Baseball season is here. Today, the New York Yankees begin their season and their quest for their 28th World Series Championship in franchise history. There’s a lot to talk about with this 2016 squad, but before before doing so, let’s recap the 2015 campaign. The 2015 Yankees were a success, in my opinion. They got off to a hot start and jumped out to a huge lead in the AL East. Unfortunately, the dog days of summer caught up to them as the team’s elder age became a factor while the Blue Jays kicked it up several notches. The Yanks lost their lead in the AL East, and subsequently the Wild Card game against the Houston Astros. All was not lost, though, as new Yankees acquisitions Didi Gregorius, Nathan Eovaldi, and Andrew Miller contributed strongly to the Yankees last year and I see them building on that this year.
The 2016 Yankees are in a weird spot. A lot of their big contracts come off the books after this season and next season: Mark Teixeira, Carlos Beltran, Alex Rodriguez, and C.C. Sabathia. In anticipation of this, the Yankees added some youth with some pieces that were acquired in the offseason. Aaron Hicks, Starlin Castro, and Aroldis Chapman are hopefully going to be huge assets, and the Yankees are relying on their assistance in order to have success in 2016 and beyond. In a departure from their previous ways, the Yankees managed to get younger despite not signing a free agent this offseason. While these moves were and are encouraging, the team is still reliant on its veterans to compete at a high level if this team is to make a deep playoff run.
The pitching staff returns Masahiro Tanaka, Michael Pineda, Nathan Eovaldi, C.C. Sabathia, Ivan Nova, and Luis Severino. All of these pitchers, except for Severino, were injured at one point or another last year, and Severino himself only played in the second half of the season. The pitching staff is probably the Yankees biggest question mark going into the year, and understandably so.
Looking at this group, I really believe in the potential of both Severino and Eovaldi. Sevy was very sharp in his limited time last year, bringing a swagger that allowed him to be confident and challenge hitters. I think if the Yankees manage him right, he will be the ace of this staff in the very near future. Eovaldi started off pretty slowly last year, but when he rediscovered how to throw a split finger; it completely reenergized him. If he can bounce back from his injury, and remain effective longer than 5 innings, the Yanks will have a very solid #3 on their hands in Nasty Nate.
That leaves Tanaka, Pineda, CC, and Nova as the big question marks of this group. Will Tanaka need surgery on his elbow? Can Pineda pitch to his full potential? How will CC throw since he entered rehab? Will Nova turn the corner since he had Tommy John surgery? These are some of the many questions we will hear throughout the season regarding these pitchers. Personally, I think Tanaka will be fine, but won’t quite regain the dominance of his rookie year, which was mostly the byproduct of no one seeing his stuff previously. I think Tanaka can and should be looked at as this staff’s #2, rather than the ace, as in he will put up good numbers, and be steady, but not quite dominate batters like he used to.
Pineda needs to figure his stuff out and stay healthy. This guy is the definition of a head case. When things go well for him, he has shown he can be unstoppable. When he starts giving up hits though, his body language gives away how upset or rattled he is, and suddenly he’s just throwing batting practice. If he can stay healthy, and learn to control his emotions, he should be in line for a good year. Let’s see if Big Mike can take care of business this year. Larry Rothschild, I’m looking at you bud.
CC and Nova are probably the scariest options here and just concluded their battle for the #5 spot, with CC emerging the victor. Hopefully, CC is now focused since his stint in rehab to remedy his alcoholism. He’s not the same ace as he was with the Yankees in 2009, but he’s smart enough to compete. Nova will be the spot starter/long reliever from the bullpen. I don’t think he’s fully recovered from his Tommy John surgery just yet, and he probably needs some time to feel things out. He is also in the last year of his contract, and I think if he can be effective, he will earn himself a nice pay day from a team in need of pitchers. If, however, CC and Nova falter, I can definitely see Cashman making a move to shore up this shaky staff.
While the pitching staff has its issues, the bullpen will be the Yankees biggest strength this season. The Yankees picked up arguably the best closer in the MLB in Aroldis Chapman, and despite his suspension for the early part of the season, he will regain the position upon his return. The Yankees will move last year’s closer Andrew Miller to the set up man role, and former 8th inning guy Dellin Betances will handle the 7th inning or earlier, if needed. All three pitchers have nasty stuff and can be almost impossible to hit. The beauty of having these three will be the lessening of stress on the starter, allowing him to go 5 or 6 innings, while remaining confident in unleashing the three headed monster to lock down the game. I also like a few of the other pitchers that will be featured in the bullpen. Shreve, Yates, Barbato, and Cessa won jobs out of camp and they will have to show that they have the talent to stay at the major league level. All of these relievers are young guys who can bridge that gap from the starters to relievers, if maybe one of the Big 3 isn’t available, or while Chapman is suspended. I’ve always thought that Girardi does a nice job of mixing and matching his relievers, and he is especially adept at bringing up relievers from AAA in emergency situations, sending them down to rest/throw more, and then bringing them back up at a later time if need be. Don’t be surprised if we see a lot more young assets coming up to the team to pitch the 5th, 6th, and 7th innings such as Pinder, Mitchell, Goody, and Lindgren among others, before handing it to that Big 3 of Betances, Miller, and Chapman.
