With the season just around the corner, the staff at Sons of Sam Horn is taking a look at the Boston Red Sox’ division rivals. The New York Yankees are up, and this aging team that we are used to see splashing the pot in free agency remained quiet this offseason. Damian Dydyn examines New York’s roster to see what their chances are in the AL East.
|Alex Rodriguez||151 GP||22 2B||33 HR||.250/.356/.486||131 OPS+|
|Brian McCann||135 GP||15 2B||26 HR||.232/.320/.437||108 OPS+|
|Carlos Beltran||133 GP||34 2B||19 HR||.276/.337/.471||122 OPS+|
|Masahiro Tanaka||154 IP||139 K||3.51 ERA||0.994 WHIP||112 ERA+|
|Nathan Eovaldi||154.1 IP||121 K||4.20 ERA||1.451 WHIP||94 ERA+|
|Michael Pineda||160.2 IP||156 K||4.37 ERA||1.226 WHIP||90 ERA+|
The New York Yankees have been quietly rebuilding the last few seasons. They’ve just been doing it in a way that is less noticeable than when a team with fewer resources hits the reset button. Teams with deep pockets, like the Red Sox and the Yankees can afford to plug expensive short-term veterans into the holes created by vacating stars who have become too expensive (Robinson Cano, we are looking at you).
The golden age of the Yankees outspending the next richest team by tens of millions of dollars is over. Revenues across the league are soaring and young free agents just aren’t hitting the free agent market as often since teams are now capable of locking them up for their prime years. That may change with the recent rise of opt outs in contracts, but over the last few years the Yankees have not spent like the Yankees. They’ve spent like, well, a responsible club with an actual budget. So how did they respond to an 87-75 record and a loss in the Wild Card game?
Last year’s Bronx Bombers were the best team in the AL East through the first half of the season, entering the All Star break with a 3.5 game lead in the division. The second half saw the Blue Jays add David Price and Troy Tulowitzki before surging to a division title, leaving the Yankees to scramble for a seat at the dance.
New York’s biggest areas of need coming into the winter were replacing Stephen Drew’s 79 OPS+ at second base and addressing the fact that its outfield couldn’t be counted on to stay healthy. Instead of going big for Justin Upton or Jason Heyward, however, general manager Brian Cashman went out and picked up several buy-low candidates in 2B Starlin Castro, outfielder Aaron Hicks, and closer Aroldis Chapman.
The Yankees enter the 2016 season with a starting five of Masahiro Tanaka, Luis Severino, CC Sabathia, Michael Pineda, and Nathan Eovaldi. If Tanaka stays healthy and Severino can build on an encouraging debut season this could be the second best rotation in the division behind the guys playing in St. Pete. If Sabathia continues to decline, Pineda can’t stay on the field, Severino struggles or Tanaka gets hurt things could get ugly in a hurry.
This rotation has loads of upside but also carries a ton of risk. Luckily, that is mitigated by the addition of Chapman to an already impressive bullpen. Yes, Chapman will start the season with a 30-game suspension for a domestic violence incident, and no, that is absolutely not a small issue, but when he gets back on the field the Yankees will have the best bullpen in the game. Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller would be excellent closers in their own right and combine with Chapman to form a three-headed monster the likes of which MLB has rarely seen before. Yesterday’s news that Miller’s CT-scan revealed a chip in the bone throws a wrench in the works here, but assuming the Yankees can stay afloat long enough for their new closer to get through his suspension and for Miller to heal, they will enjoy – barring additional injuries – four months of one of the top pitching staffs in the game.
Having scored the second most runs in baseball last year, the Yankees didn’t necessarily need to make big additions to their lineup over the winter. They face some age-related questions with Carlos Beltran entering his age 39 season, Alex Rodriguez approaching 41 and, Mark Teixeira hitting 36 in April. Brett Gardner appears to be slowing down as his 33rd birthday looms in the not too distant future and Jacoby Ellsbury’s age 31 season was plagued with injuries and underperformance which raises questions about his durability going forward. On top of that, they lost young first baseman Greg Bird for the season to a shoulder injury.
That said it is going to take a cavalcade of decline and injury for this lineup to not be one of the better offenses in the game again. Especially with the additions of Castro to the starting lineup and the depth added by dropping Hicks and Dustin Ackley onto the bench. Castro has proven he can hit and at barely 26, he is at an age where hoping for him to put it all together isn’t unreasonable. The change of scenery from Chicago to New York should do him some good, as will the consistency of knowing his position from day one.
This is going to be a very good offense, and with a little luck, could be at the top of the league. Expect some decline from Rodriguez, Teixeira and Beltran, a bit of a bounce back from Ellsbury and mostly similar years from third baseman Chase Headley, catcher Brian McCann, shortstop Didi Gregorius, and Gardner. Also expect Castro to take a step forward to return to that high average middle infielder with some pop that made the All Star team for the Cubs three times in the previous five years.
Best Case, Worst Case, Most Likely
While the days of leaving other teams in the dust with payroll may be over, the Yankees aren’t quite ready to stop making a case for being the class of the division. Toronto managed to hit the nitrous around the midpoint of last season and tear down the stretch like they were on fire, but the keepers of Mystique and Aura still managed to get back to the playoffs after a two-year layoff. 2016’s playoff hopes hinge on some good injury luck as well as one last push against Father Time, but if they can manage it, they are fully capable of winning the division. The best pitching staff in the division being driven by a bullpen that effectively ends the game for opposing offenses after the sixth inning and an offense that should be no worse than top 10 in baseball will win you a lot of games. The best case scenario for this club is a division title and a deep playoff run.
The worst case scenario means Tanaka’s arm has given out, Rodriguez has fallen off a cliff and dragged Beltran and Teixeira over the edge with him, Sabathia has gotten even worse and Castro turns out to have been a flash in the pan that actually burned out in 2014. Should this come to pass, the Yankees will be doing everything they can to not end the season in the basement.
So which is it? An incredible ride to glory and honor? A thunderous crash to the bottom of the division? Something right in the middle? No, the most likely scenario is that the Yankees are in the hunt for the division for most of the season but come up just short of the playoffs. With seven starters on the wrong side of 30, they are just old enough and injury prone that you have to assume they will see some of both and will end up with a win total somewhere in the mid to high 80s, which will likely not be enough to stay ahead of five other American League teams. 86-76 is a fine season, but it’s not quite enough. The rebuild is going well, but there is still some significant turnover to get through and no one wins the race with Father Time in the end.
Damian Dydyn has written about an illegal slide, Mookie Betts, rookies adjusting, and managing a fantasy baseball team.
Follow Damian on Twitter @ddydyn.