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Yankees trade Jordan Montgomery, prompting questions about starting pitching needs – The Athletic

Yankees trade Jordan Montgomery, prompting questions about starting pitching needs - The Athletic
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Fifteen minutes before the 6 p.m. ET trade deadline Tuesday, Yankees manager Aaron Boone and pitching coach Matt Blake went to find starting pitcher Jordan Montgomery. Boone told the 29-year-old left-hander that he was being traded to the St. Louis Cardinals, but he wasn’t aware yet who would be coming to New York in return.

Montgomery was, until that moment, a player who embodied something that has become rare in Yankeeland: A homegrown starter who had found a way to stick in the rotation.

“I don’t really think I’ve ever performed the way I should have here,” Montgomery said Tuesday night, an hour after learning he’d been traded. “I’m a lot better player than I’ve ever shown the fans. But I think I was consistent and I think I gave the team a chance to win.”

In a vacuum, the decision to move Montgomery was curious. The return for Montgomery — injured, defense-first center fielder Harrison Bader — made the move look even more bizarre. When the trade deadline passed and the Yankees had not made another move to add another starter, the move became difficult to understand.

Bader is on the injured list with plantar fasciitis and is in a walking boot for another 1-2 weeks before he can resume baseball activities. His acquisition, assuming he is able to come off the injured list in September, gives the Yankees another center field option to keep Aaron Judge in right field and a speed option off the bench. While Bader is an elite defensive option, the Yankees have a defense-first center fielder with foot speed in Triple A — Estevan Florial — who could theoretically be called up to the major-league roster at some point to fill those roles without requiring the team to move a starting pitcher in the process.

“(Bader) provides a lot of lanes for us, for our manager, when he’s healthy,” Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said Tuesday night. “Certainly, we did a deep dive on his medicals and there is a lot of optimism and belief that sometime in September, we’ll be able to deploy him as a choice for our manager.”

Cashman said that as of Tuesday, the starting rotation will consist of Gerrit Cole, Nestor Cortes Jr., Jameson Taillon, Frankie Montas (who was acquired from Oakland on Monday) and Domingo Germán. Starter Luis Severino had been hastily put on the 60-day injured list on Monday, taking him out of the mix until at least mid-September — longer than Severino believes he’ll need to recover from what the team has called a “low-grade right lat strain.”

“I think the rotation is set as-is,” Cashman said. “It’s the rotation we had, plus Montas is obviously the new addition.”

The Yankees had entered the trade deadline period in need of pitching, both in their rotation and their bullpen. By Monday night, they had acquired Montas, along with relievers Lou Trivino (Oakland) and Scott Effross (Chicago) to bolster a staff that has largely performed well this year but has had some stumbles and injuries in recent weeks. In exchange for those pitchers and for outfielder Andrew Benintendi a few days before, the Yankees had sent out seven minor-league pitchers, taking a huge chunk out of their starting depth at the upper minors in particular.

On Monday night, right-hander Clarke Schmidt was optioned to Triple A, where the plan is for him to once again attempt to stretch out to a starter’s workload after a period of making brief appearances at the major-league level out of the bullpen. Germán, who has made three starts since Severino hit the injured list, is out of minor-league options, according to two sources, which means he cannot be sent to the minor leagues without passing through waivers.

“He’s a starter that we’ve had to use out of the bullpen,” Cashman said of Schmidt. “He’s done an exceptional job and so he’s another choice for us (to start) when necessary, but he’s clearly capable of running into that lane out of the bullpen if necessary.”

Montgomery’s tenure with the Yankees can be described as solid, though not particularly flashy. He had a 3.69 ERA over nearly 115 innings for the Yankees this season, a bit above league average by ERA+. He had made 21 starts, tied with a handful of players for most in MLB this season. The Yankees managed him conservatively, but from 2021 to 2022 Montgomery had become a type of pitcher who can be remarkably valuable over the course of a 162-game season: A guy who takes the ball every fifth (or so) day and turns in five or more typically solid innings.

Would the Yankees have started him in earnest in a postseason game? Maybe, maybe not. Is their rotation significantly improved with an upgrade of a mid-rotation starter instead of an addition that allows them to bump a fifth/fill-in starter like Germán to the bullpen? Maybe, maybe not.

Cashman said Tuesday the Yankees had engaged rival clubs in conversations about acquiring additional pitching, but ultimately, their move to trade Montgomery was their final of the trade deadline period.

“We’re excited about what (Montas) is able to provide us along with what we already have,” Cashman said. “We want what we have to stay healthy, and we’ll look for the new personnel to come in and contribute and take a shot.”

The Yankees have essentially wrapped up the American League East already and are playing to try to earn the best record in the AL for home-field advantage throughout the postseason. They face stiff competition in that race with the Houston Astros, but the reality is they have some cushion until the end of September, when they need to be ready and in position to field their best major-league roster.

In six weeks, when it is mid-September, maybe Severino is ready to return as a rested and motivated starter. Maybe Germán has put together a strong run of starts. Maybe Schmidt has pitched his way into the rotation, putting Germán in the bullpen. Maybe Schmidt is in the bullpen. Maybe Taillon has figured things out after a tough stretch in June and July. Maybe Taillon has not.

The particulars of the configuration of the Yankees’ pitching staff when it matters the most are still unclear, but one thing became undeniable when they chose to trade Montgomery for outfield depth after trading away most of their Triple-A starting depth: They have thinned out their list of starting options in the event that something goes awry down the stretch.

There is not a waiver trade deadline coming, which would allow a high-impact trade a month from now the way the Astros added Justin Verlander in late August before their World Series run in 2017.

After making four significant trades to acquire two outfielders and three pitchers, and ship out a homegrown starter along with minor-league depth, the Yankees’ starting staff is now a puzzle for which there are very few replacement pieces. The Yankees will hope what they have now is an upgrade on what they had then. That prognosis seemed evident on Tuesday morning, and less certain Tuesday evening after moving Montgomery with no additional pitching acquisition news to follow.

(Photo: Wendell Cruz / USA Today)


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