With pitching out of the way, let’s look at offense. The Yankee infield got a huge boost by adding Starlin Castro from the Cubs. Granted, it came at the cost of Mr. Reliable Adam Warren, and Castro has only played second base a limited amount, but if you watched any baseball in 2015 you know he is 1000% better than whomever was getting rolled out to play there last year. Didi and Castro form a nice double play combo on defense, and their bats came on late last year. I’m really looking forward to watching the middle infielders contribute to the team this year. Brian McCann is a great catcher, and I love how he handles the pitchers and calls a game. He still needs to work on not pulling the ball so much when the shift is on, and I really thought he would be providing more power, especially at Yankee Stadium with its short left field porch, but his 2015 was much better than 2014. If he McCann can continue to improve, this lineup becomes that much more dangerous. Mark Teixeira was having a great season, maybe even an MVP-type season last year before a bad injury in August ended it prematurely. He looked like a whole new hitter, he was very clutch, and was hitting with great power. At this point with Teixeira, you almost have to expect he will get hurt at one point, and build a roster that takes that into account. I’m hoping the Yankees bring him along slowly to mitigate that serious injury possibility, and that Girardi can provide steady rest for him either at DH or with a full day off. Chase Headley had a bad year last year, both defensively and offensively. He made the most errors in his career and wasn’t as effective at the plate. I think if he can play better defensively, it will also allow him to be confident and hit consistently as well. With Rob Refsnyder going down to the minors last week, that leaves Dustin Ackley and Ronald Torreyes as the backups. Ackley will be the super utility man and who can sub in at first and second base to give Castro and Tex a day off. He also can play some outfield if necessary to give some of the guys a rest. He isn’t a sexy player, and he won’t put up amazing numbers, but he will allow these guys a much needed rest when necessary, and perform competently. Torreyes will sub on the left side of the infield at short and third when Headley and Didi need a rest. He only had about 10 at bats during September of last year, but he obviously played well enough in Spring Training to win a spot. Austin Romine will probably be the backup catcher for now, and he is very good defensively, but his hitting leaves much to be desired. He will start the year as the backup, but I see Gary Sanchez eventually taking over this role in the near future. In the event that Tex goes down with injury or needs a day off, I like the idea of moving McCann to first to keep his bat in the lineup, and having Romine (or Sanchez) behind the plate.
The Yankees outfield stays the same and they get a tad younger with Aaron Hicks as the backup. I like having Hicks in there because he can play every outfield spot and can hit well. He will allow Beltran to rest or DH and can play to give Gardner or Ellsbury a rest when the Yankees are facing a lefty pitcher. I am confident that Gardner and Ellsbury will both have bounce back years. In 2015, both players were hurt and played through their injuries when they probably shouldn’t have. As a result, their numbers dipped tremendously as the season went on, especially Gardner, whose second half paled in comparison to his first half. This year, the Yankees have reliable options for subs to allow them to rest when necessary, which will hopefully allow both guys to remain fresh into October.
Everyone’s favorite, A-Rod, will be the starting DH again. He had a phenomenal year in 2015 and I think he almost reinvented himself, as he finally became the role model for this team. Alex wasn’t immune to fatigue either, as his numbers decreased throughout the year as well. With reliable backups, though, that will allow guys like Tex, McCann or Beltran to sub in at DH giving A-Rod rest when and if he needs it.
In 2016, and as it has been in recent years, the major key to the Yankees is rest and injuries. If Girardi can manage to give the vets regular rest, and the backups perform as I think they are capable of, they will be fine. The injury factor can make or break this team, as the starting staff, infielders, and outfielders all have players who have had long term injuries in the recent past. Hopefully, and as I believe will be the case, Girardi will manage this team well enough to prevent any major injury, and the Yankees will be successful. Don’t be surprised if we see some young assets make an impact this year at some point, in preparation for the departure of some of the older guys. This may be the last time we see the “same old Yankees,” as in the core of the team being expensive free agents of 4 or 5 years ago.
I don’t think the Yankees will win the AL East, not with Toronto and their stacked lineup around. The Yankees should do well enough to win a Wild Card and advance to the ALDS, and hopefully go further. I’m looking for an ALCS appearance at the least to call 2016 a success.
With that being said, Yankees fans should be excited for the season ahead and look for the team to build off of last year’s playoff appearance. Let’s go Yanks!