How will Yankees replace Luis Severino? Examining in-house options, trade targets and remaining free agents

The calendar has not yet flipped to March and the New York Yankees have already been hit hard by injuries. Earlier this month lefty James Paxton required back surgery that will sideline him until May or June. Then, on Tuesday, the Yankees were dealt even more devastating news: Luis Severino needs Tommy John surgery. He will miss the 2020 season.

This is the current state of New York’s rotation depth chart:

  1. RHP Gerrit Cole
  2. RHP Luis Severino (will miss 2020 with elbow reconstruction)
  3. LHP James Paxton (out until June-ish with back surgery)
  4. RHP Masahiro Tanaka
  5. RHP Domingo German (serving domestic violence suspension until June)
  6. LHP J.A. Happ
  7. LHP Jordan Montgomery (returning from Tommy John surgery)

Severino is done for the year and German and Paxton are out until midseason. Furthermore, Montgomery is returning from his own Tommy John surgery and has not pitched a full season since 2017. He hit 94 mph in Monday’s spring debut, according to’s Bryan Hoch, which is good news. Still, it’s been a while since Montgomery has taken the ball every five days.

Shoulder and lat problems limited Severino to three regular season starts (and two postseason starts) last season, yet the Yankees still won 103 games and the AL East. They put an MLB record 30 different players on the injured list last year, so they are experts at navigating through injuries at this point. That doesn’t make losing Severino any easier. It’s a significant blow.

Where do the Yankees go now? They won’t have Severino all season and German and Paxton are weeks away from returning. Here are New York’s pitching options in the interim.

Internal solutions


Jonathan Loaisiga is now the early favorite to be New York’s fifth starter.

Not surprisingly, GM Brian Cashman said the Yankees plan to replace Severino internally when he announced the Tommy John surgery news Tuesday. “Wouldn’t expect any domino effect,” Cashman told reporters, including’s Brendan Kuty. That’s usually what a GM says after a major injury. Rarely do you hear them say they’re going outside the organization to get help.

Cole, Tanaka, Happ, and Montgomery figure to be New York’s top four starters come Opening Day. I would rank the team’s internal fifth-starter candidates in this order based on their likelihood of winning the job:

  1. RHP Jonathan Loaisiga
  2. RHP Michael King
  3. RHP Luis Cessa
  4. RHP Chad Bettis (returning from hip surgery)
  5. RHP David Hale
  6. RHP Nick Tropeano
  7. RHP Deivi Garcia
  8. RHP Clarke Schmidt

Garcia and Schmidt are the Yankees’ top two pitching prospects and the club is unlikely to deviate from their development plans. Garcia got roughed up in Triple-A late last year and could use more minor league seasoning. Schmidt reached Double-A late last season and has yet to pitch at Triple-A. Neither strikes me as an MLB-ready pitcher right now.

Loaisiga spent most of last season in the bullpen but he has made five MLB starts in his career, and he came up through the minors as a starter. He was New York’s top pitching prospect at this time last year. Injuries have slowed him, not a lack of talent. Loaisiga started a spring game this past weekend and I think he’s the early favorite to win the fifth starter’s job.

Cessa had a fine 2019 season as a long reliever and has started in the past, though manager Aaron Boone told reporters, including’s Bryan Hoch, the team envisions him in the bullpen. Plans could change now that Severino is hurt, but Cessa seems to have found a home in the bullpen, and the Yankees are going to leave him there. He’s an emergency starter option, if anything.

An elbow injury sidelined King most of last year, but he was excellent in 2018, and appeared to be MLB ready. He’s a logical Plan B behind Loaisiga. Bettis, Hale, and Tropeano are veteran journeyman types who might work best as a bulk innings reliever behind an opener at this point in their careers. Try to keep them away from the top of the order, you know?

Using an opener every fifth day is a legitimate possibility until German and Paxton return. Setup man Chad Green started 15 games as an opener last year and the Yankees won 11 of those games. It worked well and, at the very least, it should be on the table again in 2020. I think Loaisiga is the clear front runner right now with King behind him, then everyone else behind King.

