The New Season: Looking Ahead
The New Season: Looking Ahead
By Tim Kabel
March 31, 2022
The Yankees open the 2022 season on April 7th at home against the Red Sox. That is exactly one week from today. It will be upon us before we know it. Heck, it already is upon us. The Yankees have six spring training games left before the season starts. That’s it. Due to the lockout, spring training has been shortened significantly. I suspect more moves will be made before the season starts but, they have not been made yet. We need to look at the team as it is presently constructed to speculate about how much success it will have in the upcoming season. Let’s take a look at the team, position by position.
A lot of people are expressing concern regarding the position of catcher. Considering that many fans wanted to run Gary Sanchez out of town on a rail for the past few years, it is somewhat puzzling to hear people lamenting his departure. There were many concerns regarding Sanchez’s defense and his overall catching ability. Gerrit Cole refused to pitch to him. It’s possible that other members of the staff might have felt the same way. Ben Rortvedt came over from the Twins in the trade for Sanchez. He has not yet played in a game this spring due to an oblique injury. However, they say he is getting closer and should be ready to join the team fairly soon. Most likely, he will split the catching duties in some proportion with Kyle Higashioka. It’s hard to say there will be a decline in the offense from Sanchez because, he was inconsistent, and his batting average had been horrid over the past few years. It is fair to say, however, that the defense will be greatly improved with Rortvedt and Higashioka behind the plate. Because Rortvedt has been injured, he has not been able to play, and consequently he has not been able to show Yankees’ fans what he is capable of as a hitter. I think the upgrade in defense at catcher will offset any lack of offense.
Anthony Rizzo will be the starting first baseman and he should prove to be a major defensive upgrade over Luke Voit. Offensively, it will be very interesting to see what he can do over a full season, and without suffering from COVID. Overall, the Yankees are improved with Anthony Rizzo at first base instead of Luke Voit.
Gleyber Torres will be the starting second baseman at this point. Although we have only had a very small sample size this spring, he does seem to be improved. If he can bounce back to his form from 2019, or anything close to it, he will be a major asset for the Yankees. He would lengthen the lineup and provide solid offense, hopefully with some power. There is reason to be optimistic about him with a week to go before the season starts.
Isaiah Kiner-Falefa is a very good defensive player at shortstop. It is not a stretch to say that he may be able to play Gold Glove caliber defense. After all, did win the Gold Glove at third base two years ago, and has demonstrated some slick fielding ability. Offensively, he seems to be better than advertised. Is he a superstar? No, he is not. Considering that last year’s shortstop was Gleyber Torres, who hit less than ten home runs and did not provide major offense as a shortstop, and was also not a very good fielder, Kiner-Falefa is an improvement.
Josh Donaldson is a former MVP. Despite the fact that he is 36 years old, he is still a solid player, who is capable of putting up very good offensive numbers. He is also a good fielder at third base. He is an improvement over Gio Urshela.
DJ LeMahieu Is projected to rotate through first base, second base, third base, and designated hitter. If he is recovered from his sports hernia, he can put up excellent offensive numbers. After all, he was the batting champion of the American League in 2020. He is also an excellent fielder, particularly at second base.
The outfield. is essentially the same as last year, with Joey Gallo, Aaron Judge, and Giancarlo Stanton playing a great deal of the time. The one change is replacing Brett Gardner with Aaron Hicks. That is like replacing lima beans with kale. Aaron Hicks has announced that he believes he can put up a season with 30 home runs and 30 stolen bases. That would be like the late Orson Welles declaring that he could be a jockey in the Kentucky Derby. Hicks has played a total of 740 Major League games. He has hit 92 career home runs. His projection over a 162-game season is 20 home runs. He hit 27 home runs four years ago. In his 740 games, he has stolen 55 bases. That is 55 bases over portions of nine seasons. Portions of seasons is what Hicks specializes in. The most stolen bases he ever had in a season was 13, with the Minnesota Twins, seven years ago. He has stolen a total of 29 bases in his Yankees career. He needs to steal one base just to have 30 for his career as a Yankee, which began in 2016. It’s great to be optimistic. Positive thinking is a wonderful thing. Delusions of grandeur are something else. I continue to have a strong feeling that the Yankees will acquire someone else to play centerfield. I see Hicks in more of a fourth outfielder role or potentially traded. The notion of him joining the 30/30 club is far-fetched, at best. The only things he will have more than 30 of are years of age and most likely, days on the IL.
Without going into great detail regarding the bench, I think it is safe to say that Marwin Gonzalez will make the team. He has shown tremendous offense during this very brief spring training, and he has the ability to play almost anywhere.
After Gerrit Cole, the starting rotation may not send tingles of anticipation up and down your spine but, there is the potential for them to be very good. If Luis Severino is able to pitch effectively and remain healthy, he could be a force to be reckoned with. Jameson Taillon seemed to come into his own last year and will be a year removed from his recovery from his injuries and surgeries. Jordan Montgomery pitched in very hard luck last year but, remains a solid pitcher. I know there are many people who doubt Nestor Cortes, Jr, and feel that he was just a nice story last year and not much more than that. I am not among that group. After all, he will pitch the entire season at age 27. It’s not as if he was 35 years old and finally put it together. He pitched well and was an important member of the staff last year. If the Yankees acquire another starter, and Cortes became a reliever who could make spot starts, that will strengthen the team. But until that happens, I believe he is a viable member of the starting rotation and will put up solid numbers. As I stated many times last year, he is the Yankees’ version of Underdog. He is taken for granted and does not necessarily strike fear in the hearts of the opposition. But before they know what happens, he wins the game.
The bullpen remains solid, with Aroldis Chapman, Chad Green, Clay Holmes, Jonathan Loaisiga, and the others. The Yankees have a deep minor league system and so far in spring training, Clarke Schmidt, Deivi Garcia, and Luis Gil have all pitched well, and could fill roles on the team.
I suspect there are more moves to be made. But unless and until they happen, the team as presently constructed should be very good. I had some questions headed into the season, and there were some players I doubted. I am feeling more confident about Gleyber Torres than I was at the conclusion of last season. I am still extremely skeptical regarding Aaron Hicks. When he says he will hit 30 home runs and steal 30 bases, I conjure up visions of the gentlemen in the Old West selling tonic that could cure anything, and everything known to man. Anyway, we have a week to go. Let’s see what happens in that week. There could still be some more moves. I remember in 1977, The Yankees acquired Bucky Dent on April 5th, at the beginning of the season. This year, due to the lockout, there was less time to make trades or sign free agents. The likelihood of someone significant joining the team in the next week is still fairly high. I’d say it is much more likely that the Yankees acquire a major player in the next week than it is that Aaron Hicks hits 30 home runs and steals 30 bases. As Orson Welles would have said, “riders up.”