By Adam Hayes, Contributing Writer
Finishing fourth in the American League East was not something Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez had in mind for their final season. The Yankees, while finishing above .500 at 84-78, lacked the punch they needed to start the season. April marked the only month that the Yankees finished with a losing record and after a few subpar months, the team finished the season on the outside looking in, finishing 84-78. The team knew there would be some big changes to follow with the loss of the two veterans mentioned prior. Towards the end of the season the team started making call-ups and exposed their younger talents to the big leagues for the first time.
Moving to the offseason, the team looked to bolster their rotation and add key components to use as utility plays or at the positional level. The team brought back Aroldis Chapman on a five-year contract. While Chapman regains the reins on the closer position, it leaves Dellin Betances to find his role as a reliever. Betances took over the role with the departure of Chapman last season and was solid closing out games, but nothing like Chapman (yet again, who is?) Betances struggled as a middle to late inning reliever, which is something he must master moving forward. The team also brought in a utility infielder with the signing of Ruben Tejada. Tejada will likely play a backup role with the major-league squad, spelling the team’s young talents from time to time.
The biggest bat the team brought in was Matt Holliday. Holliday is a polished outfielder who adds power to a lineup that would otherwise lack this threat. He was brought in on a one-year contract, symbolizing that he is also at the tail-end of his career. Holliday could be featured in the DH role since the transaction brought him to the American League East for the first time in his career. If Holliday does well in the first half of the season, it can be possible that Cashman could flip Holliday for even more prospects to add to the Yankees’ growing farm system.
The Holliday and Chapman additions were the biggest names brought in this offseason.
The team also is dealing with other losses. Nathan Eovaldi and Brian McCann both exited the squad this offseason, leaving holes in a few key areas. Eovaldi fluctuated through the starting rotation filling the 3rd and 4th spot in most instances. Replacing Eovaldi is something that must be done with young arms. Names like Adam Warren and Luis Severino are being tossed around as potential replacements. The loss of McCann wasn’t as painful due to the play of one Gary Sanchez. Sanchez locked down the catcher position after his short, but stellar rookie campaign. The numbers he put up last season in limited work exceeded the full-season production of most major-league catchers, which helped alleviate the loss of the veteran McCann.
The two areas that the team still has question marks heading into Spring Training is the starting rotation and the position player depth chart. The rotation is lacking at least one starter. Masahiro Tanaka, Michael Pineda, and CC Sabathia have the first three roles locked down. This is where Luis Severino and Adam Warren enter the equation. While the team restore faith in Severino? Will they move Warren from his comfort zone as a reliever to enter the starting rotation? These are two questions that must be answered on a confidential basis. They have to solidify a rotation far before the season begins otherwise a headache could ensue that threatens their performance in a tough league.
The position player depth chart and starting roles is something that must be sorted out as well. Brett Gardner is coming off a gold glove season and has his spot in the outfield set in stone. Holliday can play OF, 1B, and DH, giving the team some flexibility with the talent he brings. If Jacoby Ellsbury was not signed to his huge contract, he would be the one who finds himself in a rough spot. Ellsbury is owed over $21 million this season, so it would be hard to see him splitting time in the outfield. Aaron Judge is a young prospect who showed that he has big-league potential, but still has major holes in his game, as he struck out 42 times in 95 plate appearances. Joe Girardi’s everyday outfield will likely consist of Gardner in left, Ellsbury in center, Judge in right, and Holliday at DH.
The infield remains relatively strong without featuring too many high-risk players. Veterans like Chase Headley, Starlin Castro, and Didi Gregorius know their roles, as they welcome Greg Bird as he looks to be the full-time starting first baseman. The Yankees also have their top prospects such as Clint Frazier, Tyler Austin, Jorge Mateo and Gleyber Torres chomping at the bit for an opportunity to play. Austin might make the Opening Day roster as a utility guy who can play different positions, while Frazier, Mateo, and Torres will likely get their reps and more seasoning in the minors for now, unless an injury opens up a spot for them.
The Yankees will enter the 2017 season doing something they haven’t done in quite some time: rely on younger players. It seems like a recipe for rebuilding, but these younger guys have shown signs of brilliance and capabilities of being reliable. Brian Cashman has constructed a team full of veterans such as Chapman and Tanaka, while young players such as Sanchez and Bird will also play huge roles. If the team can build chemistry with these younger players, there is no reason to think they couldn’t compete once again in the American League East.
Adam Hayes is a new contributor to New York Sportscene. He is an Editor at The USS Sports Machine, home of America’s most comprehensive sports blog covering everything from college level to professional sports happening in the USA