Headed into this season, I expected that the Yankees would experience mixed results with their talented, but very young roster. For the most part, the Yankees did experience ups and downs, but a few of their prospects, Aaron Judge, Luis Severino, and Gary Sanchez, were so good that it put them in position to be buyers at the trade deadline and a pair of shrewd trades have put the Bombers in a position to go deep into October.
The Yankees entered the season with legitimate question marks. The rotation was Masahiro Tanaka and a prayer, nobody knew for sure if Aaron Judge would crack the team out of spring training, and Matt Holliday was supposed to be the power bat in the lineup.
What happened next would be hard to predict — Judge turned into an MVP candidate, Aaron Hicks too, Severino a Cy Young candidate, Didi Gregorius developed into one of the best shortstops in baseball and Jordan Montgomery blossomed into a promising young pitcher. It was nearly a best case scenario situation — with the only exception being continuous injuries to Greg Bird.
The Yankees were 38-23 on June 12. They were up. Here came the low.
The Yankees overcame early injuries to Sanchez and even Didi, then Hicks went down, Castro then Michael Pineda. Matt Holliday got sick and that was already on top of a struggling Tanaka and a terrible Chris Carter. And who could forget the bullpen meltdown — Dellin Betances and Aroldis Chapman lost their touch and time ran out for Tyler Clippard.
From June 13 until August 13, the Yankees went 23-33.
The turning point in the season happened on July 15. That game started as a pitcher’s duel between Chris Sale and Luis Severino that the Yankees managed to win 4-1 in the 16th inning after the Yankees tied the game in the top of the 9th inning when Holliday homered off of Craig Kimbrel. It was a dramatic win, but most importantly it was the start of a nice 11-4 run just before the trade deadline.
The trade rumors started swirling around this time, and the Yankees appeared to be buyers. It still seemed risky with such a young team, but Judge, Sanchez and Severino appeared to be young stars, the kind to build around, so GM Brian Cashman built around them. He made a pair of trades that greatly improved the team without sacrificing any key prospects.
The first trade, with the White Sox, met an immediate need. The Yankees bullpen had been struggling big time and costing them a lot of games. Cashman plugged this hole by sending Tyler Clippard and three prospects, including Blake Rutherford, to Chicago for relievers David Robertson and Tommy Kahnle, plus Todd Frazier. Even Frazier, who struggled with the White Sox and early on with the Yankees, hit .234/.399/.505 in his final 39 games.
The second trade was a big one as the Yankees shipped three prospects — James Kaprielian, Jorge Mateo and Dustin Fowler — to Oakland for Sonny Gray. It was a lot to ask, but all three prospects had major question marks and, most importantly, they weren’t Gleyber Torres, Clint Frazier, Justus Sheffield or Chance Adams. Cashman literally got the best starting pitcher available on the trade market at the time and didn’t give up his two best hitting or two best pitching prospects.
Between the two trades the Yankees were able to improve their lineup, their rotation and their bullpen. They also managed to keep four prospects whom they expect will be major contributors as soon as 2018.
The Yankees were 10 games over .500 after the trade deadline, and proceeded to go 4-8 over the next 12 games as Judge continued to struggle and so did the offense.
Things started turning around when the Yankees swept the Mets, though. They got Castro back, and Jacoby Ellsbury started hitting for the first time all year, .300/.388/.486 in his final 46 games. Judge was still in his slump, but Sanchez’s bat got hot to pick up some of the slack. By the beginning of September Judge would start hitting again too.
Holliday never really returned to full strength, but the Yankees were able to fill the gap at first base by moving Chase Headley there with the acquisition of Frazier. Greg Bird finally returned, which moved Headley to DH, finally replacing Holliday, and hit .295/.373/.795 in his final 14 games.
The rotation finally settled into a good spot — remember back in March when it was Tanaka and a prayer? Severino was the 3rd best pitcher in the AL for most of the year. CC Sabathia had become a reliable veteran. Tanaka struggled, but then righted himself. Gray the consistent presence that he was traded to be. Jordan Montgomery also emerged as a high quality rookie addition and finished the year with a 3.88 ERA in 29 starts, potentially the best rookie year by a starter for the Yankees since Andy Pettitte in 1995.
The trade with the White Sox was a big shot in the arm for the bullpen, D-Rob was especially huge, and Aroldis Chapman eventually overcame his early season struggles, but perhaps the biggest change to the bullpen was the emergence of Chad Green. Green was possibly the best non-Kimbrel reliever in baseball this year as he had a 1.83 ERA, 0.739 WHIP, and 103 strikeouts in 69 innings. His ability to pitch at any point in the game for multiple innings helped the Yankees win games they otherwise wouldn’t have competed in.
Overall the Yankees bullpen is ranked 3rd in MLB with a 3.34 ERA,first with a 9.2 WAR, and first with a 10.92 K/9. Ranked 21st in innings pitched, manager Joe Girardi has done a good job keeping everyone fresh too.
The Yankees had a 34-20 record down the stretch, and finished nearly as hot as they started, but this time with sustainable depth.
Every part of this team is in good shape heading into the playoffs, which I feel like is the best you can hope for at this point in the season. The playoffs are a crapshoot, I mean, the Indians are really, really good, and anything could happen in the one-game wild card play-in. But this team is good. And exciting. If this team doesn’t win the World Series it will easily be my favorite non-World Series winning team this side of the 1995 Yankees (Don Mattingly‘s final year).
That’s kind of the best part of this whole thing — because of the youth that arrived this year — and the youth still in the minors ready to come up next year — this is an exciting team that should be exciting for a while. Now bring on the playoffs!!