The New York Yankees are without a doubt the most storied franchise in baseball history. That is why many fans were not too happy about them “rebuilding” in 2017. Like most events in Yankees’ history, they were able to have their cake and eat it too. They were ahead of schedule in 2017, besting the pundits predictions. But how did they get there?
After going 84-78 and finishing fourth in the AL East in 2016, many believed it was time for the Yankees to finally begin the dreaded rebuild. Only three everyday position players on that team were younger than 30 years old (Starlin Castro, Didi Gregorius and Aaron Hicks, all 26 years old), and the major league team seemed ready to be laid bare to cultivate the fruits of the farm. But as the Yankees are known to do, they ended up competing yet again for a World Series berth in 2017.
Breakout seasons from Gary Sanchez, Gregorious and Hicks all contributed to the Yankees 91 wins. However, the real story of the season was the behemoth in right field, Aaron Judge. His 52 home runs are the most ever by a rookie, topping Mark McGwire’s record 49 in 1987. Judge also easily paced the team with a 171 OPS+. With the AL ROY already a lock, all that’s left is the coveted MVP.
The often forgotten piece of the Yankees surprise resurgence was their pitching staff. Luis Severino assumed the role of staff ace and proved to be an excellent frontline starter. His 14 wins tied the team lead, and his 2.98 ERA lead the starting staff.
Grizzled veteran C.C. Sabathia was also able to turn in a solid campaign, winning 14 games and posting a 3.69 ERA. The deadline addition of Sonny Gray helped balance out the starting staff. A strong bullpen comprised of Aroldis Chapman, Dellin Betances and the breakout of Chad Green (1.83 ERA in 40 games) was able to lock down opponents in the late innings as well.
All of these factors combined to bring the Yankees within one game of the World Series. To achieve that status, some glaring holes will need to be addressed.
The biggest of those holes is the one Joe Girardi left. The longtime Yankees skipper was let go after guiding the Yankees to within one game of the World Series. After 10 years at the helm, general manager Brian Cashman believed that Girardi had lost his personal touch with the players. With Girardi out of the clubhouse, Cashman seems to be looking high and low for the next manager of the Yankees.
Names from former Cubs catcher David Ross to current ESPN analyst Aaron Boone have been rumored to be in the running. One thing is for certain though, they are looking for someone with a more personal touch. Many of the players had expressed the same sentiment Cashman had. A manager with playing experience seems to be the focus.
Another area the team needs to focus on is the corner infield positions. First base was an odyssey all season long. Greg Bird was finally able to get healthy and performed well in the playoffs. Third base was solidified by mid-season acquisition Todd Frazier. With Frazier becoming a free agent this offseason, Chase Headley is the lone option. The Yankees may just go through the 2018 season with Headley as the starter. With Manny Machado coming up for free agency, don’t be surprised to see the Yankees make a run at him.
Potential free-agent signings
With a glaring hole at third base and the Yankees unease with Headley as the starter, Mike Moustakas will be in Brian Cashman’s sights. The career Royal slugged 38 homers in 2017, setting the Royals single-season record. He also batted .272, which would be an upgrade over Frazier.
While the Royals will make a run at keeping Moustakas, the upcoming rebuild in Kansas City will be a huge factor. The Yankees will at least make a call to the burly Royals third baseman and also may look to the far east for free agents.
The one name that everyone in New York will be asking about has no MLB experience. In his time in Japan, he has garnered comparisons to none other than Babe Ruth.
Shohei Otani will be the most coveted player on the market this offseason. All Otani has done since his debut at age 18 is dominate the Japanese league. In five seasons, Otani has slugged 48 homers and won 42 games. He has hit .286 and posted a 2.52 ERA, proving to be dominant on both the mound and at the plate.
With the Yankees’ history of Japanese players, Otani may favor the bright lights of New York.
Impact minor leaguers
Two prospects stand out for the Yankees that could make the jump to the majors next year. One of those is infielder Gleyber Torres. Torres was on the fast track to the majors this past season, seeing time at third base at Triple-A. However, a season ending injury left Torres waiting for next season, and now might be his chance. He hit .309 in 23 games at AAA, and should start the season there. But if he can impress in camp, Torres may start the season on the big league club.
The other option is third baseman Miguel Andujar. He has shown a cannon of an arm in the minor leagues, and his defense has continued to improve. His bat is no slouch either, as he hit .317 at Triple-A and launched nine homers. While he may not profile as a future silver slugger, his bat and glove combine to make him a potential starter for the big league club.
This team is definitely on the rise. With a stacked farm system and a strong major league club, the Yankees will be a threat in the AL East for years to come. Look for them to make some impact free-agent signings and maybe even some big trades with their deep farm system.
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