The top tier of starting pitchers got even thinner for Fantasy when as the Yankees announced Tuesday that Luis Severino needs Tommy John surgery. Severino, who missed most of last season with a shoulder injury as well, had been shut down early in spring training due to forearm soreness. Additional tests confirmed a torn ligament in his elbow, with Tommy John surgery recommended to repair it.
That's bad news, obviously. Ligament replacement surgery typically carries a full year recovery window, so this ends Severino's 2020 before it ever began, giving him two lost seasons in a row. While he could be back in time for the start of spring training in 2021 — Tommy John typically carries a 12-15 month rehab time — this leaves a significant hole in the Yankees rotation, even with the offseason addition of Gerrit Cole. It also leaves a hole for any Fantasy players who had already drafted Severino — as I had done in several drafts already.
If you drafted Severino, this is a big loss to be sure, but at least this time of year offers you much more flexibility to find a replacement. Sleepers will emerge as roles become more defined, but if you are looking to add some arms, check out mywho could still be available on waivers in your league — or who will almost certainly be out there.
Your priorities should be the likes of Alex Wood — who seems like a lock for a spot in the Dodgers rotation and looks to have his velocity back after a lost 2019 of his own — Joe Musgrove or Aaron Civale, as well higher-upside options like Mitch Keller, A.J. Puk, or Michael Kopech, who all have legitimate ace upside as Severino replacements but who may also not be there at the start of the season. If you play in a deeper league, Josh James and Dylan Cease could break camp in the Astros and White Sox rotations and have significant potential as well.
As for the Yankees, they already figure to be without James Paxton for at least the first few months of the season as he recovers from back surgery, so there are now two holes left to fill in the rotation — and that's not even counting J.A. Happ and his 4.91 ERA from 2019. They'll get Domingo German back after he finishes serving the remainder of his 81-game suspension — his first game eligible to return is June 5 vs. the Rays, and he should slot back into the rotation given the injuries. German is available in the last few rounds in all leagues and can be stashed, though you'll have to use a bench spot for him.
In the meantime, Jordan Montgomery figures to slot into the rotation as he works his way back to full strength from Tommy John. He pitched a few innings in 2019, but this will be the first time we see him in the rotation since he suffered the injury in 2018. His velocity is reportedly back to pre-injury levels in spring work, and Montgomery was a useful Fantasy option in his only season as a full-time starter for the Yankees in 2017.
The question for Montgomery prior to the injury was whether he had another level. Montgomery's biggest issue pre-injury was a fastball that didn't miss enough bats and got crushed when hitters made contact. His changeup, curveball and slider all generated solid results, so the overall package could be enough to generate above-average results, though there could be some rustiness as he returns from the injury. So don't expect Montgomery to be a must-start option at the beginning of the season. However, he's available with the last pick in nearly all drafts, and is worth adding to your cohort of bench pitchers to see if he can come back at full strength.
Beyond Montgomery, there is going to be a competition for the fifth starter spot in New York, and it's too early to try to predict who will take it. The names to know are primarily Luis Cessa and Jonathan Loaisiga, though prospects Michael King and Deivi Garcia are also dark-horse candidates. Here's what you need to know about each candidate:
- Cessa throws hard, but doesn't get nearly as many strikeouts as you would think given his velocity and slider-heavy approach. He has a 4.50 ERA in 232 career innings, and figures to top out as a low-4.00s ERA pitcher. He's clearly the least interesting of the bunch, though he might have the best chance to actually win the job.
- Loaisiga is much more interesting than Cessa, though the results have actually somehow been worse, as he sports a 4.79 ERA in his 56.1 career innings. Loaisiga has great stuff, but the command just hasn't been there — and, more often than not, neither has he, thanks to injuries. The hope here is he beats out Cessa for the fifth starter's job and shows something, but he may not be built for a full-time starting workload, so he won't be worth much more than a late-round pick even if he does.
- King struggled with elbow issues and never really got going in 2019, but he was one of the best pitchers in the minors in 2018. King didn't dominate in 2018 with overwhelming stuff, however, so even when he put up a 1.79 ERA over three levels including Triple-A, he was never projected as much more than a mid-rotation arm. There probably isn't much strikeout potential here, so King isn't someone to dream on.
- Garcia is where you dream. The 5-foot-9 Garcia righty might end up in the bullpen in the long run, but he's given no reason to think he can't be a starter yet. He throws in the mid-90s and has two projected plus breaking balls, along with a changeup the scouts like, and if all goes right, the 20-year-old has top-of-the-rotation upside. It's not clear if he really has a chance to break camp with the Yankees, but if he's the "Break Glass in Case of Emergency" option, two starters needing surgery and another out until June sure counts. The only knock against Garcia is he struggled in Triple-A last year, so the Yankees would probably prefer to have him show signs of having figured that level out before calling him up. However, if he does manage to blow the competition away in the spring, Garcia would be well worth a late-round flier on Draft Day – and might be worth taking that chance on even in re-draft leagues now, just in case.