Playing Pepper 2016: New York Yankees

It’s one of those rites of spring, one of those signs that baseball is returning.  For the eighth straight year, we’re Playing Pepper!  We’ll ask six questions of bloggers for each major league team as a way of getting familiar with those teams that don’t wear the birds on the bat.  This year, this series will be “sponsored” by The Cardinals Way, the new book from Howard Megdal.  It’s an outstanding look at the Cardinal organization and I can’t recommend you getting a copy highly enough.

New York Yankees
87-75, second in the AL East (first wild card), lost in wild card game
Last year’s Pepper

Before it was the cool thing to hate on the Cardinals, it was the cool thing to hate on the Yankees.  Basically for the same reason–all they did was win and win and win.  Three Series titles in a row and four in five years (with a sixth appearance to boot) would get people a little fed up with that success.  Save for their 2009 title, things have been a little less than perfect since Luis Gonzalez‘s flare in 2001 and Josh Beckett‘s dominance in 2003.  Still, with their resources, it seems wise to never count them out.

As we saw yesterday with the Mets, being a team in one of the world’s biggest cities means that there are plenty of people that write about that squad.  The table worked well yesterday, so let’s go back to it today. Again, T/C means total years playing Pepper and consecutive years fielding my questions. Also, Bernadette’s total doesn’t include her Postseason Pepper from this past October.

Blogger Blog Twitter T/C
Cecilia Tan Why I Like Baseball @whyilikebb 2/2
Charlie Mule Double G Sports @Charlie_Mule 1/1
William Tasker It's About The Money @FlagrantFan 2/1
Bernadette Pasley Lady At The Bat @LadyWriting 2/1
Christopher Carelli Yankees Unscripted @Chris_Carelli 3/3
Caitlin Rogers Pinstripe Alley @pinstripealley 1/1
Lisa Swan Subway Squawkers @subwaysquawkers 5/4
Stacey Gotsulias It's About The Money @StaceGots 3/3

C70: What are your thoughts on the team’s offseason? Did they do what they needed to do?

WILB: I’ll tell you the honest truth. Last season turned out so drastically different from expectations that I’ve been trying not to even look. I’m serious. I’m treating this season like Star Wars The Force Awakens: NO SPOILERS PLZ. Well, okay, I peeked a little. I guess that makes Aroldis Chapman Kylo Ren, and A-Rod Darth Vader.

DGS: My thoughts on the Yankees offseason are simple. They did a lot with a little. The Yankees needed to improve and get younger while still remaining in contention of the playoffs. They did that by bringing in Starlin Castro to play second and third. They also brought in Aroldis Chapman for absolutely nothing. He is a huge strength to add to a bullpen. They could’ve went out for a starting arm, but all in all it was a pretty good offseason.

IAMW: I was very pleased the team did not make a big splash in the off season. The Yankees have made a commitment to getting younger while accepting a certain amount of mediocrity to wait out their big contracts. With Mark Teixeira and CC Sabathia coming off the books after this coming season, they can really do that and augment with players that fit in the short term.

Even the players the team did acquire were young such as Starlin Castro, Aaron Hicks and Aroldis Chapman, players that could made a big impact and yet not be tied with for long term.

LATB: The most important issue the Yankees had to address was second base. They did that by trading for Starlin Castro. While Castro is relatively new to the position, he showed promise there in the second half of 2015, and has, so far, looked pretty good there during spring training. A secondary need was a better fourth outfielder. Aaron Hicks is younger and more athletic than Chris Young, who held the position in ’15. He is also a switch hitter, which means he will be able to play several times a week, spelling all three outfielders, Brett Gardner, Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran, who are often injured and/or are older players.

Many people who follow, cover and/or root for the team claimed they needed to add a starting pitcher. However, where would they have put that pitcher? The Yankees already have six starters–Masahiro Tanaka, Luis Severino, Michael Pineda, Nathan Eovaldi, CC Sabathia and Ivan Nova. The real need, which became apparent once Adam Warren was traded for Castro, is a swing man, one who can both start and provide middle relief. Ivan Nova might be that man, or else they could go with several youngsters who made their debuts last season, such as Bryan Mitchell or Nick Rumbelow.

