Playing Pepper 2018: New York Yankees

In 2009, before my second full season of blogging the Cardinals, I reached out to other bloggers to other teams to get insights on their clubs.  This year, instead of going through the teams alphabetically, we’ll approach it a little differently, spending a week with each division.  For the tenth straight season, get ready for the upcoming MLB season by playing a little pepper.  

New York Yankees
91-71, second in AL East, lost in ALCS
Website | Twitter

Last year’s Pepper

Many of us remember the days when the Yankees were the team with the most swagger, the most success, the biggest irritant to other fans out there.  While New York hasn’t ever completely fallen off that perch, there’s no doubt this winter brought a lot of that back to the forefront.  Yankee fans are feeling swell and with good reason, as almost every one of them might wind up with a souvenir baseball this season if the power is as potent as it seems.  We’ve got a fine panel to talk about the Bronx Bombers today, who are going the Mike Matheny route with an untested, unproven manager at the helm.

Writer Site Twitter
Steve Contursi Reflections on Baseball SteveContursi
Bernadette Pasley Lady at the Bat LadyWriting
Stacey Gotsulias Baseball Prospectus Bronx StaceGots
Chris Carelli Chris_Carelli
Caitlin Rogers Pinstripe Alley pinstripealley

C70: What are your thoughts on the offseason? Did the club improve over the winter?

Steve: The Yankees could have stayed pat and still be in competition for the AL East and beyond. The addition, though, of CC Sabathia solidifies the starting rotation, no matter how old or young he is. The intangibles he brings with him in the clubhouse and mentoring cannot be measured. That having been said, the Yankees are missing an opportunity if they can’t figure out something with Todd Frazier who, like Sabathia adds an element to the tram the Baby Bombers still need. The quest for Gerrit Cole was valiant, but again not a “must have” in order for the team to prove competitive. All in all, I like the Yankees conservative approach this offseason.

Bernadette: The Yankees did improve over the winter, with the addition of Giancarlo Stanton. However, even if they had not traded for Stanton, they would still be in a position right now to go deep into the playoffs. They didn’t really need Stanton. He fell into their laps, so they would have been silly not to grab him. Lots of Yankee fans believe the team should have signed or traded for a starting pitcher during the off-season. Wasn’t necessary. They re-signed CC Sabathia and, if he and the other four starters (Masahiro Tanaka, Luis Severino, Sonny Gray, and Jordan Montgomery) pitch at least as well as they did in 2017, things will be just fine, especially with one of the best bullpens in all of baseball–if not the best. Worse case scenario, their stacked farm system will allow them to trade for a starter before the trade deadline.

Stacey: My thoughts are: Holy crap, the Yankees have Giancarlo Stanton! In all seriousness, how can a team not improve when they’ve added the National League MVP to the lineup? They may not have added another top-line starter to the rotation or traded for Manny Machado but I still think they’re still in good shape.  

Chris: The Yankees finished the 2017 season as one of the bigger surprises in the game because they received stellar performances from the young core ahead of schedule. By adding 2017 NL MVP Giancarlo Stanton, the Yankees boosted an already powerful lineup and did so without crippling their farm system. Re-signing CC Sabathia stabilizes the backend of the rotation and trades made to free up space in the infield (Starlin Castro in Stanton trade and Chase Headley to the Padres) will allow the Yankees to get a good look at some of their younger talent before making decisions for the 2019 offseason. I believe they have improved.

Caitlin: It would be tough to argue that the Yankees traded for Giancarlo Stanton and somehow didn’t improve. The Yankees added Stanton to an already good lineup, so the offense should be incredible. It was a pleasant surprise when Masahiro Tanaka decided not to opt out of his contract, and I was happy to see CC Sabathia come back for another year. It would have been nice to add another arm to the rotation, but this team is better than last year’s.

C70: OK, everyone is talking about it, so we’ll ask it–how many home runs will Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton combine for?

Steve: Stanton and Judge (barring extended injuries, of course) will hit 87 home runs between them. More significantly, though, they will score 210 runs between them, and draw 200 walks.

