The New York Yankees' starting rotation already took a hit when it was announced Luis Severino needed Tommy John surgery on his throwing elbow.
But while the loss of Severino might have cost the Yankees dearly in 2020, the loss of an entire season might do even more damage to the Bronx Bombers.
The labor war between the owners and players seems to have no end in sight. Less than a week after telling ESPN there would "100 percent" be an MLB season, commissioner Rob Manfred suddenly changed course Monday and told SportsCenter he was not confident baseball would be played this year.
If the two sides cannot come to a resolution, there is a real chance the Yankees will have lost their opportunity to contend for a World Series with this core. They had signed superstar right-hander Gerrit Cole in the offseason to be the anchor of their rotation, but both Masahiro Tanaka and James Paxton will be free agents this winter.
There is certainly the chance the Yankees bring back both Tanaka and Paxton, but they already have over $134 million committed to just seven players in 2021, per Baseball Reference. The Yankees also have a number of young arms on the rise, such as Deivi Garcia and Jordan Montgomery. It is possible they opt to sign one of their free-agent starters.
In that case, who will the Yankees bring back? There certainly is more familiarity with Tanaka. And according to George A. King III of the New York Post, the Yankees appreciate the no-nonsense attitude with which Tanaka goes about his business.
The 31-year-old has been fairly steady for the Yankees since coming to New York in 2014. In six seasons, he has a 3.75 ERA and 113 ERA+. He has also been the team's strongest postseason starter, posting a 1.76 ERA and 0.783 WHIP across 46 innings of work.
Tanaka will be 32 in November and is unlikely to command more than the $23 million he was originally slated to make in 2020.
"He was tough to read last season," an American League scout said in May, per the New York Post's Dan Martin. "He's got a good track record even with that, so it's not like he has to prove himself like some other guys do in similar positions, but it would be interesting to find out how much of what happened to him was because of the ball."
Paxton will also be 32 in November, though King noted he is represented by Scott Boras and might demand more in the open market. The left-hander is also more of the "power pitcher" prototype many teams seem to covet, and he has a 3.28 fielding independent pitching mark in seven seasons.
The Yankees would probably prefer to re-sign both starters to keep the rotation intact. But in the event they feel obligated to choose, the familiarity with Tanaka, as well as his postseason track record, might make him the most likely candidate to remain in the Bronx.
Nick Bitsko Expected to Sign With Rays This Week
The Tampa Bay Rays took a flier on high school pitching prospect Nick Bitsko in last week's MLB draft, selecting Bisko with the 24th overall pick.
But signing the 18-year-old does not look like it will be much of an issue.
Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times reported negotiations between Bitsko and the Rays will take place sometime this week, adding the team is "optimistic of a deal."
Bitsko's draft slot comes with a projected signing bonus of over $2.8 million, and Topkin said the teenager will be paid "likely around $3 million."
The Pennsylvania native was initially supposed to graduate in the Class of 2021, but an advanced academic schedule allowed him to earn draft-eligibility for this summer, with a scholarship to the University of Virginia in his back pocket just in case.
Bitsko was named Gatorade Player of the Year in Pennsylvania. The 6'4" hurler has a full arsenal at his command, with biting breaking stuff and a fastball that can reach up to 97 mph, per Perfect Game.
The Rays have a history of cultivating a strong group of arms, and they will hope Bitsko can be the next young star in Tampa.