The 2018 New York Yankees season ended much earlier than fans were hoping for. The 100-win team lost in four games to the arch rival Boston Red Sox in the American League Division Series. In the months following, the team made significant improvements, including acquiring James Paxton, and signing/bringing back Adam Ottavino, Zack Britton, and J.A. Happ. On paper, they’re built like one of the best in baseball. Let’s check out what the team will look like:
The Yankees brought over the exact same staff as last year led by skipper Aaron Boone. Boone had 100 wins in his rookie campaign, but faced criticism every step of the way. His errors were in the spotlight in the ALDS, when he was destroyed by fans and media for leaving Luis Severino in in a Game 3 that ended up being the biggest playoff loss in team history. While his leadership in the clubhouse is recognized, his X’s and O’s, sometimes leaning on analytics too much and other times not enough, is suspect. Boone will need to improve on the tactile coaching of his game if the Yankees want to succeed.
The single biggest boom or bust, not just in New York, but in baseball, resides behind the plate. Gary Sanchez, coming off of an atrocious season that saw him hit below the Mendoza line, has the talent to be the best hitter on this Yankee team. He’s one awful season removed from a 33 home run sophomore campaign, and Gary has slimmed down and is in the best shape of his life. Sanchez is the biggest wild card on this team. After 2019, he’ll either be the undisputed best catcher in baseball, or he’ll be out of New York. There is no in-between. Oh yeah, Austin Romine’s there too. Warning Yankee fans; if Gary goes down, DO NOT fall for Romine’s week of dominance, it’s a facade. He’ll hit .300, bring up debates over whether Gary should get his spot back, then fall off. For the majority of the year however, he will provide solid defense and good enough ability at the plate to be a good backup for the team.
The spring training battle for first base left March without a winner, with both Greg Bird and Luke Voit making the Opening Day roster. Voit came out of nowhere last season, stealing the hearts of Yankee fans across the city while smashing 14 home runs and hitting to a .333/.405/.689 clip in 39 games. Voit is out to show that he’s not a one-year wonder, and cement himself as the first baseman of the future in New York, while Bird, who’s been sidelined for large parts of the past three seasons, just wants to stay in the big leagues. He hasn’t been the Greg Bird that was supposed to make the transition from Mark Teixeira an easy one and dominate with the short porch. He’s just fighting for a spot on the 25-man. On the other side of the diamond, sits Miguel Andujar. Miggy needs to make improvements both defensively – a throwing error on Opening Day isn’t a great start – and with his plate discipline. Miggy has the potential to be a huge bat in the middle of the Yankees order, but if he doesn’t improve his eye his career will be a short one. DJ LeMahieu, the Gold Glove second baseman who the Yankees signed in the offseason, could spell players at both positions, specifically first where the Yankees view him as their best glove at the position – despite never playing there in his career. The argument could definitely be made that the best Yankee lineup involves Andujar DH-ing with LeMahieu at third.
In the middle of the future sits the future and the past. At second, Gleyber Torres, the 21-year-old phenom who hit to a .294/.350/.555 clip in his first 63 games before being sidelined by a hip injury that he was never able to return back to 100% from, is ready for his sophomore campaign. A full, hopefully healthy, year could be huge for Torres, who has some of the best bat on ball ability on the team, while playing a slick second base. Next to him stands Troy Tulowitzki, the former superstar who was cut by the Toronto Blue Jays after missing all of last season. The Yankees hope that “Tulo” can return to the form that made many proclaim him as, “the next Derek Jeter” back in Colorado. If he can’t – which is likely – the Yankees have a couple options. LeMahieu, another former Rockie, could play second, shifting Torres to short. They could also just wait for late July, when Didi Gregorius is set to return. The plan seems to be that he will have a job waiting for him when he comes back, but the Yankees will have to make by until then.
