The Yankees missed the playoffs in 2013 and hit 144 home runs as a team, they then followed that by hitting 147 home runs in 2014 where they also fell short of playing postseason baseball. A year later, the Yankees hit 212 home runs, making the playoffs. Last year, the Yankees hit 183 home runs but fell short of a Wild Card spot. The trade of catcher Brian McCann to the Astros could impact them in the power department, but the team clearly has reinforcements. Gary Sanchez came up last season and hit 20 home runs in 53 games. The Yankees signed free agents Matt Holliday (20 HR in 2016) and Chris Carter (41 HR in 2016) to join 20 home run middle infielders Didi Gregorius (20) and Starlin Castro (21). If you add in his 6 home runs in the 2014 Arizona Fall League, first baseman Greg Bird hit 20 home runs in his past three professional seasons before missing 2016 due to a shoulder injury.
The Yankees starting pitching is certainly a cause for concern. Last season, they decided to strengthen their bullpen by trading for star closer Aroldis Chapman. This allowed him to team with Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances and form the most dominant three relievers ever assembled. Because of that, the game was shortened and the starting pitchers could get away with pitching just five innings. Bringing back Chapman puts them in a better position. Unfortunately, Tyler Clippard is not Andrew Miller, but he did pitch well after he was acquired in a 2016 trade with the Arizona Diamondbacks. Adam Warren is in the mix as well as he has always pitched very well for the Yankees. In fact, Clippard and Warren combined to give up just 18 runs in less than 56 innings pitched after being acquired (and re-acquired) last season. The rest of the bullpen is pedestrian, with Tommy Layne, Johnny Barbato, Chasen Shreve and whoever misses out on a rotation spot between Chad Green, Luis Cessa and Bryan Mitchell battling for spots.
The Yankees starting rotation will be a reason either they are a playoff contender this season or the reason they are not. Contrary to what many in the media say, I believe that CC Sabathia is just as important as Masahiro Tanaka in regards to their presence on the mound and certainly more important than the unreliable Michael Pineda. While CC may not be the same pitcher he was during his first four seasons with the Yankees, but he has adjusted his game where he can once again be counted on to get through the first six innings. The same cannot be said about Pineda and Luis Severino, the former coming off a completely unbalanced season where he lost 12 games and pitched to a 4.82 earned run average, but struck out 207 batters and led the American League with 10.7 strikeouts per 9 innings pitched. Out of the group battling for the fifth spot in the Yankees rotation, I would like to see either Green or Mitchell win out with the other going to the bullpen. Jonathon Niese is will get a shot as well.
The Yankees will have to be creative to get Bird, Holliday and Carter enough at bats this season. Holliday can play the outfield, either by subbing for left fielder Brett Gardner, playing left field with Gardner moving to center, replacing Jacoby Ellsbury or by playing right field, a position that does not necessarily belong to anybody at the moment. Power hitting Aaron Judge seems to be the long term favorite, but it is not clear whether he will beat out Aaron Hicks, let alone start the season on the major league roster. Of course, it makes sense for Judge to start the season in the minor leagues as opposed to coming off the bench at the major league level. The Yankees tried to trade Gardner and third baseman Chase Headley this off season, but had no takers. The Yankees lineup I would start the season with is Ellsbury CF, Castro 2B, Gregorius SS, Sanchez C, Holliday RF, Bird 1B, Carter DH, Headley 3B, Gardner LF. In this scenario, Hicks will be in the lineup one way or another, taking turns subbing for the three outfielders, Carter or Bird. Ronald Torreyes is the most likely to be a backup middle infielder as he can play shortstop, though former Mets infielder Ruben Tejada is in camp. Rob Refsnyder, Mason Williams and backup catcher Austin Romine could round out the bench until Tyler Austin is back from his injury and Judge is ready to play everyday at the major league level. If the Yankees need an extra left handed bat, Ike Davis can potentially earn a chance to play a little bit. Unfortunately, it has been a couple of years since Ike has played well at the major league level.
The Yankees have a series of very good to great young players coming through their farm system, many of them acquired last season in the trades of Miller, Chapman and Carlos Beltran. Shortstop Gleyber Torres, outfielders Clint Frazier and Blake Rutherford round out the top three. Judge is among the list, as are infielder Jorge Mateo, right hand pitcher Chance Adams and left hander Justus Sheffield. Pitchers James Kaprielian and Dillon Tate will likely be wearing Yankees uniforms within the next year or two. And of course, Austin contributed last season and would be right now if not for his shoulder injury.
If the Yankees won more games than expected this season, I would not be shocked. I would be shocked, however, if Sanchez hits home runs at the pace he did last season, which would put him at 50 or 60 home runs. He will be fine, but there has not been a player to hit home runs like that since Babe Ruth. I think the Yankees starting rotation will be troublesome for them this year and not having Miller weakens what was an unbelievable strength for the team last season. Las Vegas has the Yankees at 83.5 for their over/ under, which I think is an accurate pick. I was debating taking slightly over (85), but I decided to go slightly under. I have the Yankees finishing at 82-80, third place in the American League East division.