Playing Pepper 2017: New York Yankees

Back in 2009, I had the idea of doing a season preview of each team by asking bloggers that followed that club questions and posting the answers.  We’re back for the ninth edition of Playing Pepper!  We’ll cover one team a day from now right up until Opening Day (not counting weekends).  This series is brought to you by our new United Cardinal Bloggers podcasts site, where you can find all the info and new episodes you need to enhance your Cardinal fandom.  Now, let’s play some pepper!

New York Yankees
84-78, fourth in AL East
Last year’s Pepper

Talk about a tough crowd.  Usually when you finish six games over .500, you are going to wind up a little bit better than next-to-last in the division.  However, both wild cards came out of the same division and so the Yankees, who actually sold off some pieces at the trade deadline, missed out by a handful of games.

The Yankees have to be encouraged by how the season finished up, though, and we’ve got a handful of Bronx Bomber Bloggers to take us through the ins and outs of the club.  Settle in and enjoy! (A note, the answers from Bleeding Yankee Blue came from the entire staff, so the author’s name is at the end.)

C70: Was it a good offseason for the team? Did they do what they needed to do? Is there any move you wished they had made that they didn’t?

PP: The offseason was mediocre. Nothing special, but nothing awful either. I liked the Matt Holliday signing. I think he’s got something left in the tank and stands to benefit from not playing the field now that he’s transitioning to designated hitter. I’m not a huge fan of the Brian McCann trade. While I understand the rationale behind trading him (Gary Sanchez being ready), I had thought they’d get more especially after kicking in some cash. I guess I’m not as bullish on the headliner prospect they received, Albert Abreu. Though he has great stuff, it sounds like he may wind up in the bullpen given his control issues. I didn’t like the Chapman signing at all. The obvious reason is because of his domestic violence allegations, but I also don’t understand the on-field aspect to this move. The Yankees aren’t ready to be serious contenders in 2017 (and perhaps 2018), quite possibly Chapman’s last two prime years.

I would have liked them to add another starting pitcher for the back-end of the rotation and one more left-handed bat with some power to add some lineup balance. The rotation is full of question marks after Masahiro Tanaka and the lineup’s run-producers are predominantly right-handed hitters. They don’t have the traditional lefty slugger that thrives in Yankee Stadium, though it seems that they’re counting on Greg Bird to recover from shoulder surgery and be that guy.

BYB: It was a good off season from what I can tell. We picked up a potential bat in Matt Holliday, we signed the fast-pitching Aroldis Chapman and I am hopeful that the Baby Bombers will elevate our level of competition and endurance particularly in the later summer months. I would have liked another starting pitcher but not at the expense of our farm. We need to tend our farm and let it pay off big dividends in years to come. I wish that Dellin Betances was strong enough to take on the closing role. But today’s closer is too valuable to leave in the hands of someone who is simply not ready and may not ever be ready. I wished we didn’t have to sign Chapman and could have gone for a strong starter, but I know we had to do what we needed to do. (Suzie Pinstripe)

YGY: Offseason was marked by the addition of Matt Holiday, but generally, GM Brian Cashman maintained a “let’s see that we have in Spring Training mode”, which for most fans is judged as wise.

LATB: In terms of their general plan to groom their prospects to play, as Yankees, on the Major League level (something unheard of in recent years), the team did have a good off-season. However, I don’t think they did enough to replace the left-handed power they lost when they failed to re-sign OF Carlos Beltran and traded away C Brian McCann. Based on what he has done in spring training so far, 1B Greg Bird appears to have completely recovered from the shoulder injury that kept him out for all of 2016,so he could replace some of that power. Also, though RF Aaron Judge is a right-handed hitter, he is strong enough to hit the ball out in right field. It remains to be seen, though, if Judge will make the Opening Day roster.

The Yankees have two open rotation spots this spring, another thing unheard of in recent years. I was hoping that they would have, at least, signed one pitcher during the off-season, since the guys holding down the first three spots (Tanaka: health, Pineda: ineffectiveness, and Sabathia: age and ineffectiveness) are so questionable. There are five guys vying for those two open spots, including Luis Severino, who failed miserably as a starter in 2016 after bursting upon the scene in the second half of 2015. So far the competition has gone well, but I’m worried about what might happen once the season starts.

SNY: The Yankees had a good offseason because they did exactly what they felt they needed to do. They traded Brian McCann in order to shed some more payroll after the summer purge, knowing he would merely be a backup to Gary Sanchez. They wanted another veteran presence and needed a DH, so they signed Matt Holliday to a one-year deal. Finally, they coveted Aroldis Chapman because he exhibits a “star quality” and desired a closer despite already having Dellin Betances. The area I thought they might invest in a front line starting pitcher via trade. They had feelers out, but the caveat that the player was controllable for at least a few seasons limited options. For a time the Yankees were interested in Jose Quintana, and that seemed to be the right fit. They might circle back to Quintana if the price comes down.

