The Evil Empire are in the midst of a bit of rebuild on the fly. The team wisely sold at the 2016 trade deadline and acquired some much needed prospect depth, but they surprisingly were in the wild card hunt until late September. The newly coined “Bronx Baby Bombers” include young prospects Greg Bird, Aaron Judge, Tyler Austin, and Gary Sánchez whom are all expected to make significant contributions to the 2017 squad. Will the Yankees be able to get back to their old ways and another run on top?
The Yankees infield is not full of superstar players, which is strange considering how many hall of famers regularly maned the dirt over the years. At third base, Chase Headley, will begin his third season for the pin stripes as the starter. Headley broke out in 2012 in a big way with the Padres where he finished 5th in MVP voting, but has not come close to matching that lofty performance since. Headley’s bat is likely never to become above average again, but his defense remains above average for the time being.
The man who replaced Derek Jeter, Didi Gregorius, will continue to see starting time at shortstop where he provides average defense. In 2016 however, Gregorius busted out with the stick and hit a career high 20 home runs. At no other point in his young career had Gregorius hit more than 9 dingers in a season. I would expect some regression to occur here and a drop to 13-15 home runs is likely realistic for Didi. His improvements in batting average are likely for real as he posted a slightly below average BABIP and still managed to hit for 0.275. However, he continues to not take walks (3% walk rate is gross) and won’t steal many bases.
At second base, Starlin Castro will begin his second season with the Yankees and will look to bounce back after a somewhat disappointing campaign. His bat profiles almost exactly like Didi Gregorius, but his defense is slightly below average. Previously with the Cubs, Castro was a shortstop but his fielding was too poor to stick and he made the move to second base when up and coming Cubs prospect Addison Russell took his spot. Castro’s first season foray as a second basemen was not very good, but he did manage to turn in a slightly better effort in 2016 with the Yankees. I’m not sold that Castro will ever take a another step but he remains serviceable.
The Yankees do not have an immediate replacement on the horizon at middle infield so they will have to have faith thatsome defensive improvements to aid run prevention will come from their current crop of young middle infielders. The backup middle infielder is another young prospect, Ronald Torreyes, who profiles as a more defensive player than offensive and he was somewhat effective in limited playing time off the bench last year.
At first base, the Yankees have a lot of questions that will hopefully get sorted out through Spring Training. Prospect, Greg Bird, will be returning to the team after missing the entire 2016 season with a shoulder injury. Bird, is only now 24, and during his brief 2015 call up he mashed. In 46 games, he managed to slash .261/.343/.529 while producing 11 home runs and 31 RBI’s. The raw power is for real as he has hit pretty well all the way through minor league ball, but it will be interesting to see if his development stagnates in any way after missing an entire year of baseball.
In addition to Bird, the Yankees recently signed former Milwaukee Brewer slugger Chris Carter. The 2016 NL Home Run champ was without an MLB contract until the Yankees swooped in and signed him to a 1 year/3 million dollar deal. Chris Carter is like a modern Adam Dunn. He can hit fastballs for home runs, walks just over 10% of the time, but otherwise is an auto-out and can’t play anywhere besides a mediocre first base and DH. Carter, is only 30, but will need to show batting average improvement in order to secure another MLB contract as he is only slightly above a replacement level player for his entire career. Needless to say he has a lot to prove but will he get the opportunity to do so every day?
Lastly, former Cardinal slugger, Matt Holiday makes his debut with the Bronx Bombers on a one year free agent deal. Holiday will slot in as the everyday DH to start the year and will likely see some occasional duties at 1B. His days as an outfielder are likely long behind him as his speed is long gone and he struggled with defensive range in 2016 in the National League where no DH rule is present. Holiday isn’t the potent middle of the order threat that he was once, but he still has pop in that old bat. In 2016, Holiday put up his best slugging percentage since 2013. I’d expect his home run totals to drop, but in Yankee stadium I think he will flirt with 20 bombs.
Behind the plate, hot prospect Gary Sánchez now has little competition since Brian McCain was traded to the Astros. To say that Sánchez had a great debut in 2016 is an understatement. Although he only debuted with 53 games played, he was the most valuable player for the Yankees in 2016. In his blazing hot debut, Sánchez hit .299/.376/.657 and added 20 home runs and 34 RBI’s. The kid even managed to snag a steal! Without a doubt Sánchez is the Yankees catcher of the present and future and is gunning to be the best player on the roster. But more often than not, hot September performances have a tendency to not be repeatable. In this case I think teams will closely scout Sánchez and pitch around him a bit more. I believe he will be a force to reckon with but don’t expect an MVP season out of the young catcher in 2017.
