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Gerrit Cole To Avoid Tommy John Surgery

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The Yankees and their fans can breathe a sigh of relief. Jon Heyman and Mark W. Sanchez of the New York Post report that defending AL Cy Young winner Gerrit Cole is expected to avoid surgery after further evaluation on his ailing elbow. The recommendation is for a treatment program of rest and non-surgical rehab.

Heyman and Sanchez report that Cole is expected to be out for roughly one to two months. Bob Nightengale of USA Today tweets that the timeline for a return to MLB action should be closer to 10-12 weeks. In either case, surgery isn’t on the table at present and the Yankees should get their ace back within the season’s first half.

That was the initial expectation. Team doctors reportedly identified the issue as elbow inflammation and concluded that Cole’s ulnar collateral ligament was intact. He nevertheless visited noted orthopedic surgeon Dr. Neal ElAttrache for additional testing today. It seems that in-person evaluation confirmed the initial indication that Cole has not sustained any UCL damage.

It’s a positive development given the concern any time a pitcher, especially one at Cole’s level, heads for an MRI on his throwing elbow. Still, the Yankees are going to have to navigate the early portion of the schedule without him. If the timeline checks in closer to 10-12 weeks, he probably wouldn’t make his season debut until June. There’s a chance he winds up on the 60-day injured list.

There’s obviously no way to replace a pitcher of Cole’s caliber, but his absence puts additional pressure on the rotation depth. Carlos RodónMarcus Stroman and Nestor Cortes project as the top three arms in the season-opening rotation. Clarke Schmidt is penciled into the fourth spot. There’s not a clear #5 starter at the moment. Prospect Clayton Beeter is on the 40-man roster, as are Yoendrys Gómez and Luis Gil. The latter two were optioned to minor league camp in the first week of March, suggesting they’re a bit further down the depth chart. Chase Hampton and Will Warren are not on the 40-man roster, but they’re upper level starting pitching prospects with more advanced control than Beeter has shown in the minors. Luke Weaver has plenty of starting experience and returned to the Yankees via $2MM free agent deal. He’s coming off a 6.40 ERA season.

The Yankees could benefit from adding veteran stability to the back end. They recently checked in with Michael Lorenzen, arguably the #3 starter still on the free agent market. Lorezen certainly doesn’t have the upside of either of the top two unsigned pitchers, Blake Snell and Jordan Montgomery, but he’d come at nowhere near the cost. That’s an obvious concern for a franchise that would pay a 110% tax on further spending.

If New York expected Cole to miss the entire season, perhaps that’d have increased their urgency to land one of Snell or Montgomery regardless of the money. That seems less likely with the Yankees anticipating Cole’s return in late May or early June, but a mid-tier arm like Lorenzen or Mike Clevinger could remain in play.

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