Probably the biggest acquisition for the Yankees during the offseason was reliever Aroldis Chapman. He makes an already other-worldly bullpen even better. Because of the domestic violence incident, the deal was an absolute steal for the Yankees, as they were able to hold on to their most prized prospects. On May 9th, after he has served his suspension, he will slide into the closer’s role, and we could see a modern-day version of The Nasty Boys.

YU: The Yankees were quiet on the MLB free-agent front and that made plenty of headlines, but they improved their club with three separate trades. By acquiring Aaron Hicks from the Twins, the Yanks replaced Chris Young as the fourth outfielder and instantly improved the outfield defense. The Yanks trade for Starlin Castro will hopefully plug the drain at the keystone that’s flowed since Robinson Cano left town. Finally, it’s hard not be excited about Aroldis Chapman finishing off games. I would have liked to have seen them swing a trade for a starter just to provide some depth, but in all I feel the Yanks had a very good offseason.

PA: The Yankees mostly filled the holes that needed to be filled. They brought in Starlin Castro to play second base, and Aaron Hicks to be the backup outfielder. The bullpen arguably could have been left as it was when the season ended and it still would have been considered a strength, but it is even stronger with Aroldis Chapman. Considering all of the health concerns regarding the rotation, it seems a bit shortsighted that the Yankees did not add any starting pitchers, though.

SS: Not really. They improved at second base, but that was a self-inflicted error in the first place; Stephen Drew was a disaster in 2014, and he should never have been brought back in 2015. They improved the bullpen, but they already arguably had the best bullpen in baseball to begin with. Plus, the allegations about Aroldis Chapman and domestic violence kind of make my skin crawl.

I’m still concerned about both their hitting and their starting rotation. To me, the thing that will haunt the Yankees for years is not signing David Price, and letting him go to Boston. In 2008, when ace lefthander CC Sabathia was on the market, the Yankees went the extra mile to get him. In 2015, when ace lefthander Price was on the market, the Yankees never even considered making him an offer. Not to mention that Price would have been a great face of the Yankees for marketing purposes. (Right now, all they have to put fannies in the seats is A-Rod!)

But these days, Hal Steinbrenner is more concerned about lowering payroll than fielding a team that can win a World Series. He is content to make them just competitive enough that they might win a Wild Card spot if everything goes right, like they did so last year because of Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira having phenomenal years. Yet the organization still spins the “Any year without a World Series title is a failure” nonsense, when that obviously is no longer true.

IAMS: I don’t mind the moves they made at all because they’re setting themselves up for 2017 and beyond, when a lot of money will be coming off the books. Some people weren’t happy with the Yankees’ offseason, but I thought they did a fine job picking up some guys like Aaron Hicks and Starlin Castro without having to “break the bank.”

C70: The Yanks placed three on the Top 100 Prospects list. Is there going to be less emphasis on the free agent market in the years to come?

WILB: Hahahaha! No. The more hyped a Yankees prospect is, the better trade bait he is, because that’s where he’ll have the highest value. But the Yankees’ biggest asset continues to be money, and using that asset to the best of their advantage is still their strategy.

DGS: Yes and No. The Yankees have a great farm system. This is known, but with big money coming off the books in 2017 with Teixiera and Beltran, and then Rodriguez the following year, the Yankees will have plenty of money to play with.

IAMW: I think so. There will always be some pressure from the fan base to get that big gun like Stephen Strasburg or Bryce Harper. But if you look at the team’s history, the great dynasty of 1995-2009 came from bringing home grown players up and the last several World Series champions have also shown such a method to be a winning formula.

LATB: After getting burned by what have become the dead contracts of CC Sabathia and Carlos Beltran (and, in a sense, Alex Rodriguez), they no longer want to agree to huge free agent deals (unless they are short-term). In fact, the Yankees were the only team this offseason NOT to sign an MLB free agent. Years ago, those top prospects would have been dealt in a trade, but now, guys like SS Jorge Mateo, C Gary Sanchez and OF Aaron Judge, are being protected and are expected to make their MLB debuts in Yankee uniforms–perhaps as early as this season in the cases of Sanchez and Judge.

YU: The Yankees have long been changing the methodology with how they spend their money. They want to build a better farm system (and have), but also dive into the free agent market as their bigger contracts come off the books. That will happen in each of the next two seasons when Mark Teixeira, Carlos Beltran, CC Sabathia and Alex Rodriguez finish their respective deals. I fully expect the Yanks to pump money back into the roster when the right player hits the market, but at the same time they’ll be wise to neglect paying players into their late-30s.