In the outfield the Yankees have oodles of speed in their aging duo of Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury. Both players are making a lot of money and are now into their decline years of their respective careers. Both players are still very good players but are no longer the offensive threats they once were.
Trade rumours were abound this off season that the Yankees were trying to shop Gardner and his 23 million/2 years + 1 option year remaining contract. The Yankees outfield is starting to get crowded and room for younger players is going to be needed soon. However, as I mentioned he still a good player but is starting to decline defensively. His primary asset is his speed which is also starting to slow as shown in his defensive metrics and declining steal totals. At 33 years of age, Gardner has remained a relatively healthy player, but his prime is likely already passed. In 2014 and 2015, Gardner was a legit power threat topping over 20 home runs each season, but this was an outlier career wise as he had never cracked double digit homers before. In 2016 he regressed back to his career norms and I expect a similar season out of Brett Gardner as last. Anything more is likely unrealistic.
Jacoby Ellsbury is somewhat more troubling to the Yankees than Gardner. Where Gardner has a reasonable contract, Ellsbury is likely to become an albatross. While with the Red Sox in 2011. Ellsbury put up an MVP performance but lost out to Justin Verlander. In that season he simply did it all. He hit for elite average and power, stole bases and played great defense. Most importantly he also remained healthy. For the next four seasons he is still owed 21.1 million dollars per and in 2021 will either receive a one year extension or a 5 million dollar buyout. That is a lot of money for a player who is now providing average defense in centre field, has periodic health issues, has little power left in his bat and his speed is starting to diminish.
In right field the Yankees have a position battle between Aaron Hicks, Tyler Austin, and Aaron Judge. One of these guys isn’t going to make the team and I would assume Judge is the one who will end up being sent to AAA until an injury gives him opportunity to be back on the 25 man roster. That injury however may have already happened. A few days ago, it was announced Tyler Austin is set to miss three to six weeks with a broken foot. This sets up a Aaron Hicks and Aaron Judge combo to start the year. In the long run I think Tyler Austin the guy to own here, but it will take some time for things to shake out. Austin showed that he has power to spare but will need to improve his plate discipline to become a regular contributor. I’d avoid hedging bets on this situation in fantasy and look to make a waiver wire grab if someone catches fire.
Gone are the days of the Yankees boasting one of the league’s best rotations. Outside of Japanese import, Masahiro Tanaka, the Yankees starting rotation is questionable.
Tanaka battled elbow issues over the past couple years and was rumoured to be putting off Tommy John surgery on this nagging issue. He managed to pitch one out shy of 200 innings pitched for his major league high; however his strike out ratios dropped again for the second consecutive year since his electric debut in 2014. Tanaka’s ERA and WHIP looked good on paper, but the higher then average strand rates and favourible BABIP scream regression. Tanaka is surely the ace of the Yankees staff and he is very effective due to his ability to limits walk. However, his ongoing elbow issues are a concern because it starts to get thin from here out for the Yanks.
Michael Pineda got off to a really rough start in 2016 but started to turn things around from June onwards. His first half ERA was an atrocious 5.38 while his second half greatly improved to 4.10. A further look at his advanced stats show that was actually pretty effective most of the year but he had a lot of bad luck and suspect defense behind him. His 2016 ERA ended up at 4.82 but his xFIP indicated he was much better and really pitched to the tune of a 3.30. This situation has actually happened two years in a row for Pineda as he has had one of the worst BABIP’s in the league, but he has tended to be hit really hard by batters during this time. He has a higher then average hard contact rate which may be why this phenomenon has continued to occur. Nonetheless Pineda is going to be counted upon by the Yankees as he is their second best option. I expect an improvement in his overall numbers this season, if he can reduce his hard hit rates and continue to limit home runs. Look for Pineda to win 12-13 games compared to only 6 last year.