PA: It was an okay offseason. There weren’t as many big trades as the Yankees have made in past years, but it was a good decision to move Brian McCann. The Yankees really wanted Aroldis Chapman back, and they got their guy. Whether that contract will work out for them remains to be seen, but adding Chapman obviously strengthened the bullpen for the time being. I think it was smart to bring in Matt Holliday and Chris Carter. I do wish that the Yankees could have found a way to improve the rotation, but there really weren’t many options out there. 

BPB: I thought it was a perfectly acceptable offseason. No matter what the front office says, they’re not really trying to contend this year. It’s all about the future. I didn’t like the re-signing Chapman but that’s all I’ll say about that particular subject. My feelings about him seem to get me into trouble.

SS: The Yankees are out of the blockbuster move business for the next few years. Given that, I was fine with their winter. Trading Brian McCann made sense, given the rise of Gary Sanchez. Nobody will miss Nathan Eovaldi. Giving Matt Holliday a one-year deal made sense, even though I don’t think he’s worth $13 million at this point.

My personal favorite player move was them signing Jon Niese because I would like nothing more than for him to do well and stick it to my Met fan blogging partner. (It’s good for our blog. So sue me!)

The thing I am also interested in seeing is how the Yankee Stadium renovations and enhancements are going to be. The one good thing about the team being in decline in recent years is that the lack of attendance and interest has forced the franchise to be a little more fan-friendly than they have been.

If they can’t compete with the Mets as far as what they put on the field, the least they can do is make the fan experience better. I have said since the two new ballparks opened that Citi Field was a better ballpark and had great food and drinks. I am looking forward to see what the Yankees implement next year to compete with that.

C70: What’s the one thing that has to go right for the Yankees to contend in (or win) the AL East?

PP: To be honest, I don’t think any one thing would put them ahead of Boston. They’re too far behind them at this point. If I had to choose one, perhaps a second starting pitcher to step up and perform similar to Tanaka. They’ve long hoped that Michael Pineda would be that guy, but it doesn’t seem like that’s going to happen.

BYB: In order for the Yankees to contend in the AL East they will need to overachieve. There will be new rookies on the team that will need be productive and contribute in addition to the veterans. The pitching and hitting both need to come together and do more than what everyone expects. A lot of people have written the Yankees off, but there is a lot of potential on the team and if they play good fundamental baseball, I think they will surprise a lot of the doubters. (Jeana Bellezza)

YGY: Their starting pitching has to be better. Sabathia is another year older and Michael Pineda needs to step it up. Tanaka is Tanaka, so barring injuries, he should compete for the Cy Young again. There’s a wealth of talent in the minors that could easily be promoted if any of the five fail. On the offense side, the Yankees need to improve on their situational hitting in order to score more runs. Gary Sanchez, Greg Bird, and Aaron Judge figure to help with that.

LATB: It’s safe to say that the Yankees will not win the AL East, but they can contend if their starting pitching goes right. That is the biggest question mark with this team. Tanaka must stay healthy. Pineda must become the pitcher he was as a rookie with the Mariners. Sabathia must expand on what he learned last season: how to be a finesse pitcher. Severino must perfect and continue to use his change-up. If most of these things happen, the Yankees have a chance. If they don’t, it will be a long season in the Bronx.

SNY: One thing? Haha! The Yankees need a few things to go right, but in my opinion, the main aspect pertains to the youth movement. Each of the Yankees highly touted young players — Greg Bird, Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez and Luis Severino has to meet or exceed their perceived upsides. Without that type of production, it will be tough for the Yankees to contend for the division title.

PA: The bullpen has a handful of great relievers and the lineup has arguably improved. However, the rotation is filled with question marks. Aside from Masahiro Tanaka, it seems unwise to expect a great deal from Michael Pineda or CC Sabathia. The final two spots are expected to be filled by some combination of Luis Severino, Adam Warren, Bryan Mitchell, Chad Green, and Luis Cessa. The rotation really needs to come together and exceed expectations for the Yankees to have any chance of making the playoffs.

BPB: Nearly every other team in the division has to bomb in order for the Yankees to win the AL East. I can see them doing what they did last season: not get officially eliminated until real late in the season even though you know deep down they don’t really have a chance of making the playoffs.

SS: I think it’s more than one thing. It’s everything. They will need not just every rookie they are starting to compete, but they’ll need Masahiro Tanaka and CC Sabathia to pitch like aces, and Michael Pineda to finally put it together. The bullpen is the one thing without question marks.

