Hope Springs Eternal: Why Yankees Fans Should be Optimistic as Spring Training Approaches
We’re less than a week away from the start of spring!
Okay, so everyone living in the northeast is experiencing a wide variety of seasons in the past week. No, I’m talking about the spiritual start to the season: MLB Spring Training. The time when the boys of summer start their quest towards a championship – or, for some teams, their journey to receive the first overall pick in next year’s draft.
Luckily, Yankees fans have no need to worry about their team tanking, as they come in with one of the best teams in baseball. They’re coming off a 100-win season and are projected to finish first in the American League East, according to PECOTA. Not to mention the Yankees made several key additions – including James Paxton and Adam Ottavino – to build upon last season’s success.
Yet, many fans are unsatisfied with the team. The Bombers finished second in the AL East and lost in the Divisional Series against the eventual World Series Champion Red Sox. Despite a myriad of moves in the offseason, General Manager Brian Cashman was unwilling to dish out $300 million to superstar free agents Bryce Harper and Manny Machado (yet). So, what position does this leave in the Yankees as Spring Training approaches?
Well, in my opinion, the Yankees are in pretty good shape. Here are three reasons why:
1. The Bullpen: The Yankees might have the best bullpen in all of baseball. Last season, the Bombers finished first amongst all bullpens in Strikeouts-per-nine-innings (11.4) and Wins-Above-Replacement (9.7), while finishing in the top five in Earned Run Average (3.38) and Fielding Independent Pitching (3.33). Now, the bullpen, led by Aroldis Chapman, a rejuvenated Dellin Betances, and Chad Green, might get even better. The Bombers will get a full season of a healthy Zack (with a K!) Britton after signing an extension, plus the addition of Ottavino (who posted a 12.98 K/9 rate and a 2.43 ERA in Coors Field last season). And that is without mentioning the improvement of Jonathan Holder and the possibility of a bounce-back season for Tommy Kahnle. The scariest aspect about this team is the fact that their bullpen could get better.
2. The Improved Lineup: It’s hard to imagine a lineup that set an MLB record in home runs last season improving. However, that is the likely case for the Bombers. Think about a lineup with a full season of Aaron Judge (who posted a .285/.392/.528 stat line with 28 home runs last year – in 112 games), a healthy, clear-minded Gary Sanchez (whose batting line dropped from .278/.345/.531 to .186/.291/.406 from 2017 to 2018), and a Giancarlo Stanton with an extra year in New York. Also, Gleyber Torres and Miguel Andujar are just finishing their “second chance” at a full season in the show. Their first crack was okay (second and third in Rookie of the Year voting), but there’s no sign that their sophomore season will be anywhere near a slump. In addition, Aaron Hicks is a switch-hitting on-base machine and who knows what a healthy Clint Frazier can do. First base remains a question, but the combined talents of Greg Bird and cult hero Luke Voigt should yield increased production at that position. This lineup has the potential to improve upon a record setting season with ease.
3. The manager: Aaron Boone faced a good deal of criticism across Yankees nation during his first managerial season after the Bombers could not get past Boston. Many cited his lack of experience coaching and training the team as his, supposed, downfall last year. However, if his rookie season at the helm ends with 100 wins, then there’s no telling where Boone could take the team in his second year. Now, with another year under his belt, Boone has a better awareness of the finite details that go into a Major League game. From when to call to the bullpen, to choosing off days for his starters, Boone has been put through the wringer of the MLB season and came out in-tact. Now, Boone and his staff are better equipped for the stretch run and for playing meaningful games in October. With championship aspirations in sight, Aaron Boone should be ready to lead the Yankees back to the promise land.
These are just three reasons why the Yankees should enter Spring Training with good tidings. Did I mention the fact that the Yankees have added Paxton and a full season of J.A. Happ to the rotation? Yes, the Bombers have not made a free agent explosion by signing Harper or Machado (again, yet). However, the Yankees were in a position where they could have done absolutely nothing and still put a winner on the field. Instead, they restocked the team with some great new talent to supplement their roster. The sour taste the Yankees ended last season on will soon be replaced by fresh sunflower seeds. The mere thought of the hitters taking batting practice and pitchers throwing bullpens already brings back the feeling of a warm breeze blowing through my hair. Yankees fans should see the bright light that is their team entering training camp just around the corner.