Member when CC Sabathia was good? It was only four years ago he was seen as one of the league’s perennial aces and a sure fire hall of a famer. Sabathia had his best season since 2013 and this comes on the heels of him stepped away from the team to check into an alcohol rehabilitation. As CC heads into his final year of a massive contract that will pay him 25 million dollars in 2017 alone, he has a lot to prove. His days as a workhorse are without a doubt over. His fastball velocity used to sit in the 93-94 Mph range but now resides around 89 Mph. The good news is that CC’s best pitch is not his fastball and it is his slider, which was a very effective weapon last year. Can he prove that he is back and over the alcohol and knee issues which plagued him for the past few years? I’m not sure what CC will come to play but I expect to see a bit of the old CC and a bit of the washed up CC at times. He will provide some value to the Yankees as their third starter but he is more of a question mark then a certainty at this stage of his illustrious career.
Outside of those three starters the fourth and fifth spots will be open for competition. Chad Green, Luis Severino, Adam Warren and Bryan Mitchell will compete for those starter positions during spring training. Chad Green probably has the best chance of landing a starting gig out of the four.
Flame throwing wife beater, Aroldis Chapman, returns to the Yankees after a short trade deadline departure to the Cubs where he won a World Series. Chapman is now the highest paid reliever in baseball as he inked an 86 million dollar/five year contract. I’m not a fan of paying relievers but Chapman is the hardest throwing pitcher in the Majors. He has hit as high as 105 Mph and regularly averages 100 Mbps on his heater. This guy can’t be hit when he is on. Problem for the Yankees is that they will need to get to the 9th inning with a lead to really let him do his work. Chapman is about as safe a closer as there is in baseball. The track record is there and he has is showing no signs of slowing down.
Dellin Betances may be the best non-closer next to Cleveland’s Andrew Miller (Who was a Yankee until last year’s trade deadline). He has regularly mowed down batters for the past three seasons at an average rate of just over 40% of batters faced. His fastball averages around 97 Mph and he will likely continue to do exactly what he has done for the past three seasons into 2017. For a non-closer he is a perfect weapon for Joe Girardi to use in high leverage situations.
The rest of the Yankees bullpen is rather uninspiring. Former long time Washington National, Tyler Clippard has previous closing and high leverage experience. He relies on fastball and change up command to get the job done, but in 2016 his change up wasn’t the effective weapon it usually was. Will this pitch return? He will need it otherwise he’ll be a sad one trick pony.
After Clippard the pen depth is a little bit thin on recognizable names. Spring training will be opportunity for the rest of the pen and rotation to take shape. Will Luis Severino stick in the rotation or end up as the long man out of the back? Meh… next.
The Yankees are a team in transition. The future is looking up for a roster that was always built around a superstar core. Now that the Yankees championship era core is long gone the Bronx Bombers will look to give their youth the opportunity to grow and succeed. After this season some big money comes off the books (Alex Rodriguez and CC Sabathia) and some upcoming big free agents are set to become rich Yankees. However, in 2017 those big free agents will not be able to help the Yankees make the playoffs. The Yankees middling starting rotation and below average defense will prevent them from making the playoffs again. I expect the Yankees to be in the Wild Card hunt but they will miss out by only securing 82 wins.
Gary Sánchez – Don’t expect 40 home runs because September call up numbers don’t usually translate into the following season. Sánchez’ primary duties are as a catcher and that is a lot of work in its own right. I would expect the toll of a 162 game long season to drag down his offensive stats a bit. Nonethless I think the kid can hit 25 home runs, 75 RBI’s, 75 Runs and 5 steals with regular playing time in Yankee stadium. This will make him one of the top catchers off the board in fantasy baseball this year.
Dellin Betances – He will come at a much cheaper price on draft day then many of the other traditional closers except he actually has value without the saves in almost all formats due to his high strike out totals and strong WHIP and ERA ratios. If something were to happen to Chapman then Betances instantly becomes the most valuable reliever in fantasy baseball.
Chris Carter – His playing time is going to be limited. Given how many slugging options the Yankees have I could see Carter being squeezed off the roster due to positional needs at some point. The man can hit but if he doesn’t hit a home run he is an auto-out. If he is your last pick in a draft fine, but do not expect the former NL Home Run leader to even come close to repeating. I expect him to only get 300-350 at bats which will make it a struggle for him to crack 20 home runs. The batting average will sink your ratios if you use BAA in your league. You can do better…
Greg Bird – He has the chance to eventually win the job at first base. Similarly to Chris Carter, playing time may be an issue but I suspect he will become a dependable first base option for the Yankees as they use the DH as a rotating spot for their aging players. Bird has 25 home run and 80 RBI potential and as a late round flier that is a great gamble at what’s shaping up to be a shallow first base pool in fantasy baseball this year. If you play in a keeper league then I would target this guy as a sneaky late add in drafts.