Excitement is back in the Bronx, but for the time being winning may not be as the Yankees are trying to supplement a shaky rotation with one of its youngest-ever lineups that features the new face-of-the-team Gary Sanchez.
For those tired of the mediocrity of the past few years and looking forward to the youth movement, you’ll be in for a fun season as the Yankees broke spring training with El Gary behind the plate, Greg Bird at first base, Aaron Judge in right field and Luis Severino in the rotation. For those of you hoping the Yankees will make the playoffs, well, the news is not as good because the pitching staff behind Masahiro Tanaka is filled with question marks.
CC Sabathia ran hot and cold in 2016 with stretches where he looked like he turned a corner as a wily veteran, and stretches where he just looked like a run-down veteran. Michael PIneda is potentially the most schizophrenic in baseball who can look like a AAAA player one minute Cy Young the next.
The trouble starts there, but it hardly ends there. Luis Severino came up in 2015 and looked like the answer for the long-term future of the team, but last year was a disaster as a starting pitcher. Which one will show up this year? And behind him is currently a battle between Jordan Montgomery and Chad Green, two decent pitching prospects who could thrive with the right opportunity, but will undoubtedly take some time adjusting to the big leagues.
The bullpen is good — with Aroldis Chapman and Dellin Betances leading from the back end — and Adam Warren and Tyler Clippard also playing important roles. Brian Cashman and Joe Girardi have become the masters of finding little pieces to supplement their bullpens since they turned around the 2008 pen so this is one area that should be dependable.
The big question for 2017 will be — how fast can their young players adjust and how big of an impact can they have immediately? Carlos Beltran was great offensively for the Yankees last year, but Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez were disasters at the plate. Anything Judge, Bird and Matt Holliday gives them will be an improvement, but their consistency is far from guaranteed at this point in their careers.
Sure the offense will be better, but will it be good enough to make up for a shaky rotation? Don’t forget, the rest of the Yankees lineup will have much less of an impact. Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury have both lost quite a bit of pop on their bats and while they can be counted on to provide sturdy defense, neither looks to be major offenses at the plate or even on the base paths like they used to be.
Then there is the infield. Didi Gregorius should improve the team when he returns, but while he stood out on the 2015 and 2016 Yankees, he’s not exactly a Hall of Famer with that .300 OBP. But while Didi’s bat plays at shortstop, Chase Headley and Starlin Castro‘s bats aren’t as impressive at third and second, respectively.
Of course, the Yankees have Gleyber Torres, their top prospect, looming at Double-A. He’s a shortstop, but will get opportunities at third and second base this season with the possibility of replacing Headley or Castro if necessary. Clint Frazier could similarly replace Gardner or Ellsbury at some point if the Yankees think it will give them a realistic possibility at making the playoffs.
Torres and Frazier probably won’t have huge impacts on this team, though. It would take a scenario where they are playing much better in Triple-A than the player they would potentially replace. The Yankees position in the standings could come into play as well depending on if the Yankees are buyers or sellers at the trade deadline. Right now it looks like both will impact the 2018 team more than the 2017 team.
The beauty of baseball is that it’s an extremely long season. The team that finishes the season can look much different than the one that starts it. The Yankees are much improved from a year ago and should be even better a year from now (although rotation question marks do have the potential to get worse considering Tanaka’s looming opt-out). That combination bodes well for them so it certainly leaves open the possibility for surprise. However, it just looks like they have too many questions to answer before they take that next step and are serious playoff contenders.
I think the Yankees will win at least 83 games this year. At times, especially with the excitement of having so many young players on the team, fans will get fooled into thinking that they’re legitimate playoff contenders, but their rotation problems will ultimately keep that from being realistic. The Yankees are getting better, but with any youth movement there are growing pains so get ready to experience some of those.