There are few starting pitchers in MLB that are consistently healthy, high end performers. The New York Yankees have one of them leading their rotation in Gerrit Cole. There are others with the potential of a top-of-the-rotation pitcher, but for one or even several reasons, they don’t find the consistency to do so. Organizations love to get their hands on these players with the hopes of everything clicking. Sunday’s Jameson Taillon trade gives the Yankees an addition to their stockpile of these high-upside pitchers.
General manager Brian Cashman has gone down this road before. James Paxton was coming off a career year in 2018 when Cashman acquired him. Still, due to injuries he had never, and still hasn’t, qualified for an ERA title, for which the requirement is 162 innings pitched. That trend continued for Paxton, who’s Yankee tenure was decimated by injuries.
Additionally, Masahiro Tanaka was a risky, high-upside pitcher the Yankees have relied on in recent years. Tanaka’s partially torn UCL made him a walking time bomb. Tommy John surgery was one pitch away for six and a half years. Thankfully, that time bomb never went off. His regular season performances varied each year, but his best moments came in October.
The next installment of these pitchers comes with Taillon and recently-signed Corey Kluber. Cole gave a vote of confidence to the Yankees on Taillon, his friend and former teammate from the Pittsburgh Pirates, who has talent but is coming off of his second Tommy John surgery.
The Jameson Taillon trade brings a lot of optimism to a Yankees team in need of starting pitching, but his presence does not erase the concerns about their rotation heading in to 2021.
Loaded With Uncertainty
On paper, the Yankees’ Opening Day rotation looks to be Cole, Kluber, Taillon, Jordan Montgomery, and one of Domingo German, Deivi Garcia, Clarke Schmidt, or Michael King. Luis Severino will return at some point during the season. At it’s best, this is a formidable rotation. Kluber is a two-time Cy Young winner. In 2017, Severino was a Cy Young finalist while Montgomery was sixth in the Rookie of the Year voting. German and Garcia impressed at times during their first seasons in MLB. Meanwhile, Schmidt and Garcia are top-100 prospects while King is well regarded within the Yankees’ organization.
The upside of this staff is worth getting excited over, but there is no guarantee that everyone is the best version of themselves in 2021. Kluber has made eight starts in two years. Severino and Taillon are coming off of Tommy John surgery. Montgomery is not far removed from his own operation and pitched to a 5.11 ERA in 2020. Garcia, Schmidt, and King combine for 11 career MLB starts. German did not pitch in 2020 while serving his suspension for domestic violence. In fact, Kluber, Taillon, Severino, and German pitched a combined one inning in 2020.
Aside from Cole, Montgomery is the only name in that group who has pitched 150+ innings in his professional career that also started at least five games in 2020. This may be the riskiest rotation Brian Cashman has assembled in his more than two decades running the Yankees. Although not everyone will thrive nor will everyone implode, the Yankees are hoping that they get something closer to the former out of everyone, Taillon included.
That is not to say that the Yankees should have passed on this Jameson Taillon trade. They needed another starting pitcher, they needed to clear roster spots, and they needed to stay within their budget. That limited where they could have turned after signing Kluber and re-signing DJ LeMahieu.
Their interest in Taillon was leaked in December, and reports now indicate that they were in on Joe Musgrove, too. Although the Pirates wanted to optimize returns for the two and sent Musgrove to the San Diego Padres, the Yankees knew Taillon was a cheaper option with higher upside. After all, Taillon was once the second-overall pick in the 2010 MLB Draft. He was one selection after Bryce Harper and one ahead of Manny Machado, so the talent is there.
His best season came in 2018 where he threw 191 innings and recorded a 3.20 ERA. In that season, his fastball velocity, curveball spin, and walk, hard hit, and barrel rates were all in the top-25% of MLB. Before his 2019 elbow injury, his curveball spin was still in the top-20% of MLB.
Cole told to Joel Sherman of the NY Post that he praised Taillon’s resiliency to the manager Aaron Boone. Resilient is an understatement for a man who has beaten cancer and survived two Tommy John operations.
There is plenty to love about Jameson Taillon, and if all goes well, the Yankees have two years of control on a good starting pitcher. However, until he re-establishes his health post-Tommy John surgery, he is one of many starting pitchers about whom the organization is cautiously optimistic.
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