Friday, June 21 2024

After experiencing discomfort in his right elbow, Yankees ace Gerrit Cole underwent testing this week in Florida before flying to California to meet with industry expert Dr. Neal ElAttrache. Fortunately for the Yankees and their ace, ElAttrache advised against surgery, noting that there was no tear in Cole’s ligament. Instead, the reigning AL Cy Young will rest his ailing arm for at least a month before building back up to game strength, multiple media outlets, including the New York Post and ESPN, reported Thursday.

As of now, there is no definitive timeline for a return, and further details remain limited, but given the nature of Cole’s specific issue, the six-time All-Star could be back by the beginning of June. Considering how often elbow discomfort in pitchers leads directly to reconstructive Tommy John surgery, a procedure that typically requires at least a year of rehab, this is close to a best-case scenario.

On Monday, when Yankees manager Aaron Boone informed members of the media that his presumed Opening Day starter was dealing with elbow irritation, the immediate, understandable reaction from Yankees fans, players and coaches was pessimistic alarm. But while all involved are now relieved that Cole — whose league-leading 876⅓ innings since 2019 make him the game’s most durable starting pitcher over the past half-decade — could still contribute to this crucial Yankees season, things are not all peaches and cream in the Bronx.

The news of Cole’s impending absence casts quite a shadow over the Yankees’ roster and the surprisingly still-robust free-agent pitching market. Here are five takeaways from a topsy-turvy week in YankeeLand.

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1. The Yankees don’t need to panic

New York’s rotation, even without Cole, remains sturdy. If the quartet of Nestor Cortés Jr., Carlos Rodón, Marcus Stroman and Clarke Schmidt stay healthy until Cole’s return, the Yankees will have an above-average pitching staff, even with a relative question mark starting every five days. And the depth options, unproven as they might be, aren’t bums.

The Yankees organization has proven itself adept at developing pitchers, most of whom over the past few years have been shipped off in trades for major-league talent. And even though general manager Brian Cashman parted with a lot of young pitching depth in the Juan Soto trade, he held on to Clayton Beeter, Chase Hampton, Luis Gil and Will Warren, all of whom could be dependable rotation options this season.

Is it the best staff in baseball? No. But can the Yankees compete with the players currently on their roster? Absolutely. If May comes around and one of the youngsters is struggling and/or someone gets hurt, Cashman can shift gears and make a move.

2. If they do panic, they should really panic

This is not a moment for half-measures. Last year’s 82-win catastrophe was the franchise’s worst campaign since 1992 and motivated the team to acquire Soto, who is set to hit free agency this winter. Describing this season as “must-win” feels like an understatement.

And so there is no room for tip-toeing. If Cashman believes the Yankees need to acquire an outside arm to bolster the current roster, it should be either Jordan Montgomery or reigning NL Cy Young Blake Snell, the top two arms remaining on the market. Both come with risks — Montgomery lacks elite velocity and upside, while Snell can transform into a bag of walks at any moment — but both would also deliver immediate impact.

Sources around the Yankees tell Yahoo Sports that some players feel strongly about the need for an external pitching addition. Snell is the first choice and Montgomery a fantastic consolation prize. Given the Yankees pitching depth at present, it’s unlikely that adding Mike Clevinger or Michael Lorenzen would move the needle on the field or in the clubhouse. The better move would be to let the kids pitch.

But if the Yankees are really treating this season as an all-in year, they should go all-in. Don’t half-ass it. Overpay for Snell or Montgomery. Trade for Jesús Luzardo or Shane Bieber. The Yankees already missed out on Cease (their prime target), Tyler Glasnow, Corbin Burnes and Yoshinobu Yamamoto this winter. Stop futzing around. You’re the richest franchise in the sport — act like it.

3. Opening Day doesn’t really matter

Boone had been coy about who would start for New York on Opening Day, telling reporters that he had made the decision but wasn’t revealing it just yet. It was confirmed Thursday that neither Stroman nor Rodón would get the nod March 28 in Houston, leaving Schmidt and Cortés as candidates. On Friday, Boone said Cortés was the Yankees’ pick to take the ball.

In all reality, while many players care about the honor of starting on Opening Day, the distinction will have little impact on the Yankees’ season. Whoever starts the first game doesn’t have to start the first playoff game or make the most starts. After all, the Orioles started Kyle Gibson and his 5.05 2022 ERA on Opening Day last year, and they won 101 games and the division.

[Read more: AL East season preview: What’s in store for the Yankees, Rays, Jays, O’s and Red Sox in 2024?]

4. The Yankees aren’t out of the woods yet

While early June has been marked as a rough comeback estimate for Cole, the road is anything but smooth. It’s commonplace for pitchers with elbow issues to take time off from throwing before discovering upon their return that the discomfort has not subsided. Often, these pitchers end up getting Tommy John.

That Cole doesn’t have a tear in his arm makes it somewhat more likely that he won’t need surgery, but the past decade is littered with pitchers who opted for R&R, only to end up going under the knife. Jacob deGrom, Sandy Alcantara, Hunter Greene, Andrew Painter and Félix Bautista are just a handful of recent examples. Yankees fans will know that Masahiro Tanaka is the most notable precedent of a player with an elbow ligament issue successfully avoiding surgery while continuing to pitch at a relatively high level. Orioles ace Kyle Bradish is attempting something similar right now in Baltimore. So while the recent news about Cole’s arm is not bad news, it’s definitely not good news.

5. It’s a good thing Aaron Judge looks to be OK

The original news about Cole’s elbow was paired with a similarly vile chaser: Yankees captain Aaron Judge had an MRI after feeling discomfort in his side. Then Judge abstained from taking batting practice Tuesday and Wednesday before telling reporters including NJ.com’s Randy Miller that he was “pretty sure” he’d be ready for Opening Day.

Thankfully for the Yankees, Judge seems to be on the road to recovery. As the organization waited nervously for Cole’s sit-down with ElAttrache, it was possible that Judge would be back in the lineup for Saturday’s spring training game against Toronto. Whether the 2022 AL MVP is at full health remains to be seen, but his presence is an absolute must if the Yankees want to leave the horrors of 2023 in the rearview mirror.

Last year, Judge’s two-month stint on the injured list after hurting his toe running into the Dodger Stadium fence sunk the team into a rut from which it never recovered. Cole’s extended absence this time around puts even more pressure on the Judge-led lineup to score runs, something they struggled to do whenever the hulking slugger was hurt last season. Soto will help matters, surely, but this Yankees team cannot afford to lose both Cole and Judge.

Source: Yahoo Sports

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