One of the most memorable free agent bonanzas in MLB history kept the party going yesterday, as the New York Yankees inked 30-year-old starting pitcher Carlos Rodón to a six-year contract worth $162 million.
Hal Steinbrenner’s camp had been linked to the southpaw — who claims back-to-back top-six Cy Young finishes — virtually all offseason, but now finally have their man. He should slot in nicely next to ace Gerrit Cole to form a formidable duo at the top of the rotation, of the sort the Yankees were sorely missing in their ALCS loss to the Houston Astros.
To be clear, the Yankees are still a deeply flawed team; the lineup somehow struck out over 100 times in just nine postseason games last October, a sign of its over-reliance on righty power hitters, who have an extremely obvious kryptonite (sliders out of the zone). In order to have a chance at finally slaying Houston, Brian Cashman needs a healthy DJ LeMahieu in the leadoff spot, a contact hitter like Andrew Benintendi back in left field, and the least amount of at-bats for the likes of Josh Donaldson and Aaron Hicks as possible in 2023.
Still, the franchise has to feel confident about its run prevention heading into next spring. Its rotation should now look something like: Cole, Rodón, Luis Severino, Nestor Cortes and Frankie Montas.
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Cortes, remember, is coming off a breakout year in which he finished second for New York in WAR (at 4.2) and eighth in American League Cy Young voting; Severino tossed over 100 innings for the first time since 2018, after a rash of injuries, to the tune of a 3.18 ERA; and Montas, while underwhelming after acquired at the trade deadline, would profile as a reliable number three starter on most teams in the league. He’s more than capable of throwing 100 innings and dipping under a 4.00 ERA next season.
As big as the Rodón signing is — with FanGraphs dubbing it a “capstone move for Cashman” — it’s fair to wonder: do the Yankees even have the best rotation within their own city? After all, over in Queens, New York Mets owner Steve Cohen (the league’s resident Daddy Warbucks) has assembled his own task force of hurlers. Cohen and general manager Billy Eppler may have lost homegrown legend Jacob deGrom to the Texas Rangers, but they quickly recovered by signing Justin Verlander to a two-year, $86.7 million contract.
Inexplicably coming off the best year of his illustrious career (the almost 40-year-old had a 1.75 ERA last year!), Verlander joins old Detroit Tigers running mate Max Scherzer, who hasn’t skipped a beat either, plus a pair of newcomers: veteran workhorse José Quintana, and a $75 million import in the form of Koudai Senga, who pitched to a 1.84 ERA in Japan last year. He’s hit 102 MPH on the gun, and apparently owns a “ghost forkball.”
The Mets’ fifth starter is up in the air right now (Carlos Carrasco? If they choose to keep him?) but similar to the Yankees with Montas, it’s just extra credit at that point. Hands down, this is one of the best rotations in the sport, capable of both eating innings on a daily basis throughout the dogs days of the summer, and giving Buck Showalter a reason to feel confident headed into the must-win series of the fall.
So: who’s better? Yanks or Mets? According to FanGraphs’ latest forecast metrics, Yankees starting pitchers should have a slight edge in 2023, eking out 16.8 WAR to the Mets’ 15.3. But the system (tweeted out, no surprise, by an account called Bronx Pinstripes), apparently isn’t equipped to project any innings for Senga. It’s a huge omission — whether Senga’s repetoire translates to the American game or not, he’ll still eat well over 100 innings this year.
Besides, WAR can only offer us so much. How about health, age, matchups, narrative, chemistry, hunger? You can very well make the case against either rotation, down to the individual. Think: Can Rodón handle the AL East? Is Verlander’s arm finally going to fall off? Was “Nasty Nestor’s” 2022 a fluke? Did Cohen overindex on Senga? Etc.
But baseball fans — and New York-based ones, especially — should revel in this “rotation eclipse.” There have never been this many hard-throwing pitchers in the city at one time. Ever. Hold your allegiances dear, sure. Argue from the rooftops that Verlander and Scherzer are better than Cole and Rodón, or Sevy is the dark horse of them all. But come mid-June and late-July (the two guaranteed Subway Series next year), gear up for some duels that’ll make David Cone drool.