Yankees ace and reigning American League Cy Young winner Gerrit Cole is headed for an MRI on his right elbow, manager Aaron Boone told reporters Monday morning (X link via Newsday’s David Lennon). Cole hasn’t been recovering as well between throwing sessions and will get his elbow checked out to determine if there’s an injury at play. The imaging will take place today.

Boone didn’t provide additional details. The organization’s level of concern regarding a potential serious injury isn’t clear, though imaging performed on any pitcher’s elbow is an ominous sign. That’s particularly true in a Yankees rotation that can ill afford to lose its ace. Granted, no team is built to withstand the loss of a reigning Cy Young winner, but the rotation behind Cole is filled with a series of question marks.

The first season of Carlos Rodon’s six-year, $162MM contract with the Yankees played out in disastrous fashion. After a dominant two-year run between the White Sox and Giants from 2021-22, Rodon was limited by injuries in 2023, logging just 14 starts (64 1/3 innings) and yielding a grisly 6.85 ERA with strikeout and walk rates that both trended heavily in the wrong direction (22.4% and 9.8%, respectively — down from 33.9% and 7.1% in the two seasons prior).

A strained left rotator cuff limited southpaw Nestor Cortes Jr. to a near-identical slate of 63 1/3 frames in 2023. He’s broken out with a pair of sub-3.00 ERA campaigns over the two preceding seasons. While Cortes maintained strong strikeout and walk rates, he became even more fly-ball heavy, inducing grounders at a minuscule 26% clip. He saw his HR/9 mark spike from 0.91 the year prior to 1.56 in 2023. Cortes didn’t see a disproportionate number of his fly-balls leave the yard (just 11%), but the sheer volume of balls in the air worked against him both at home (1.45 HR/9) and on the road (1.73 HR/9).

The Yankees picked up Marcus Stroman on a two-year, $37MM contract this offseason to help solidify the rotation, but he’s coming off an injury-marred season of his own. Stroman was in the NL Cy Young conversation with a strong first few months of the ’23 season before being rocked in July and placed on the injured list due to a hip injury. While rehabbing, he was diagnosed with fractures in his rib cartilage that further slowed his return to the mound. He made it back for four appearances late in the season but didn’t pitch particularly well. After carrying a 2.88 ERA through his first 20 starts, Stroman pitched just 18 more innings on the season and was lit up for 26 runs (22 earned) in that time.

Right-hander Clarke Schmidt finished second on the team with 32 starts and 159 innings pitched, though he turned in back-of-the-rotation results due in large part to his own susceptibility to home runs. Schmidt looks like he can at least be an innings eater this season, but he’s yet to have the same type of MLB success that any of his rotationmates has enjoyed in the past. There’s surely hope within the organization that the former top prospect can take a step forward, but his ability to do so (or lack thereof) will be even more pivotal if it’s determined that Cole has any type of notable injury.

The depth options behind that top quintet are shakier still. Veteran Luke Weaver inked a one-year, $2MM deal late in the offseason and seems ticketed for a swingman role, but he could start games if Cole requires any kind of absence. Weaver pitched well in three starts for the Yanks late last season but had a collective 6.40 ERA between Cincinnati, Seattle and New York — his third time in the past four seasons recording an ERA north of 6.00.

Down on the farm, the Yankees have righties Luis Gil, Clayton Beeter and Yoendrys Gomez on the 40-man roster. Gil has the most big league experience, and impressive as he was through six starts in 2021, he’s pitched just 29 2/3 total innings over the past two years owing to Tommy John surgery. Gomez pitched two MLB innings last year. Beeter has not reached the majors. Prospect Will Warren had a nice year between Double-A and Triple-A in 2023 but isn’t yet on the 40-man roster. He’s in camp as a non-roster invitee, however. Fellow prospect Chase Hampton and southpaw Tanner Tully were also NRIs this spring, but both have already been reassigned to minor league camp.

The mere possibility of an injury to Cole will rekindle speculation regarding free agents Blake Snell and Jordan Montgomery, both of whom have been tied to the Yankees at various points in the offseason. The Yankees reportedly made a five-year offer to Snell before pivoting to sign Stroman. The two sides have remained in touch with Snell, in particular, but a match has looked like a long shot given the massive tax implications that come with signing either lefty. The Yankees are a third-time luxury offender and are already in the highest tier of luxury-tax penalization. That means in addition to any actual salary for the upcoming season, they’ll pay a 110% tax on any additional contract’s average annual value. A $25MM AAV would come with a $27.5MM tax hit. A $30MM would carry a $33MM hit — and so on.

Previously, with a fully healthy rotation, such a lavish expenditure seemed unlikely. If the Yankees are facing a prolonged absence for Cole, however, that type of massive financial commitment could become far more plausible. Snell has reportedly been amenable to short-term, opt-out laden contracts with high annual salaries, while it seems Montgomery has been more focused on a longer-term contract. At this point of spring, however, it’s also worth wondering just how ready either free agent would be for Opening Day. A return to the trade market shouldn’t be discounted as a possibility, though the asking price on arms like Dylan Cease, Jesus Luzardo and others has been staggeringly high throughout the offseason (hance the lack of trade for either hurler).

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