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Coming off their worst season in three decades, the New York Yankees now face bad news with Opening Day a little more than two weeks away. Staff ace and reigning AL Cy Young winner Gerrit Cole is expected to miss at least 1-2 months with an elbow injury. He's going to visit with well-known surgeon Dr. Neal ElAttrache to map out a plan for what is next.

Gerrit Cole
NYY • SP • #45
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Cole, 33, has been one of the sport's best and most durable pitchers over the last eight years. He has not missed a start for something other than COVID since 2016, when elbow inflammation sidelined him for approximately six weeks spread across two separate injured list stints while with the Pittsburgh Pirates. Something similar this time around would qualify as good news.

The Yankees have a very high-risk, high-upside rotation around Cole, who they've leaned on as a stabilizing force the last four years. Every fifth day, Boone and the Yankees could count on Cole to soak up six-plus innings and spare the bullpen. Their remaining starters come with injury (Nestor Cortes, Carlos Rodón, Marcus Stroman) and/or workload (Clarke Schmidt) concerns.

In all likelihood, the Yankees will not make any decisions regarding their rotation until they get word on the extent of Cole's injury. What options do they have? Here's where the Yankees could go in the event Cole misses even a little time early in the season.

Sign a free agent

Blake Snell
SF • SP • #7
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Blake Snell, the reigning NL Cy Young winner, and Jordan Montgomery, a former Yankee, remain unsigned, and it's really easy to draw a straight line from Cole getting hurt to the Yankees signing either one. For what it's worth, the New York Post recently reported Snell is open to a short-term deal with opt outs a la Cody Bellinger and Matt Chapman, while Montgomery is still seeking a long-term contract. Cole, Snell, and Montgomery (and Bellinger and Chapman) are all Scott Boras clients.

One potential issue here is the competitive balance tax. The Yankees have a $308 million payroll for CBT purposes, per FanGraphs, so they are well over the $297 million top threshold (the "Steven Cohen tax"). Because this will be their third straight year paying CBT, they are taxed 110% on every dollar over $297 million. Sign Snell to, say, a $30 million per year contract, and that $30 million will come with an additional $33 million in CBT. Are the Yankees comfortable adding $60-plus-million to payroll to add a starter?

Lower-cost starters like Mike Clevinger, Michael Lorenzen, Noah Syndergaard, and former Yankee Domingo Germán are available as free agents as well. None would provide the impact of Snell or Montgomery (or Cole), but they would provide rotation depth and innings, which is something the Yankees could use. Point is, these are the Yankees and the easiest solution is throwing money at the problem. Montgomery and Snell are out there waiting to be signed.

Scour the trade market

Drew Smyly
CHC • SP • #11
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Spring training trades happen but they are uncommon, and they basically never involve a viable big-league starter. Every team is worried what happened to the Yankees -- a member of the rotation needs an MRI on his elbow -- will happen to them, so they keep as much pitching as possible. Also, teams know the Yankees are more desperate now, and will raise prices accordingly.

The best bet for a trade target might be someone like Drew Smyly, who is owed $11 million in 2024 and has been squeezed out of the Chicago Cubs rotation. Then again, Jameson Taillon is dealing with a back issue, and the Cubs may not want to move on from Smyly just yet. The Kansas City Royals may jump at the chance to unload Jordan Lyles and his $8.5 million salary. Those are the kind of pitchers we're talking about as potential trade targets this time of year. The pickings are very slim.

Stay in-house

The Yankees gave up four pitchers to get Juan Soto -- stalwart Michael King, top prospect Drew Thorpe, and depth arms Jhony Brito and Randy Vásquez -- and that took a bite out of their depth, though they do have several MLB-ready or near-MLB-ready prospects capable of stepping in. Are any of them going to replace Cole? Of course not. But they can contribute innings.

The best of the bunch, righty Will Warren, has taken a regular turn this spring, and he had a 3.61 ERA in 99 2/3 Triple-A innings last season, including a 2.10 ERA in his final 10 starts. The Triple-A International League average was a 5.17 ERA in 2023. Warren was significant better than that. Righty Clayton Beeter came over in the Joey Gallo trade two years ago and he had a 4.94 ERA in 71 Triple-A innings a year ago. Beeter and Warren are the first wave of depth at the moment.

Journeyman Luke Weaver is back in a swingman role and Cody Poteet, who missed most of the last two years with injuries, is on the 40-man roster and has impressed early in camp. Odds are the Yankees would put Beeter or Warren in the rotation with Poteet and Weaver serving as backup plans/innings sponges. There is no replacing Cole. The question is whether the Yankees can weather the storm until Cole returns, or until a better option comes along via trade or free agency.