PA: It certainly appears that the team is moving away from the free agent market after they failed to sign any free agents during the offseason. Hal Steinbrenner recently said that he would try to get the team payroll under the luxury tax threshold when the new collective bargaining agreement comes out. He also tried to do that in 2013 though, and ended up spending millions on Masahiro Tanaka, Carlos Beltran, Brian McCann and Jacoby Ellsbury. It is possible that the team will go shopping for free agents when the bigger contracts come off the books in the next few years. On the other hand, focusing on trades and relying on prospects could be the Yankees’ new philosophy.

SS: I think so, for at least the next few years. Since Hal doesn’t want to open up his wallet. for the immediate future, they’re going to rely on the farm system and trades, with Hal putting his faith in Brian Cashman to do a great job. I wish I had that same confidence in the Yankees’ GM that Hal does. But unlike Hal, I actually pay attention to the team!

IAMS: Like I said above, there will be a lot of money coming off the books, but they’re also still the Yankees. They always end up with big free agents eventually. Maybe they’ll just be a little smarter about the types of free agent contacts they give out in the future.

C70: What’s the strength of this team?

WILB: Cashman-brand Spackle. Whenever holes appear, fill ’em right in.

DGS: The obvious strength of the team is the bullpen. You have a team with two lefties and a righty that all throw the ball in the upper nineties. The strength is easily the bullpen.

IAMW: That is an easy one. The bullpen! First, Joe Girardi‘s greatest strength is not only building a bullpen, but using it wisely. Barring major injuries, this 2016 bullpen will be fun to watch. Dellin Betances, Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman…oh my.

LATB: The bullpen is still the biggest strength of the Yankees, especially with Chapman. They will make things easier for the team’s weakness, the starting rotation, whose pitchers will only need to go between five and six innings before Dellin Betances takes over, followed by Andrew Miller and then Chapman.

YU: By far it is the bullpen. Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller were dominant last season, and adding Chapman makes it an incredible crew. There won’t be many games in which the Yankees have a lead after the sixth inning in which they lose.

PA: Once Chapman returns from his suspension, it will be the bullpen. Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances were downright filthy last season, and they can be used even more effectively with Chapman locked into the closer role. The Yankees also have a ton of Triple-A guys to pick from to fill out the rest of the bullpen and should be able to find some talent there.

SS: The bullpen, which is the best in baseball, and has the potential to be a historically great bullpen. If somebody told me three years ago that the bullpen would be even stronger after Mariano Rivera retired, I would never have believed it. But it’s true.

IAMS: The bullpen. Definitely. And everyone talks about how old the team is, but they have a nice mix of veterans and young guys, and I think having guys like Alex Rodriguez and Carlos Beltran mentor the younger players will be a big help both for Joe Girardi and for the team itself.

C70: What player do you expect to make the greatest strides this year?

WILB: It would be really great to see Didi Gregorious take the best parts of last season and build from there. Since some of that seemed to be mental and emotional maturity, one can hope. Then again, we’ve been saying that about A-Rod since he was Didi’s age…though maybe this time A-Rod’s transformation into fully functioning adult is actually complete. I never thought I’d say this: he was my favorite player last year.

DGS: The players that I see making the greatest strides are Luis Severino and Didi Gregorius. Both of these players are coming off of decent 2015 seasons. Severino ever since being called up was electric. With experience under his belt he should be looking to have a breakout season. Gregorius has a year in NY under his belt and should be a consistent all around player in NY this season.

IAMW: I am going to go on a limb and select Michael Pineda. I love his low walk rate and his pitches. He just needs to be consistent now and improve with runners on base. At only 26 years of age, he can still be an ace. I would also think that Didi Gregorius will continue his upward arc.

LATB: A former first round draft pick by the Twins, Aaron Hicks didn’t begin to show why he was drafted so high until the ’15 season. Since he will get lots of playing time in ’16, I believe he will continue to improve as both an outfielder and a hitter.

YU: Starlin Castro seems to be the perfect change of scenery player. He’s a three-time All-Star, is just 26, and showed great poise in handling his transition to second base for the Cubs last season. I believe he’ll ease into the role at second and his bat will come back to life in the American League.