Bernadette: There will be lots of pressure on Judge to repeat what he did in 2017. It remains to be seen whether he can make the necessary adjustments in order to have a successful 2018. The league will have gone to school on him as well. He won’t come close to the 52 homers he hit last year, but should easily hit more than 30. Stanton, the more established player, simply needs to get used to the AL. If he is able to translate what he figured out in 2017 to the AL in 2018, he’ll be successful. Prediction: Stanton, 50 HRs; Judge, 35.

Stacey: I don’t think they’ll match last year’s totals but I can see them combining for maybe around 75-80 home runs. (Of course, I could be totally wrong and they’ll combine for 120.) 

Chris: I’ll stick on the “low-end” of the spectrum with 85 homers and that’s incredible. Expecting them to hit over 100 is a little much. Can they? Sure. However, putting that in ink for a second-year player and one with an injury history might be too much to ask. And again, 85 is a fantastic number.

Caitlin: 80.

C70: What’s one thing people may overlook (either positively or negatively) about this team?

Steve: No question about it, depth. Depth everywhere, even in starting pitching with Justus Sheffield ready to crack the rotation and Chance Adams soon to join the bullpen.

Bernadette: Gary Sanchez is probably the best overall hitter in the Yankees lineup. There has been a lot of attention, and rightfully so, on Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton. However, in only 122 games last year, Sanchez hit 33 HRs and drove in 90 runs. Even defensively Sanchez is a lot better than people believe. His only real problem there is passed balls–though, granted, it’s a glaring one. He arrived at camp looking lighter this year, and seems to have already developed a good relationship with new manager Aaron Boone. Don’t be surprised if Gary Sanchez has a better year than Stanton and/or Judge.

Stacey: It seems people have forgotten about Gary Sanchez and Greg Bird. Bird is understandable because of his health problems the past couple of seasons but with Sanchez, he’s simply being overlooked because of the attention being paid to Stanton and Judge. Don’t be surprised to see Sanchez right up there in home runs with the ‘Twin Towers’ or whatever their nickname will be this season. As for Bird, if he stays healthy, he can also be a big contributor to the team. He has a swing that’s perfect for Yankee Stadium—everyone saw it on display against Andrew Miller in the ALDS. The Yankee lineup is very deep with a healthy Greg Bird.

Chris: It’s hard to overlook anything with this organization because of its locale, but I’ll suggest it is the fact that the club is once again situated to be built around an excellent, young and inexpensive core. Some of the core is in place and some is on the way. This will allow the Yankees to spend accordingly in the free agent market without blowing past the luxury tax for years to come. They might go beyond the luxury tax next season, but I don’t believe they have to do so in order to be successful.

Caitlin: Some fans were disappointed with Sonny Gray’s performance after he joined the Yankees last year. Although he did have a handful of bad starts, he still has tremendous potential. I think he’ll exceed people’s expectations in his first full season with the team.

C70: Who is the one key player, the guy that must have a good year for the Yankees to do well?

Steve: Sonny Gray. When the Yankees traded for him, he was talked about around the league as the ace the Yankees would need to put them over the top. It didn’t work out that way. No harm no foul, but in 2018 it’s a must for Gray to stay healthy, contributing 180-200 innings and a minimum of 13-16 wins.

Bernadette: This is a tough question to answer because the Yankees are so stacked. I don’t think one player having a bad year would make that much of a difference. Two players, namely, two pitchers would. If two-fifths of the starting rotation falls on its face, there could be lots of problems. But the Yankees can easily pay the toll needed to cross that bridge if they come to it.

Stacey: Masahiro Tanaka. He sets the tone for the rotation and he needs to have a bounce-back year. The Yankees were able to work around his not-so-great 2017 but he cannot have a repeat of his 2017 in 2018. The Yankees have a great bullpen but it won’t be so great down the stretch if they have to be used all the time. 

Chris: Greg Bird. Bird is talented enough to be the best all-around batter on this team, but he needs to stay healthy and produce the type of season we’ve seen glimpses of in parts of two seasons. If he is performing to his capabilities he will perfectly split up Judge and Stanton in the middle of the batting order. Also, there isn’t anyone behind Bird on the depth chart that can provide the similar performance whereas there is significant depth at many of the other positions around the diamond.

