Yesterday I laid out the rosiest, happiest, best possible best case scenario for the 2015 starting rotation, a starting rotation that we all know is pretty high risk and potentially high reward. As some commenters were sharp enough to point out, the worst case scenario is the one that has a higher probability of happening and that fact was not lost on me when I wrote up the first post. I always intended to do the worst case scenario too, even though it's not something I particularly enjoy writing about. So if everybody promises to stay calm and help each other through this, we can make our way through this hypothetical worst case scenario together. Fair enough? Alright, here we go.
If the best case scenario for Masahiro Tanaka and Michael Pineda involves them staying healthy above all else, then of course the worst case scenario involves them both getting hurt. For Tanaka, that worst case injury would be a re-tearing or new tear of the UCL in his right elbow serious enough to warrant season-ending surgery. Knowing the usual timetable for TJS comebacks and the schedule that Ivan Nova has been on since April of last year, that outcome would also mean a loss of significant playing time in the 2016 season.
For Pineda, I think a realistic worst case scenario would be something similar to what he experienced last year. A similar injury or series of smaller injuries to his shoulder or pitching arm in general would be devastating and probably signal that he simply can't be counted on to handle a starter's workload anymore. Whatever damage his initial shoulder injury caused was enough to affect him long-term, and the Yankees would have to start thinking of different ways to use him to get the most out of him while he remained under team control.
The loss of Tanaka and Pineda for long periods of time would mean lots of extra starts for the Bryans Mitchell, Adams Warren, and possibly Joses De Paula of the world, and that would make CC Sabathia's health even more important. Unfortunately, in this worst case scenario that health isn't good and his bad knee suffers the same fate as Tanaka's elbow and Pineda's shoulder. This would be the least surprising injury as far as I'm concerned, as it was made clear at the time of surgery last year that CC's right knee was in bad shape and may not ever be capable of holding up to the physical strains of pitching again. Sabathia getting shelved for the year because of his knee again could be the first nail in the coffin of his career.
Which brings us to the healthiest and least injury-risky member of the rotation in Nathan Eovaldi. The concern with him is almost exclusively performance and development-based, and in a worst case scenario those concerns would be proven correct by a continued inability to locate his fastball or develop his split-change as a reliable strikeout pitch. He wouldn't be striking more guys out, he'd be giving up a lot of hits like he was in the NL, and in the league with the DH his runs against stats would take an even bigger hit. There would be value in his innings if he stayed healthy, but 200ish below-average innings wouldn't be much of a help with 60% of the rotation above him on the DL with major injuries.
There also wouldn't be much help in a below-average 5th starter carousel, and I could definitely see that happening with the guys the Yankees have in place. Chris Capuano is old, doesn't throw hard, and is better suited for life in the NL than the AL. He could fall apart at any minute. And Nova was wildly inconsistent before he had a major elbow injury. Are we really expecting that to change for the better post-TJS? He's only going to be trying to knock the rust off this year, but that could lead to some very ugly outings for him. He could even get hurt again. Wouldn't be the first time.
Assuming guys like Mitchell and Warren are already in the rotation replacing Tanaka, Pineda, a/o Sabathia, that could mean pitchers like Chase Whitley, Matt Tracy, or Caleb Cotham getting called up to fill the 5th starter spot in a pinch . I don't think the Yankees would rush Luis Severino to the Majors just to be an extreme emergency replacement, so they'd be stuck dealing from the below-replacement level side of their internal deck or searching for a similar type of pitcher on the FA or trade scrap heaps.
Of course the Yanks could start packaging prospects to trade for a Cole Hamels or Zack Greinke or Jordan Zimmerman, but with the top half of their rotation on the DL again they probably wouldn't be a factor in the playoff race. Trading away a huge chunk of top prospects for an expensive pitcher who isn't going to make a difference in the short run would be the wrong move after this offseason, and it's not one I see Cash making unless he's told he has to. The only thing the Yanks could really do in this worst case scenario is hope for the best with the replacements and ride it out like they did last year.
It wouldn't make for a fun season, but then again how many worst case scenarios in any context turn out to be fun? This scenario, frightening and depressing as it may be, is the more likely one than my previous one in which the rotation has multiple legitimate Cy Young candidates, and everybody from the front office down to the fans in the stands needs to be prepared for it. The reality is that the eventual rotation performance will fall somewhere between the 2 extremes. Exactly where and how should be a major determining factor in where the Yankees end up this season.