gives the Yankees time to sort out a rotation already being tested by injury.
The Yankees would ideally put Gonzalez in one of the starting spots they have in April because of a shoulder injury to Severino and a slow start by CC Sabathia. Despite reports that Gonzalez has been throwing and building up arm strength, the Yankees still have to see if he is ready to start throwing in games for themselves.
But it was clearly a relief to Yankee manager Aaron Boone after the Yankees beat the Braves 7-4 in Disney.
“Yeah, excited to get some depth and looked forward to getting him in here and seeing what we’ve got,” Boone said. “You’ve never got enough pitching. Looking forward to him getting here and getting our hands on him a little bit.”
In 11 big league seasons with the Nationals, A’s, and Brewers, Gonzalez is 127-97 with a 3.69 ERA. The Brewers traded for him last season during their playoff push and used him in a limited role, allowing him to go no more than two times through the opposing lineup. They had him focus on using his changeup more, which scouts said played well off his four-seam fastball.
“He still has an ability to get hitters out,” one scout said, “you just can’t let him go too deep, maybe two times through the lineup and he’s done. With a strong bullpen behind him, he can be effective.”
The Yankees have the bullpen to back him up and enough question marks in their rotation to see him filling a role for them this season.
Severino had not pitched in a Grapefruit League game when he was shut down with inflammation in his right rotator cuff. He has not thrown for the past two weeks and is expected to test the shoulder by just playing catch this week. Sabathia is 38-years-old with an arthritic right knee, coming off surgery to have stents placed in his arteries in December. Paxton has a long history of injuries and Masahiro Tanaka has been pitching with a partial tear in his ulnar collateral ligament for the last four seasons.
Cashman said he never stopped looking for pitching and indicated this was not a reaction to Severino’s injury or Sabathia's slow start. Still, neither will be on the roster Opening Day with Severino expected to miss at least the first month.
Cashman said that they had been talking to available pitchers since the beginning of camp.
“Since we got to Florida, I think I have had careful conversations when I address you ...that basically we stay engaged in the available marketplace to see if we can find common ground on valuation and value and if we do, we get to the point we could potentially complete something,” Cashman said. “It looks like we found some common ground that will allow him to come to camp to compete in front of us and others.”
It gives the Yankees another option for their rotation early in the season.
They were deciding between giving starts to Luis Cessa, Domingo German, and Jonathan Loaisiga and possibly using an opener.
In four appearances, including three starts, Cessa has struck out 13 and walked just one in 13 innings pitched, posting a 0.69 ERA and 0.62 WHIP. German has been as impressive, striking out 18 in 11.2 innings pitched over four appearances, including two starts. He has walked just two and pitched to a 1.54 ERA and a 1.03 WHIP. Loaisiga has a 7.50 spring ERA, allowing ten earned runs in 12 innings pitched. He has struck out 11 and walked one.
“I think you always need more. We’re always looking for ways to improve, my job is to find as many players to compete and help us win games,” Cashman said. “It’s the players job in this clubhouse to know that’s my job, so don’t let me find anybody better than you.”