New York Yankees Strengths and Weaknesses Heading Into 2017

TAMPA, FL - MARCH 11: Masahiro Tanaka #19 of the New York Yankees pitches in the first inning against the Detroit Tigers at George M. Steinbrenner Field on March 11, 2017 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Masahiro Tanaka

The New York Yankees head into the regular season as they embark on a new era of Yankees baseball. In the past, General Manager Brian Cashman and the Yankees organization wouldn’t hesitate to shell out hundreds of millions of dollars in order to try and buy championships. That philosophy unfortunately hasn’t worked out quite as well as they would’ve hoped. Since 2000, the Yankees have only won two World Series (2000, 2009) titles, while spending a small fortune in the process.

That’s not to say that money won’t buy clubs victories, because it most certainly does. But there appears to be a slight shift in Major League Baseball where more and more teams are opting to build their teams from within. Starting by drafting the right players, as well as collecting as many top young prospects as they can via trade. Teams like the Kansas City Royals have been doing this for years now, and have a World Series title to show for it. Most recently the Chicago Cubs have embraced this philosophy with the help of President/GM Theo Epstein, and as a result won the World Series last season for the first time in over a 100 years.

During the past 15-20 years, the Yankees philosophy or strategy was to entice high-profile free agents to New York with hefty contracts that were for the most part above their market value. Some of those signings included Jason Giambi (7-years/$120 million) in 2001, Alex Rodriguez (10-years/$272 million) in 2003, Randy Johnson (2-years/$32 million) in 2005, Johnny Damon (4-years/$52 million) in 2006, Roger Clemens (1-year/$18.9 million) in 2007, A.J. Burnett (5-years/$82.5 million) in 2008, and CC Sabathia (7-years/$161 million) in 2008. The signing of these particular players were just the high-profile acquisitions, but there were plenty more signings of players who at the time showed potential, and who were therefore vastly overpaid.

New York Yankees Strengths and Weaknesses Heading Into the 2017 Regular Season

The Yankees are coming off a 2016 season in which they missed the postseason, finishing the year in fourth place with a record of 84-78. They’ll be without some familiar faces in Rodriguez (retirement), Mark Teixeira (retirement), Andrew Miller (traded to the Cleveland Indians last season), and Brian McCann (traded to the Houston Astros in the off-season). To replace them, Cashman brought in a couple of veterans like Matt Holliday (1-year/$13 million) who spent the last eight seasons with the St. Louis Cardinals. Holliday is a seven-time All-Star, as well as a World Series champion in 2011 as a member of the Cardinals. For his career, Holliday is a .303 career hitter, and is expected to be the Yankees full-time DH.

The Yankees also brought in right-handed hitter Chris Carter (1-year/$3 million) who spent last season with the Milwaukee Brewers, and led the National League in home runs with 41. However, Carter also led the league in strikeouts with 206 while only hitting .222. Carter was signed right before Spring Training with the plan being that he would platoon at first base along with Greg Bird, but with the way that Bird is playing right now, that plan appears to be going up in smoke.

Strengths

Other than the Yankees young hitters, their biggest strength just might be their bullpen. Last year the Yankees bullpen had the second most wins (36) as well as the second fewest losses (19) in the American League. Aroldis Chapman (4-1, 1.55 ERA, 36 saves) and Dellin Betances (3-6, 3.08 ERA, 12 saves) make for an extremely effective 1-2 punch that most major league teams can’t duplicate. Now the Yankees can’t replace the lefty monster that they had in Andrew Miller, but veteran relief pitcher Tyler Clippard is an experienced pitcher out of the bullpen, who also happens to have a quality arm.

As far as the Bronx Bombers young hitters are concerned, they’re loaded with talent. One of those young hitters is Greg Bird who missed the entire 2016 season due to a shoulder injury. Prior to injuring his shoulder, Bird spent the last few months in 2015 filling in for an injured Mark Teixeira. It was then that we got to see the boundless potential that the left-handed hitter possesses. In only 157 at-bats, Bird hit eleven home runs, drove in 31 runs, while batting .261. Despite missing all of last season, Bird has picked up right where he left off this Spring Training. In 32 at-bats, the lefty has posted a slash line of .438/.526/1.031 with six runs scored, 14 hits, five doubles, a triple, four home runs, and six RBI. We know Carter was signed to play first base against left-handed pitching, but the former Brewer is only batting .143 this spring, and his chances of platoon duties seems to be vanishing.

When it comes to the Yankees future ‘superstar’ catcher, Gary Sanchez, the sky is the limit. I doubt that anyone in the Yankees organization had a clue that when they signed the Dominican born baseball player as an international free agent in 2009, that he would explode on the scene in 2016. Sanchez, however, actually made his Major League debut as a pinch hitter in the 2015 Wild Card game. After his season at Double-A concluded, the Yankees added him to their 25-man roster for 2015 Wild Card game.