Caitlin: Masahiro Tanaka. Of course, the team has several key players, but the rotation looks to be their biggest weakness, especially since we never know how CC Sabathia’s knee will hold up. Luis Severino is coming off of an amazing year, but will likely fall back to earth some. Sonny Gray and Jordan Montgomery currently round out the rest of the rotation. It’s true that Tanaka struggled out of the gates last year, but he was dominant in the postseason. If postseason Tanaka shows up, he could be the difference between the rotation being good or just okay. 

C70: What’s your projection for 2018? Where does the team wind up overall?

Steve: This is a risky business, but at this point, you have to go by what’s on paper. This means that the Yankees along with the Astros are the premier teams in the AL. Only one will make the World Series. It’s difficult to repeat. And for that reason alone, the Yankees make it to the World Series where they power forward over any National League team presented to them.

Bernadette: The Yankees won 91 games in 2017, and won the AL Wild Card. Assuming all goes well in 2018, they will win the AL East. After that it’s a crap shoot, but if I have to make a prediction, they will get close once again. They won’t quite make it to the World Series. (Don’t kill me, fellow Yankee fans!) They will win 95 games and win the ALDS.

Stacey: My crystal ball is a bit cloudy but I can see them repeating last year’s performance. Winning over 90 games and going far in the playoffs. I know others will say that if they don’t win a World Series, it will be a failure and that may be true but the nucleus of the team will still be there in 2019 with a chance to improve even more through free agency so if it doesn’t happen this year, it can happen in 2019. 

Chris: The Yankees are fully capable of winning the American League East. It will not be easy to overcome the Red Sox, but I would peg the Yankees for 94 wins and at least a postseason berth. The Yanks came within one win of reaching the World Series overcoming a host of issues in 2017, so there is no reason for me to believe they cannot get to the same spot this season and challenge the Astros once again.

Caitlin: I expect that the race for the division will come down to the wire between the Yankees and Red Sox. I’m not sure whether the Yankees will come out on top, but they should make it back to the postseason unless things go terribly wrong.

C70: What’s one question I should have asked and what’s the answer to it?

Steve: Which team has improved the most during the offseason and how far will it take them? Milwaukee Brewers. Yelich and Cain alone add an additional 200 runs scored for the team. And if they can add a second-tier free agent like Alex Cobb or Lance Lynn to the starting staff, the Cubs indeed could be looking over their shoulder in September.

Bernadette: Aaron Boone is the new Yankees manager. He has no managerial experience at any level. He doesn’t even have coaching experience at any level. The question to ask is: how will Boone do as manager? No one knows the answer to that. He was not my first choice for the job and, frankly, I thought his hire stank of Old Boy Network antics. He got the job simply because his name is Boone. However, if he fails, the Yankees fail. So, I will be rooting for Aaron Boone to successfully manage the 2018 New York Yankees.

Stacey: How do you think Aaron Boone will fare in his first year as Yankee manager? My answer is that I think he’ll be fine. Sure, there will be some hiccups along the way but he’s been around baseball his entire life, he knows the game inside and out and he has guys around him who can help when he needs to make major decisions. I will say that it will be very strange not seeing Joe Girardi in the dugout anymore. I still expect him to show up during Spring Training games.

Chris: How will Aaron Boone be as Yankees’ manager? Answer: Your guess is as good as mine. The Yankees wanted a better communicator between the front office and the players. Boone was their choice. Despite growing up in baseball, playing the game at the MLB level and working as an analyst, Boone’s experience as a skipper will amount to spring training games once the regular season begins. There is an undeniable learning curve ahead of him, especially where it concerns in-game strategy. While Boone can certainly succeed behind a solid roster, his day-to-day and in-game decisions could be the main factor to the club’s finish in 2018.

Caitlin: How will the Yankees fill the holes at second and third base? Now that Brandon Drury is on the team, it looks like he’ll start the season at third. Miguel Andujar is off to a really hot start in spring training though, and could make things interesting. The Yankees will likely start the season with Gleyber Torres in Triple-A to manipulate his service time, but we should see him in the big leagues for most of the year. 

I don’t want to say that baseball is necessarily better when the Yankees loom large but it definitely seems more right, more the way things should be.  My thanks to these pinstriped pundits and I hope they have good car insurance if they park close to the stadium!

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