C70: CC Sabathia was a bit better last year. What’s the thinking on how his season will go?

PP: I’m not sure what to make of CC Sabathia in 2017. Obviously, I was pleasantly surprised to see his success last year, but I have a hard time expecting him to repeat such a performance as a 36 year-old with a lot of mileage on his arm. Hopefully a league-averagish performance isn’t out of the question for him.

BYB: Sabathia is out to prove that he still has something in the tank and last season he was able to find it. I think this season he can probably get us 13 wins. Remember, he wants to keep pitching so after this season he’ll be hoping to get picked up somewhere. Overall, the guys a gamer. I see good things. He is a true leader in that clubhouse. (Robert)

YGY: CC is a big man and his knees have taken a pounding over the years. He’s gritty, though, and he’s made and is still making adjustments in becoming a “pitcher”, not just a thrower. He’ll be fine, but he’s not able to lead the staff at this juncture in his career.

LATB: I think Sabathia can build on what he did last year. I believe he knows what he is at this point in his career, has accepted it and is ready to contribute in the only way he can at this point: as a back of the rotation veteran who can provide valuable advice to the Yankees’ up-and-coming arms.

SNY: The consensus of fans seems to ask whether he can do it again. I believe he can. The transformation last season came only because he bought into it. Sabathia has finally embraced the pitcher he had to become years ago. Gone are the days in which Sabathia will take a team on his back and carry them, but at this stage in his career, that type of production is not necessary. Sabathia simply needs to log innings and keep the team in the games he starts, just as he managed to do last season.

PA: I’m choosing to remain optimistic on this one (despite what I just said about it being unwise to expect too much from him). I think that after a few years of struggling, CC Sabathia has finally figured out how to get by with decreased velocity. He also seems to have found the right knee brace to help him get through the season with a degenerative knee condition. I’m hopeful that he will finish his last season with the Yankees on a high note. 

BPB: It would be nice if he could have a season that’s similar to last season. The days of CC Sabathia the ace are long gone but the days of CC Sabathia crafty lefty are upon us and I’m here for it. 

SS: Hard to say. It all depends on him being healthy. I don’t think he’ll go out in his last year (or at least his last year as a Yankee) with a 20-win season the way Mike Mussina did, but you never know.

C70: Is there an unheralded player that people should keep an eye on this season?

PP: I don’t know if it’s fair to call Aaron Judge unheralded because of his historical prospect status, but he’s caught a lot of flack for his propensity to strike out during his debut last year. Reports have indicated that he’s been working on his swing this offseason to improve contact, which is unsurprising. But what I think is also important to note is that Judge has had a history of needing some time to adjust at each minor league level. For instance, in his first trip through Triple-A in 2015, he hit .224/.308/.373 with a 28.5% strikeout rate. His second stint at the level in 2016: .270/.366/.489 and a 23.9% strikeout rate. He’s always going to strike out at a high clip, but I don’t think it’s fair to doubt him just yet. Not after only 95 plate appearances in the big leagues.

BYB: As pretty much everyone knows, the Yankees are in transition and they have many unheralded players coming into the season. An argument could be made for many including Aaron Judge, Tyler Austin or Greg Bird in his return from injury to name a few. For me though, one guy who is lesser known that I will be following closely is LHP Jordan Montgomery. In just his third professional season, and second full season, Montgomery made the jump to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes Barre in 2016 where, between Double-A Trenton and Scranton, Montgomery compiled a 14-5 record with a 2.13 ERA, 134 strikeouts and just 45 walks while allowing 122 hits over 139.1 innings. In six starts at Triple-A, Montgomery held opponents to a 0.97 ERA, posted a 5-1 record and averaged over six innings per start.

Montgomery may not have the highest ceiling of any Yankees pitching prospect, but I expect the former fourth rounder to be a contributor in the Bronx in some way in 2017. He’s a strike throwing southpaw who has proven his worth at every level and whether he earns a roster spot out of spring training (which I’m routing for) or makes his debut mid-summer, Montgomery is someone I’ll be keeping tabs on this season. (Dan Lucia)

YGY: Absolutely. Didi Gregorius had a breakout season in 2016 and he has all the makings of a player who is just getting started. He has surprising power (20 HR’s last year) and his defense reminds of Derek Jeter – steady, not flashy – he just makes all the routine plays with no lapses in the field.

LATB: Billy McKinney is probably that guy for the Yankees. McKinney, a 22 year-old outfielder, was a throw-in in the Aroldis Chapman deal, which brought the Yankees Top-5 MLB prospect Gleyber Torres. Plagued by injuries over the past couple of years, no one gave much thought to McKinney when he arrived last year, but he has opened many eyes during spring training. He has not played higher than AA, but if he continues to impress, he could receive a September call-up in 2017.