Sanchez would be officially promoted to the Major Leagues to begin the month of August, and he would never look back. Sanchez would go on to finish second in Rookie of the Year honors, behind Detroit Tigers pitcher Michael Fulmer. But Sanchez would find another way to enter the record books. Not only was he named AL Player of the Week twice, but the right-handed slugger also became the only player in MLB history to have eleven home runs and 31 hits through his first 23 games. This accomplishment earned him AL Player of the Month and Rookie of the Month honors. But the rookie phenom wasn’t done just yet. When Sanchez belted his 19th home run, he did so in his 45th game, which made him the fastest player to reach that milestone. The rookie phenom finished the 2016 season with 20 home runs, 42 RBI, along with a .299 batting average in only 53 games.

No one in their right mind expects Sanchez to continue that level of production heading into 2017, but you wouldn’t be able to tell with the way he’s playing this spring. He has a slash line of .364/.417/.788, with eight runs scored, 12 hits, two doubles, four home runs, 11 RBI, and in only 33 at-bats. Sanchez has received a lot of fanfare for his ability to produce, but it’s the praise he receives within the clubhouse for the way he calls the game and handles the pitching staff. Plus he has a cannon for an arm, which means base runners run at their own risk.

In order for players like Sanchez, Holliday, Bird, and Aaron Judge to be in the position to drive in runs, they’ll need Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner to set the table for them. Both Gardner and Ellsbury have to do a better job of getting on base, as well as being more aggressive on the base paths. Last season they combined for a total of 36 stolen bases. That’ll have to improve. Ellsbury had a slash line of .263/.330/.703 last season, with nine home runs, 56 RBI, and 71 runs scored. Gardner had a similar slash line of .261/.351/.713, with seven home runs, 41 RBI, and 80 runs scored.

Weaknesses

It’s no secret that the New York Yankees biggest area of concern is their starting pitching. Outside of Masahiro Tanaka, when healthy, is arguably one of the best pitchers in all of MLB. Tanaka, however, has missed time in each of the past three seasons, which included a forearm strain last season. Yet the Japan import finished the 2016 season with a 14-4 record with an ERA of 3.07 with 165 strikeouts in 199.2 innings pitched. Good enough to finish seventh in the Cy Young voting. It appears Tanaka is on track to having another stellar season, given his performance in Spring thus far.

Tanaka is clearly the ace of this rotation, and his numbers this spring validate that already agreed upon consensus. He’s 2-0 with an ERA of 0.00 in 13.1 innings pitched, giving up only three hits while striking out 19.

Masahiro Tanaka has already been tabbed as the Opening Day starter, followed in the rotation by Michael Pineda, and then CC Sabathia with an open competition for the fourth and fifth spots. Pineda is coming off a 2016 season that saw him go 6-12 with an ERA of 4.82, while striking out 207 batters in 175.2 innings. The Yankees continue to wait for Pineda (who was acquired in a trade with the Mariners years back) to put it all together and become that top of the line starter they always thought he could be. When the former Mariner has his A-game, he’s virtually untouchable. But as Yankee fans already know, Pineda is consistently inconsistent.

As far as the aging Sabathia is concerned, he’s really only good for eating up innings. The former AL Cy Young Award winner (2007) can no longer throw a fastball by anyone, which means he has to rely on location in order to get outs. The seven-time All-Star finished 2016 with a record of 9-12 with an ERA of 3.91, while striking out 152 batters in 179.2 innings pitched. Unfortunately for CC, this Spring hasn’t gone as he hoped, going 0-1 with an ERA of 13.50. He’s only pitched in 2.2 innings, but he’s given up six runs on eight hits with opposing batters hitting .500.

The two pitchers who are more than likely to grab the final two spots in the rotation are Luis Severino and Bryan Mitchell. Despite Severino going 0-8 with an ERA of 8.50 as a starter last season, he’s been solid this spring. He’s gone 1-0 with an ERA of 3.68, with nine strikeouts in 7.1 innings pitched. Mitchell is 2-1 with an ERA of 3.77, with 12 strikeouts in 14.1 innings pitched.

Other notable candidates include LHP Jordan Montgomery (0-0, 3.48), Adam Warren (0-0, 3.38), and Chad Green (1-0, 2.08).

Keep an Eye On

Two of the Yankees top prospects are having a fantastic Spring Training, including their No. 1 prospect, and the No. 3 ranked prospect in all of MLB, Gleyber Torres. The 19-year-old Torres has posted a slash line of .440/.464/.960, with eight runs, 11 hits, five doubles, a triple, two home runs and seven RBI. Torres is a shortstop who can also play second base, and the Yankees will more than likely have to find a way to make room for him by mid-summer.

Then there’s Clint Frazier who was acquired in the Andrew Miller trade with the Cleveland Indians. Frazier can play all three outfield positions, and if Cashman can move either Gardner or Ellsbury, then we’ll see the kid fiery red hair rooming the New York’s outfield. So far this spring, Frazier is batting .313 with six runs scored, ten hits, two doubles, a home run, and seven RBI.

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