The New York Yankees have found themselves in a position they really have never been in before. The decision made by Yankees ownership and the front office curtailed the amount of spending in regards to the Yankees payroll. In other words, the previously unlimited payroll was suddenly looked at as a budget. One, though different than other budgets in the small market cities, that has been taken seriously. Because of this, the Yankees were left out of a very aggressive free agent market, one which saw billions of dollars given away to players of all talents and abilities. The Yankees and their general manager Brian Cashman sought different ways to improve their team.
The Yankees have done a good job putting their future in perspective. Top prospects Luis Severino, Greg Bird, Aaron Judge, Jorge Mateo and Gary Sanchez have been considered off limits, making it difficult for the team to swing a deal to address certain needs at the major league level. The Yankees swung a deal they could make when they sent backup catcher John Ryan Murphy (.277 batting average, 3 home runs, 14 runs batted in, .734 on base plus slugging, 155 at bats) to the Minnesota Twins for outfielder Aaron Hicks (.256, 11, 33, 721, 97 games). They then agreed on a deal with the Chicago Cubs that completely defied logic. The Yankees managed to acquire a 25 year- old (soon to be 26) infielder set to enter the prime of his career. The cost, not a top prospect. Not an impact player at the major league level. The Yankees acquisition of infielder Stalin Castro (.265, 11, 69, .671) from the Chicago Cubs could become one of the bigger heists in recent memory. Yes, the Cubs are in great position to win in 2016 and had a fantastic off season to support that. So much that having Castro was thought to be having too much, so much that the Cubs could just give him away. The Cubs added swing man Adam Warren (7 wins, 7 losses, 3.29 earned run average, 104 strikeouts, just over 131 innings pitched, 43 games, 17 starts) and extra infielder Brendan Ryan (.229, 0, 8, 96 at bats). Ryan was such a throw-in in this deal that he was immediately released by the Cubs. So, the Cubs got themselves a pitcher who will likely be the 11th or 12th pitcher on their staff for a three time All Star who has 991 MLB hits before his 26th birthday.
As if that was enough, the Yankees then took on the vulnerability of the Cincinnati Reds and the situation regarding their star closer Aroldis Chapman. Reds general manager Dick Williams, who early on in his tenure seems a little overwhelmed with his responsibilities, decided he could not wait to deal one of his biggest assets. After a deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers (a better one for the Reds if they had swung in) fell through because of Chapman's disagreement with his girlfriend- no charges were filed, the Yankees swooped in and, once again, got a top player in the entire game for a handful of table scraps. Certainly no reason to blame the Yankees, in fact, the Cubs and the Reds should be blamed for catering to another ball club. Hopefully, there was some sort of gentleman's agreement between the two teams that will put the Yankees in a position to return the favor down the road.
While I still try to come to grips with how any team can land a pitcher who struck out 50 batters more than the amount of innings he pitched in 2015 for Rookie Davis and Eric Jagielo, there is no doubt the Yankees have made a strength even better. Chapman has averaged 15.4 strikeouts per 9 innings pitched for his career and is coming off a season where he finished with a 1.63 earned run average. The Yankees back of their bullpen was their strength in 2015, where left hander Andrew Miller (3-2, 2.04, 36 saves, 100 strikeouts, just less than 62 innings pitched) and right handed pitcher Dellin Betances (6-4, 1.50, 9 saves, 131 Ks, 84 IP) provided one of the sickest late game combinations baseball has seen. Bringing in Chapman to serve as the closer gives the Yankees something perhaps the game has not seen before. Miller- Betances- Chapman really has made it a six inning game for the Yankees and, in the right scenario, could alleviate the need for the team to use lesser pitchers in the sixth and seventh innings of games that are tied or the Yankees are in the lead.
