I love Nestor Cortes Jr. I truly hope he becomes a reliable middle-of-the-rotation starter for the New York Yankees. I just can’t get my hopes up for 2022, though.
Bronxie’s caretaker is almost everything you want in a player. Quirky. Humorous. Jubilant. Interesting. Outgoing. And we’re thankful for his career year in 2021 or else we would’ve never found out any of that.
After the Yankees cut Cortes loose when the 2019 season concluded, the left-hander was manhandled during the shortened 2020 with the Seattle Mariners … and he only pitched in five games. That’s why we were all shocked when he announced last offseason that he had signed a minor-league deal with the Yankees.
Somehow, this may have been the team’s best move heading into 2021 because Cortes Jr. was good for 2.8 WAR (good for sixth on the team!) in his 22 games. The only players who bested him in that category were Aaron Judge, Gerrit Cole, Jordan Montgomery, Jonathan Loaisiga and Giancarlo Stanton.
Of Cortes’ 22 games, 14 of them were starts, but he was equally effective as a reliever, too. Here are his splits in those departments:
- Starter – 3.07 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, 75 strikeouts in 14 games (73.1 innings)
- Reliever – 2.29 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, 28 strikeouts in eight games (19.2 innings)
- Overall – 2.90 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, 103 strikeouts in 22 games (93 innings)
What can the Yankees expect out of Nestor Cortes Jr. in 2022?
But his overall numbers are the exact problem. He logged a career high 93 innings last year. That’s up from 66.2 in 2019, which was a disaster for him (5.67 ERA, 1.55 WHIP in 33 games). He was in lock-step with the overachieving starting rotation. In fact, he may have been the poster child from July until October.
So before you pencil in the Yankees’ starting rotation as Gerrit Cole, Dream No. 2, Jordan Montgomery, Jameson Taillon, Luis Severino and Cortes, just realize that you’re doing yourself a disservice by relying on 25-plus effective starts from a guy who only has a total of 16 in his career since debuting in 2018.
Could the unthinkable happen and the crafty lefty becomes a stable No. 3 option? Sure! But what here, outside of a limited hybrid campaign, indicates that will happen? We can remain optimistic, sure, but we can’t be etching Cortes’ potential 2022 production in stone.
That’s why the Yankees need more starters, regardless of their pedigree. Another top arm? We’ll take it! How about some back-end contributors? Spot starters? We’ll take anything. Guys will have to eat innings. Injuries will happen. You’re not relying on a fully healthy year from Severino, are you? Really hope not.
Cole, Montgomery, Severino, Cortes and Taillon with a few Luis Gil cameos might not be enough. Montgomery just had the first 30-start season of his career. Severino hasn’t pitched consistently since 2018. Taillon is coming off ankle surgery. There needs to be more stability, whether it’s a marquee guy with these supporting cast members filling out the rest of the spots, or innings-eating veterans ready for the long haul to help provide proper rest and aid when there are injuries.
Cortes taking another career-defining leap would be inspiring, magical and nothing short of incredible for a rotation that desperately needs it. We’ll be hoping for it, but we just can’t spend the rest of the offseason thinking that’s a certainty for 2022.