SNY: I’ll go to the minor leagues for my pick — Dustin Fowler. He torched Double-A pitching in 2016 (57 extra-base hits in 574 plate appearances) and he’s had an impressive spring with the big league club as of my submission to Playing Pepper. Fowler should start the season at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, but it’s easy to believe he will continue to play above his level. I’ll suggest by midseason, Fowler will be viewed as the first person to be called up if either Brett Gardner or Jacoby Ellsbury go down with an injury.

PA: This is a tough one. Luis Cessa surrendered a ton of home runs during his brief stint in the majors last year, but he has potential if he can get that in check. The Yankees seem to like his repertoire so it will be interesting to see if he earns a spot in the rotation. 

BPB: I’m not sure if he’s unheralded but I expect Matt Holliday to be better than people think he’s going to be this season. I really like him as the righty DH. I thought that was a nice move by the front office.

SS: I’d like to see Tyler Austin get another chance when he’s healthy again. (I’m Facebook friends with his mom!)

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

PP: 81 wins, 3rd place. No Wild Card.

BYB: 90 wins 72 losses and we will finish second behind the Red Sox. I think we will get to the Wild Card and depending on our longevity and injuries, could make it to the ALDS. Remaining hopeful. (Suzie)

YGY: The Yankees are the wild card in the AL East. Their young talent can take them a long way. Boston is the obvious favorite, but the Yankees can give them fits. The rest of the division is overrated. The Yanks can win 85-87 games and have an outside chance for a Wild Card spot.

LATB: If all goes well (meaning, if the pitching steps up, the kids play well and everyone stays healthy), the Yankees can contend for a Wild Card. However, things do go wrong, so I don’t see them finishing higher than the middle of the pack in the division. This is a transition year for the Yankees. Things should really get moving in 2018.

SNY: The Yankees have recently outperformed their preseason projections and I suspect 2017 will bring the same result. However, and admittedly, I’m forever the optimist. With that in mind, I believe the Yankees can reach 87 wins this season. That mark might be enough to sneak them into a wild card spot.

PA: The Yankees will probably finish the season right around where they were in 2016. I could see them ending the season in the middle of the pack in the division with an 82-80 record.  

BPB: I predicted 84-78 in 2014 and I was right on the nose so I’m going with that record again. They’ll probably finish third or fourth in the division. I don’t really see them fighting for a playoff spot. 

SS: I’m going to say 79-83 and that they finish in fourth place.

C70: Who is your all-time favorite Yankee and why?

PP: A-Rod! Underappreciated for how great of a player he was and his performance in the 2009 playoffs.

BYB: Without exception my favorite all-time Yankee is The Warrior, Paul O’Neill. He was the ‘rev’ of the Yankee engine that drove the Dynasty years in the Bronx. Paulie played the game like a US Marine takes a beach head. He was intense and focused every time he stepped between the lines in the pinstripes or road grey. O’Neill was one of a kind. (Mike O’Hara)

YGY: Hands down, Derek Jeter. Time after time he delivered in the clutch and his demeanor both on and off the field made him the perfect Yankee. And all those hits…..

LATB: My all-time favorite Yankee is Don Mattingly. He began his Major League career around the same time I really started to understand the game. Before that, I was more of a superficial fan. Mattingly is one the best hitters I have ever seen. He struck out so rarely, that it caught me off guard when it happened. It’s such a shame that his back betrayed him and he was never able to be a part of the Yankees late ’90s dynasty. I always root for his team, except when they play the Yankees!

SNY: I’ve been fortunate to be able to watch many great Yankees — Reggie, Winfield, Mattingly, Rivera and Jeter among them — but I would say Paul O’Neill was my favorite. I enjoyed watching O’Neill during his time with the club because I could relate to his determination to excel and his reactions to failure. For some, the tantrums became annoying, but for me it showed he was busting it each time he stepped on the field. O’Neill was never the best player on the team, but he expected to be and it was evident to fans how much he cared about his performance. That’s really all a fan can ask for.

PA: My most recent favorite has been Mark Teixeira, but my all-time favorite has to be Mariano Rivera. He was such a talented player, had a very likable personality, and it was fun to watch him pitch.

BPB: Don Mattingly is my all-time favorite Yankee because I grew up in the 1980s and he was the man. He was the guy who made a whole bunch of us rabid Yankee fans during a time when the team could never make the playoffs. He was the best.

SS: I will only call somebody an all-time favorite if I actually got to see them play. So Reggie Jackson would be at the top of the list. After him, Alex Rodriguez and Andy Pettitte. (And I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that Alex will be joining them in Monument Park one day.)

My appreciation to the ladies and gentlemen that let us know about the players in pinstripes.  And hey, take care of Matty for us, will ya?

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