The super bullpen idea was to take some of the pressure off the Yankees starters, who admittedly are not in a position to generally go more than six innings in a game. Masahiro Tanaka (12-7, 3.51, 139 Ks, 154 IP) leads a staff that could potentially include its next ace in Severino (5-3, 2.89, 59 Ks, just over 62 IP). The Yankees have been waiting a couple years now for right hander Michael Pineda (12-10, 4.37, 156 Ks, just under 162 IP) to take the reigns as a top starting pitcher. They have another pitcher with similar talent in Nathan Eovaldi (14-3, 4.20, 121 Ks, just over 154 IP), giving the Yankees a good one through four assuming 1- they can all stay healthy and 2- Severino, Pineda and Eovaldi can all raise their game. The Yankees will have to make a fifth starter decision between longtime ace CC Sabathia (6-10, 4.73, 137 Ks, just over 167 IP) and right hander Ivan Nova (6-11, 5.07, 56 Ks, just over 62 IP). Nova is entering his second season back from Tommy John surgery and Sabathia is in a battle against father time. Both should make the Yankees roster even if there is not an injury, but it is easy to see how neither should be best suited to be a reliever.
The Yankees lineup will continue to center around the ageless stars Alex Rodriguez (.250, 33, 86, .842), Mark Teixeira (.255, 31, 79, .906) and Carlos Beltran (.276, 19, 67, .808). Center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury (.257, 7, 33, .663) is going to face a lot of pressure this season as he needs to give a better performance. Left fielder Brett Gardner (.259, 16, 66, .742) made the All Star team last season but managed to have one of the worst second halves for a position player in all of baseball. Veteran catcher Brian McCann (.232, 26, 94, .756) can serve as a backup option at first base, though no indications have been made that this will be the case. This would allow for the offensive minded catcher Sanchez to get an opportunity to hit in the major leagues. The bottom line is this: i Sanchez can hit as good as the scouts say he can hit, Gary Sanchez belongs in the Yankees lineup almost every day. Casto slots in at second and forms half a double play combination that includes Didi Gregorius (.265, 9, 56, .688) at shortstop. Third baseman Chase Headley (.259, 11, 62, .693) is coming off a down year both offensively and defensively.
The Yankees lineup I would start the season with would go like this Castro 2B, Gardner LF, Beltran RF, Teixeira 1B, Rodriguez DH, McCann C, Headley 3B, Gregorius SS, Ellsbury CF. Hicks and Sanchez lead the bench with Dustin Ackley (.231, 10, 30, .731) and Rob Refsnyder likely rounding out the bench. I am keeping Sanchez on the major league roster to start the season because there is no other place for him to go. Teixeira, Rodriguez and McCann are not being traded and it would be a waste of time and talent to see Sanchez spend another full season in the minor leagues.
The Yankees have the ability to start the season with four bench players and eight relief pitchers. Assuming one of the relievers are Sabathia or Nova and Chapman, Miller and Betances are accounted for, this leaves the opportunity for four additional pitchers to make the club. Left hander Chasen Shreve (6-2, 3.09, 59 games) will be part of the mix and likely so will righty Brandon Pinder (0-2, 2.93, 25 games). Veterans Vinny Pestano and Anthony Swarzak will compete with youngsters Jorge Pazos and Nick Rumbelow for the final two spots in the bullpen.
Much has been said about the potential of Yankees top outfield prospect Aaron Judge. His power is unbelievable and hopes are he can debut in the major leagues this season. The speedy Jorge Mateo looks like he could be the Yankees shortstop of the future, though he is just 20 years old. Bird missing the 2016 season will hurt, though he was ticketed to start the season in the minors. Left hander Jacob Lindgren could become a fixture in the Yankees bullpen as his upside is better than anybody on the Yankees not named Chapman, Miller or Betances. Finally, 2015 first round draft pick James Kaprielian should continue to move through the Yankees system with eyes on debuting in 2017.
The Yankees have done a very good job keeping an eye on the future while trying to stay in contention doing it. That is one thing I will always respect about the Yankees, they will not quit on a season even though they acknowledge the team needs to get younger. I can see the Yankees doing well this season. There are doubts about every team in the American League East division, including the Yankees. But they have a strong young starting pitching staff with a mind blowing back three in the bullpen. That, by itself, should account for some wins. However, the Yankees need a healthy season out of not only Rodriguez, Teixeira and Beltran, but out of Ellsbury and the middle infielders as well. The team is not equipped with the depth to handle a debilitating injury to really any of their major offensive players. There is no doubt the Yankees will be in the race all season and they should based off of Las Vegas' over/ under of 85. I have them finishing at 83-79, third place in the American League East.