Just because Frankie Montas is now buried at the back of the rotation as the New York Yankees’ No. 5 starter doesn’t mean his return to form is non-essential.
And just because his shoulder issue is being sold in terms of an offseason “delay” rather than a shutdown doesn’t mean it’s not concerning that the soreness has persisted, and can be traced back to last summer.
You remember that, right? The moment Montas went from being a trade deadline bombshell to an unworkable concern?
When Brian Cashman shelled out top prospects Ken Waldichuk and Luis Medina, as well as spot starter JP Sears, in exchange for Montas, it was viewed as a deadline coup. The Yankees, needing a jolt, had acquired the second-best available arm in the wake of Luis Castillo’s trade to the Mariners.
Very quickly, the tables turned. Those who read Montas’ physical deemed his troublesome shoulder to be all cleared up. Those who read it were wrong; Montas debuted on the road in St. Louis, uncorked cement mixers, got shelled, and rarely managed to make up for his initial stinker with any sterling individual efforts (that one game on the road in Tampa and … that’s it).
And now, entering 2023, he’s still running behind in his attempt to make good on last season’s promise. Whether this is the Yankees “being cautious” or not, believing they have enough rotation depth to let Montas recover at his own pace, it still doesn’t move the needle any closer to justifying the acquisition cost. And, as we learned last summer, the Yankees taking their foot off the gas pedal and sacrificing an arm when Luis Severino/any other starter could drop at a moment’s notice, can be a fool’s errand, no matter what your projected WAR is.
Who will replace Yankees No. 5 starter Frankie Montas?
The most likely replacement for Montas is Domingo Germán, who settled into form as his right arm received more use down the stretch in 2022. The highest-upside option is probably Clarke Schmidt, though he worked better as a bullpen option in limited duty last season.
Both are acceptable No. 5 starters for a team with championship aspirations, but neither is an acceptable No. 4. Without Montas, they’re both one tweaked hamstring away from having to fill that role.
A healthy Montas is overqualified as a fifth starter, but in a half-year in pinstripes, a healthy Montas has yet to manifest. No surgery has been prescribed, but … again, this problem has persisted since last summer, predating his Yankees career. Who’s to say it won’t continue to persist, whether the Yanks are technically “taking it easy” with Montas or not?
Fans in rose-colored glasses have already absorbed Montas’ latest injury and regurgitated it as a temporary evil. But analysts, from MLB Trade Rumors to ex-GM Ruben Amaro Jr., aren’t writing off the impediment so easily:
"“This has got to be a huge concern for the Yankees and so much more important to have Carlos Rodon towards the top of that rotation as well,” former Philadelphia Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said on MLB Network. “I like Montas. I like what he brings to the table. … I like the arm. It’s unfortunate that they’re in a spot right now. They do have a little bit of depth but it certainly hurts your depth moving forward.”"
The best-case scenario is that Montas shows himself — his true self — for the first time this May, and never skips another beat. Based on the data from 2022, though, there will come a time when Luis Severino has to take a pause (though ideally not one of the 60-day variety). There could come a day when Nestor Cortes hits the “Fake IL” to manage his innings (or the real one, if New York is unluckier than last year).
One injury can be absorbed, but two is a crowd. And without any data on a healthy Montas in New York, it’s difficult to assume this issue will be restricted to the season’s first month.