PA: Nathan Eovaldi. There were times last season when he pitched better than anyone else in the rotation. He showed quite a bit of improvement during the second half before he landed on the disabled list, so I’m hoping he can pick up where he left off in 2016.

SS: Luis Severino. He is the most exciting young player they have, IMHO, and I am excited to see him get a chance in the starting rotation this year.

IAMS: I think Starlin Castro may surprise some people. The change of scenery and uniform could help him a lot. I also think Michael Pineda may finally have the season we’ve all been expecting for the last couple of years. (Fingers crossed, knock on wood, etc.)

C70: What’s your projection of the team’s record and where will they finish in the division?

WILB: I doubt I’ve ever made an accurate prediction of this kind, and if I did, I didn’t remember it. I’m going to say 97 wins and there are too many question marks within the division to say.

DGS: The Yankees have potential to win the AL East this year. With three of the top relievers in baseball, the potential is there. I see them finishing in second and playing in the Wild Card game once again in 2016. It really comes down to who will be and stay healthy. The record I give them is 85-77.

IAMW: I am always an optimist and will say first place. I will go with 91-71. Much will depend on what kind of starting pitching the team gets.

LATB: If everyone stays healthy, the Yankees have a good chance to win 90 games and to lock down the AL East. However, if the team becomes a M*A*S*H unit, as so many are expecting it to, their win total could be under 80, with no playoff berth.

YU: I think the Yankees will go 88-74 and win the American League East. Once again, I believe the division race will be won by the team that stays the healthiest. Each club has their weaknesses and I fully each team to beat up on each other thus lowering the number of wins necessary to win the division.

PA: I think 86-76 is fair, and I could see the Yankees sneaking back into the playoffs again this year. I don’t think that this team is any worse than last year’s, but a lot of their success is dependent on players staying healthy. All of the teams in the AL East seem pretty evenly balanced, but it might come down to a battle with the Red Sox for second or third place in the division.

SS: Third place, with 87 wins. Mediocrity personified. I also wonder how many empty seats there will be. The front office really insulted Yankee fans with this mobile ticket debacle, and many fans may choose to stay home instead.

IAMS: I see them winning 85-87 games, if all goes well. That means, if guys stay healthy, and if they can score runs like they did last season.

C70: Which team in the division do you most enjoy beating and how do you think you’ll fare against them in 2016?

WILB: I should call my dad and ask. He completely nailed it on the Blue Jays being the biggest pain in the butt last year. It’s about time the Jays got good again, though. They’ll be fun to play. And when Jose Bautista comes to Yankee Stadium people will ride him mercilessly. Can’t wait.

DGS: Obviously the Boston Red Sox. They will be tough but the Yankees should win the season series this year.

IAMW: They all annoy me! Heh! But the Blue Jays really seemed to be an arrogant bunch last year and beating them regularly would be sweet. I would settle for a .500 record against the division and make the difference against other divisions and interleague play.

LATB: The Toronto Blue Jays. Their fans are the worst (except for the ones I follow on social media). The Yankees are an improved team, so they will definitely do better against them than they did last season.

YU: It’s always when the Yanks beat the Red Sox, but I think this season, I would get more pleasure out seeing the Yankees beat the Blue Jays. The Blue Jays really took it to the Yankees last season, overrunning New York down the stretch. Many will expect the Blue Jays to win the AL East (and it is surely possible) so it’s about taking down the current champ, and that’s Toronto.

PA: It definitely depends on how the teams in the AL East are performing. It is always fun to beat the Red Sox, but last year the Yankees really struggled to beat the Blue Jays (6-13), so those wins were the most enjoyable. I think the Blue Jays and Yankees are more evenly matched this season, so their head-to-head record should be more balanced.

SS: The Boston Red Sox, of course. But the Sox have reloaded and gotten a great new GM with Dave Dombrowski. So I think they will be tougher to beat this year.

IAMS: I enjoy when the Yankees beat Toronto because that team and fan base are way too lippy for a franchise who’s only made it to the playoffs once since I was in college. And obviously beating the Red Sox is always fun. I think Toronto will beat up on the Division again (Yankees included), and barring any catastrophic injuries to key players, the Blue Jays will win the AL East again.

I appreciate all of these fine Yankee bloggers with the scoops on the legendary team from the Big Apple.  It’s hard to imagine a season where the Yanks aren’t competitive and they should be in the thick of it again this year!

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