Playing Pepper 2019: New York Yankees

Every year since 2009, I’ve spent some time before the season starts trying to find out what fanbases are thinking about their team.  It’s so easy to get myopic, especially with Twitter, so it’s a good chance for us (and by us, I mean me) to take a step back and remember there are 29 other Major League Baseball teams.  We’ve got current bloggers, former bloggers that indulge me still, and this year a few media folks chiming in as well.  Get out the bat, ball, and glove: it’s time once again to play some pepper.

New York Yankees
100-62, second in AL East, lost in ALDS
Website | Twitter
Last year’s Pepper

As Cardinal fans have come to know over the last couple of years, it is tough to deal with being second fiddle to your biggest rival.  What has to be harder is winning 100 games and still coming in eight games behind said rival.  The Yankees have some work to do and, in a rare turnabout, are the underdogs while doing it.  We’ve got a good group of New York lifers to tell us all about what the team can do to catch up to those hated Red Sox.

Writer Site Twitter
Steve Contursi Reflections on Baseball SteveContursi
Caitlin Rogers Pinstripe Alley pinstripealley
Chris Carelli Chris_Carelli
Stacey Gotsulias Locked On Yankees StaceGots
Lisa Swan Subway Squawkers subwaysquawkers

C70: What are your thoughts on the offseason? What was good, what was bad, what else should they have done?

Steve: The Yankees had an outstanding offseason once again under the tutelage of Brian Cashman. He took the baseball world with a sneak attack to land James Paxton, following that up with an insurance policy signing of Troy Tulowitzki, the sought after reliever, Adam Ottavino, and finally DJ LeMahieu to round out the infield with a player who will excel both on the field and in the clubhouse.

Caitlin: The offseason was interesting, to say the least. There was reason to wonder whether the Yankees would go over the luxury tax threshold after staying under it last year. They ultimately signed a ton of players ranging from average to great to short term deals, but passed on the top free agents. As far as their good moves go, I’d say the James Paxton trade, plus the Zack Britton and Adam Ottavino signings. They decided to take leaps of faith in Troy Tulowitzki and Miguel Andujar, and hopefully that pays off for them. Overall, I think they improved comparative to last year. 

Chris: In all, the Yankees had a solid offseason. While the fervor over not signing Manny Machado or Bryce Harper has some merits, the club answered its biggest deficiency by moderately upgrading the rotation (James Paxton and a full season of J.A. Happ on the roster) and managed to keep the bullpen its main weapon (retaining Zack Britton and adding Adam Ottavino). Unfortunately, the Yankees might not have provided enough MLB depth to the rotation and is already feeling the effects of that with a spring injury to Luis Severino and CC Sabathia’s recuperation from knee surgery and an angioplasty procedure. The Yankees tend to rely on young arms instead of experience after the first five in the rotation and it might become an issue this season.

Stacey: I thought the offseason was fine. Would I have wanted them to sign Bryce Harper and/or Machado? Of course, but they didn’t so we have to be content with the team they have. I do wish they would have shored up the pitching rotation a bit more as it worries me a bit. But hey, they could still sign Dallas Keuchel

Lisa: There was no expected big splash to shake up the Yankees’ hot stove season, which was kind of a bummer. I thought that all of the cost-cutting of the last few years would mean that either Manny Machado or Bryce Harper would have been a Yankee, but neither happened. I know the Yanks didn’t really have room for him, but I would have liked to have seen the star quality Bryce Harper brings. Would have liked to have seen Machado as well. Yes, I’m a greedy Yankee fan – I have a reputation to live up to!

I remember Brian Cashman infamously telling Derek Jeter in 2010 during contentious contract negotiations that he’d rather have Troy Tulowitzki at shortstop. Now he’s got him, but Tulo isn’t the shortstop he once was. Will he stay healthy? I have my doubts. Speaking of injury-ridden players, I would have liked to have seen the rumored Jacoby Ellsbury for Robinson Cano trade go through, but alas, Cano is now a Met and Ellsbury will be riding the Yankee bench for the foreseeable future. Somewhere, Carl Pavano and Kei Igawa are cheering that they are no longer the worst Yankee free signings in history.

Trading for James Paxton was a good move, even if it came at a high prospect cost. But adding D.J. LeMahieu isn’t exactly going to put fannies in the seats, as George Steinbrenner used to say. Sonny Gray being gone is a net plus – he just didn’t fit in with the Yankees for whatever reason. Re-signing J.A. Happ was good, as well as Aaron Hicks, although I think seven years is way too long for a 29-year-old. Signing Adam Ottavino was a smart thing to do, as was re-signing Zack Britton. I would like to see the Yankees make a move on Dallas Keuchel. The fact he’s still available is a little shocking. C’mon, Hal, open up the wallet!

C70: The Yankee bullpen is shaping up to be a dominant force. Is that the strength of this team?

Steve: On paper, the bullpen is the strength of the Yankees. But starting pitching remains the propellant for how far this team will go in 2019.

Caitlin: The bullpen is absolutely the strength of this team. While I would have liked to see more improvement in the rotation, they really only need their starters to give them five innings. That’s how deep the bullpen is. 

Chris: I would say the bullpen remains the Yanks best overall asset, followed closely by a potent offense. The bullpen is more than just dominant, it is exceptionally deep, carrying at least four relievers (Aroldis Chapman, Dellin Betances, Zack Britton and Adam Ottavino) that might be able to close games elsewhere. The next two relievers, Chad Green and Jonathan Holder are top flight “middle relievers” that possess late-inning, high-leverage upside. What remains to be seen is how the bullpen will handle the stress caused by a rotation that does not provide a large number of innings.

Stacey: Yes. Just like last year.