“You rely on your depth,” Cashman told reporters Tuesday. “I wouldn’t expect any domino effect or cause and effect in terms of us being able to go to marketplace. The winter marketplace this time of year, it doesn’t exist.”  

Free agent options

At this time last spring the Yankees could have signed Dallas Keuchel to replace Severino. Keuchel was still unsigned and there for the taking. The market moved much more quickly this winter, however, and has been picked clean. Only three of our top 50 free agents remain unsigned and all three are position players (Scooter Gennett, Yasiel Puig, Ben Zobrist).

Here are the top available free agent pitchers according to FanGraphs projected 2020 WAR:

  1. RHP Collin McHugh: 0.7 WAR
  2. RHP Clay Buchholz: 0.6 WAR
  3. LHP Jason Vargas: 0.5 WAR
  4. RHP Andrew Cashner: 0.5 WAR
  5. Several tied with 0.4 WAR

I mentioned McHugh as a potential fit for the Yankees earlier this month. The problem is he finished last season on the injured list with an elbow injury, and his market has been dead quiet this offseason. That suggests teams are uncomfortable with the medicals, and the Yankees don’t need another injured pitcher. They need someone to chew up innings.

Are Buchholz, Vargas, and Cashner any better than what the Yankees have in-house? Eh, maybe, and there is something to be said for adding depth and having as many options as possible. The point is free agency doesn’t have much to offer at this point. There is no Keuchel sitting out there waiting to be signed. The only available free agents are reclamation projects and scrap heap types.

(In case you’re wondering, even if former Yankee CC Sabathia wanted to come out of retirement to pitch, he couldn’t. He had major shoulder surgery in November and is still recovering.)

Trade candidates


The Yankees have had trade interest in Robbie Ray in the past.

Making a meaningful trade in spring training is damn near impossible, especially when it comes to pitching. The teams with excess pitching depth are usually hesitant to give it up. They know they could be the next team to lose a pitcher to injury, and they want to make sure all their bases are covered.

The best trade candidates right now are out-of-option players, meaning players who can’t be sent to the minors without passing through waivers. A few out-of-option players are traded each spring because that’s better than losing someone for nothing on waivers. Notable pitchers in this category include White Sox righty Carson Fulmer, Pirates righty Chris Stratton, and Reds righty Lucas Sims.

None of those guys is moving the needle much for the Yankees. Similar to the free agents, they’d be additional depth, but they are not clear upgrades over what New York already has in-house. The trade market usually doesn’t begin to really develop until May or so. Here are some possible midseason trade candidates:

All impending free agents and all pitchers on teams that are on the postseason bubble at best. As much as the D-Backs and Reds improved this winter, and as much young talent as the Padres have, you don’t have to try too hard to see them on the outside of the postseason picture in May or June. That could lead to their rentals being available.

The problem with the trade market is the Yankees need help right now, and we’re looking ahead to midseason. German and Paxton could be back by time, say, the Giants are ready to move Gausman or the D-Backs decide to cash Ray in as a trade chip. The trade market is always barren in spring training and this year is no different. There’s not much help available.

Under chairman Hal Steinbrenner, the Yankees remain patient and turn to internal candidates each time an injury pops up. They are no longer a reactionary organization that goes out and gets the big name as soon as a problem arises. Heck, Severino got his first MLB opportunity because Michael Pineda got hurt in July 2015, and the Yankees declined to make a move at the trade deadline.

Opening Day is four weeks away and, between now and then, the Yankees will sort through in-house options like Bettis, King, and Loaisiga. If there’s a trade opportunity that makes sense, they’ll pounce, but it seems unlikely at this time of year. The Yankees won the AL East without Severino (or Cole) last year and they’re strong enough to do it again in 2020, but there’s no doubt they were dealt a significant blow Tuesday. Losing Severino really hurts.

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