The argument could be made that, when healthy, the Yankees have the best outfield baseball. Their best option in left is Giancarlo Stanton. Stanton, in an “off year” last year that led to him being named a bust by a plethora of Bomber fans, hit 30 bombs and had an on-base percentage over .340, not too shabby. However, Aaron Boone doesn’t love playing Stanton in the field, so he could spend time DH-ing with either Gold Glover Brett Gardner or former top prospect Clint Frazier – who will start the year in AAA – spelling him in left. In center, newly extended Aaron Hicks will have the job as soon as he returns from an injury that shouldn’t keep him out past April. Hicks is a five-tool stud, who’s 4.7 bWAR in a breakout 2018 has led to him being recognized as one of the best center fielders in baseball. In right sits Aaron Judge. Ah, Aaron Judge. The 6-7 giant has captured the hearts of Yankee fans with his optimistic personality and recognizable tooth gap. Not to mention the loads of very long home runs he hits and his cannon for an arm in right. Judge has solidified himself as one of the best hitters in baseball, and is looking to take yet another step forward in 2019.
While Luis Severino will start the year on the IL, he is set to be the leader of this rotation. His electrifying fastball combined with a nasty slider earned him an extension this offseason, and he is a dark horse Cy Young candidate for next year. After Severino comes James Paxton and Masahiro Tanaka. Paxton was a huge acquisition from the Seattle Mariners this past season, and he hopes to stay healthy – he is yet to make 30 starts in his career – and take a step toward reaching his ace potential this year. Tanaka, who has quietly put together a very good career, has shown flashes of being the ace he came from Japan heralded as, but home runs have been his downfall in years past. If the righty can keep the ball in the park, his stuff is as unhittable as it gets. Following the three comes veteran lefty J.A. Happ. Happ didn’t take a loss in the regular season after coming over from Toronto at the trade deadline, but imploded against the Red Sox in the ALDS. The Yankees are going to look to Happ to help stabilize a rotation with a ton of question marks. Rounding out the five is lovable veteran CC Sabathia. CC had a solid year last year, with a sub-4.00 ERA, but he will need a lot to keep that going in 2019. If CC is unable to maintain the same production, the Yankees have prospects Michael King, Jonathan Loaisiga, and Domingo German waiting in the wings.
While there are a lot of bright spots, it still is question marks galore for the Yankee rotation; can Severino stay elite the whole year? Can Paxton stay healthy? Can Tanaka keep the ball in the park AND stay healthy? Will Happ’s age finally catch up with him? Same with CC. The Yankees will not go anywhere if they can’t pitch, no matter how good the offense is.
One place with, well, no question marks, is the Yankee bullpen. The team has assembled one of the greatest bullpens of all time. Superstar closer Aroldis Chapman, joined by Dellin Betances, Zack (it’s a “k” now) Britton, Adam Ottavino, and Chad Green have the stuff to decide games after four innings. After the stars, Jonathan Holder, Domingo German, Stephen Tarpley, and Tommy Kahnle all have great stuff and could be huge parts of this team is one of the big guys goes down.
What is probably going to be the most fun for Yankee fans this year, is watching @PitchingNinja on Twitter create overlays for the nasty pitches that so many members of the team produce, here are a few:
(Stole some of these from John Principe so go read his Red Sox preview here)
Season Result: First Place in AL East, two games in front of that team from Massachusetts
Playoff Result: World Series Champions (yeah, yeah, “biased Yankee fan”, come on, LOOK AT THIS ROSTER!!!)
Team MVP: Aaron Judge (he’ll also win AL MVP btw)
Dark Horse: Gary Sanchez
Team Cy Young: Luis Severino
Dark Horse: Masahiro Tanaka
Biggest Breakout: Gleyber Torres
Dark Horse: James Paxton
Biggest Bust: Greg Bird (he won’t play a game with the Yankees after 2019)
Dark Horse: Troy Tulowitzki
Most Likely to be DFA’d by June 1: Greg Bird
Dark Horse: Troy Tulowitzki
BOLD PREDICTION: Gary Sanchez finishes top 5 in the MVP voting
Dark Horse: Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton combine for 100 home runs
It’s time. It’s been ten years since the Yankees were crowned champions of baseball. Ten years since Yankee fans went nuts and celebrated, hugging strangers on the subway after their title. It’s time to bring it back. The Chase for 28 starts now, and the Yankees are fielding the best teams they have in years.