Lisa: Yes! It’s funny that I always thought Mariano Rivera would be the hardest player to replace, but the overall bullpen now is even better than in his heyday. Now that David Robertson is gone, why not go after Craig Kimbrel? You can never have enough bullpen arms! 

C70: What was the verdict on Year 1 of the Giancarlo Stanton era?

Steve: I’ll take a mulligan. There’s something better on the way…

Caitlin: I’d give him a B+. He had some prolonged slumps, and didn’t quite live up to the expectations he set during his 2017 MVP year. He also played through a hamstring injury down the stretch because the Yankees desperately needed his bat in the lineup. I think he’ll be better this year now that he’s more familiar with AL pitchers. 

Chris: I mean, 38 home runs and 100 RBIs is some seriously solid production, so for me it is was just fine. Unfortunately for Stanton, it came after hitting 59 homers and driving in 132 runs in his 2017 MVP season and that’s what some unreasonably expected again. Stanton impressively played through a hamstring injury, appearing in 158 games, and he did carry the club during a strong surge from early June through late August. Stanton’s comfort level in NY and as a designated hitter was overblown (he seemed completely comfortable to me) and he excelled when hitting as a DH (.942 OPS in 380 plate appearances, with a considerable decrease in offensive production when playing the field).

Stacey: I think people were expecting him to hit 59 home runs again and because he didn’t do that, his 2018 isn’t viewed as a “successful” year which is absolutely ludicrous. Were there moments when I was frustrated with his approach at the plate? Sure but he really helped the team when Judge was out and while Sanchez was floundering at the plate all year.

Year 2 should be another good one for Stanton.

Lisa: It reminds me a little of the first year Alex Rodriguez was a Yankee. A-Rod was .286/.375/.512 and Stanton was .266/.343/.509. Both had over 30 homers and over 100 RBIs, each leading their team in those categories. But given the expectations, people were meh about those years, especially given the ignominious way both seasons ended. Rodriguez then rebounded to have an MVP season in 2005 and I’m hoping Stanton does the same.

C70: What is your general outlook for 2019? Where will they finish in the division?

Steve: The Yankees are poised to lock step and step with the Red Sox. Both teams can and should duplicate their 100+ win totals from last season. But be on the lookout for the Tampa Bay team as a spoiler. It’s a toss-up as far as who wins the Division.

Caitlin: It should be similar to last year, with the Yankees and Red Sox battling for the top spot all season. I’m not convinced that the Bombers will come out on top, but I think they will be more competitive and that the division winner will come down to the wire.  

Chris: This is a playoff club provided injuries do not pile up, which is a legitimate issue. I’ll say the Yanks finish with a 95-67 record that likely gives them a good chance to win the AL East title (I suspect the Red Sox will give back some wins this season as well) and minimally should afford New York the top AL Wild Card slot.

Stacey: It’s generally positive. I can’t say where they’ll finish definitively but it should be near the top of the AL East. (Haha.) 

Lisa: I think they’ll probably win close to 100 games again. Normally, that’s enough to win the division, but if Boston has another great year, the Yanks will be getting another Wild Card spot.

C70: What’s the biggest question for this team going into the season and what’s the answer to it?

Steve: Who is the real Gary Sanchez? The Yankees love him for reasons that befuddle me. But as a fan, let ‘er rip, Gary.

Caitlin: The biggest question that stands out to me is “Can the Yankees get by with this infield and were they right to pass on Manny Machado?” Only time will tell. 

Chris: I’ve alluded to it throughout the answers to the other questions. Health is the main issue. As I said, the Yankees are already battling two injuries in the rotation and center fielder Aaron Hicks has missed time this spring. Talk about poor irony, the Yankees brought in Troy Tulowitzki (66 games played in 2016 and zero played in 2017) of all people to replace Didi Gregorius, who is on the shelf recovering from Tommy John surgery. The rotation has two other pitchers (Paxton and Masahiro Tanaka) that have injury histories as well. The Yankees need a lot to go right in this department and the early returns are not encouraging. The answer could be a good deal of juggling minor leaguers and/or a midseason acquisition.

Stacey: The biggest question is: Will Gary Sanchez revert back to how he played when he first came up to the Yankees or is he more like the player he was in 2018? The answer is: If Sanchez stays healthy, he’ll be more like the player he was when he first came up and the rest of the league should watch out because the Yankees lineup is a lot scarier when Sanchez is bashing the ball.

Lisa: Will they be able to become top dog in the Yankee-Red Sox rivalry again? The fact Boston has four rings in fifteen years makes me sick to my stomach. Oy. 

C70: What do you expect will give you the most joy watching this team on a regular basis this season?

Steve: Listening in on the final games on YES for Ken Singleton, who is retiring following this season. A gentleman, scholar (on baseball), he will be missed in the booth.

Caitlin: I’m excited to see the offense mash. Last year was a bummer because so many key players were injured for long periods of time. If Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, and Stanton all stay healthy, this team should set another home run record.

Chris: This has to be the homers. It was quite an impressive feat for the club to break MLB’s single-season home run record for a club without Aaron Judge in the lineup daily and Gary Sanchez underperforming. The team has a chance to break that mark once again, but at the least the majestic home runs from Judge, Sanchez, Stanton and others will continue to mesmerize me.

Stacey: I expect all the home runs they hit to give me the most joy this season. Is there anything better than the crack of the bat when a home run is hit? I think not. So, if everyone’s relatively healthy, expect to see the 2019 Yankees surpass the 2018 squad’s home run total. 

Lisa: Winning is the most fun thing! But seeing Giancarlo Stanton be all he can be, along with watching Aaron Judge continue to blossom as a superstar, will be fun as well. 

Feels appropriate that the Bronx Bombers tag is back in full force.  We’ll see if they can mash their way to another October appearance!

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