Thoughts on the Yankees’ Roster Today
Yes, it is still early January, but if you squint hard, you will see a small light that is slowly growing. That light is the sunshine in Florida over George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, Florida. Pitchers and catchers report there five weeks from Wednesday, signaling the start to another season of Yankees baseball.
This has been a strange offseason. After two years of stalemates between owners and players, big ticket items decided to sign, culminating in one of the most exciting Winter Meetings in years.
Said Winter Meetings left the Yankees with possibly the biggest fish (or white whale, depending on who you ask) on the market: Gerrit Cole. His presence on the mound should be a massive stabilizing presence on the Yankees’ roster.
However, he is only one player on a roster of 26 players (ah, rule changes). As of today, here are my brief thoughts on the Yankees’ coaching staff going into next season.
Aside from Cole, the Yankees’ most important acquisitions have come on the coaching side of things. Matt Blake is replacing Larry Rothschild as the Yankees’ pitching coach. According to a report in the Athletic, the Yankees are making “significant” changes to their strength and conditioning and training staff rosters after setting a record for most injured players in a single season last year.
These changes are drastic, but not surprising. Under their current ownership group and General Manager Brian Cashman, the Yankees have tried to stay ahead of the curve in terms of analytics and development. Such has led to smart trades like their acquisition of Gleyber Torres from the Cubs, developing prospects like Aaron Judge and Luis Severino, and the continued developments of the careers of veterans like DJ LeMahieu, Zack Britton, and Bartolo Colon (remember, his renaissance started in the Bronx!).
Blake is young (age 33), but he was certainly well regarded in the industry for his abilities to work with pitchers. After all, he was a major factor in the development of pitchers like the Indian’s starting staff (Mike Clevinger, Shane Bieber, former Indian Trevor Bauer), which is currently ranked ninth in Fangraph’sdepth rankings. Rothschiled had a solid tenure as the Yankees’ pitching coach, but their rotation needed a new voice.
As for the change in strength and conditioning, well, look at all of their injuries. These moves to their coaching staff should go a long way towards success in October.
The Bomber’s lineup is similar to last year’s squad, with the major change coming in Didi Gregorius’ departure. His presence and leadership (and tweets) will be missed, but the Yankees have the talent to move forward.
The rest of the infield will still see contributions from Gleyber Torres, DJ LeMaheiu, and Luke Voit. Mike Ford deserves to get some playing time as a strong power hitter from the left side of the plate, something the Yankees’ lack. Third base is a bit of a question mark, as the Bombers have to choose between Gio Urshela and Miguel Andujar. Urshela was a nice story last year, but I am not sure that a career .225/.274/.315 hitter would suddenly become a .314/.355/.534 hitter seemingly overnight. Yes, he hit better in the minor leagues, but only .270/.306/.422. At the bare minimum, I feel like his slugging percentage will go down. That being said, Cashman saidthat the job is Urshela’s to lose, so Andujar will have to hit well to earn playing time with his less than stellar defense.
In the outfield, Aaron Hicks will spend most of the first half recovering from Tommy John surgery. Brett Gardner will take his place, while splitting time with Mike Tauchman and possibly Clint Frazier. Tauchman impressed me last season in limited playing time, and his versatility will give him at-bats over Frazier. As for Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton, the most important factor is for them to stay on the field.
Behind the plate, Gary Sanchez and his massive power will return, while Kyle Higashioka looks to be the heir apparent to the backup role with Austin Romine moving on to Detroit. Again, Sanchez needs to stay healthy to contribute and avoid long slumps like in 2018 (.697 OPS, 89 OPS+).
Overall, the Yankees have a strong core lineup, with depth in Frazier, Tauchman, Ford, Anduar, Thairo Estrada, Tyler Wade, and more. The main question about the Yankees is whether or not they can stay consistent and avoid strikeouts in big situations (they struck out 23 percent of their at-bats last season, the 11thlowest percentage in MLB).
I’ve written an article about the Yankees’ fifth spot already. Aside from that, the Yankees have an extremely high ceiling. Cole is coming off two Cy Young-caliber seasons in Houston and he has the resources to get even better in New York. Severino spent most of last year on the shelf, but if he can continue his development from his previous two seasons (3.18 ERA, 3.01 FIP, 137 ERA+), then he will be like a second ace. Masahiro Tanaka and James Paxton were both inconsistent last year with Tanaka struggling in the second half and Paxton shaping up well down the stretch. Both pitchers did show flashes of brilliance in October and have the potential to be under the radar all-stars next year.
As for the bullpen, well, not much to complain about. Aroldis Chapman had a fantastic year, Adam Ottavino was another solid acquisition, Chad Green rebounded after a horrid April, and Zack Britton and Tommy Kahnle returned to form. Ottavino and Britton did have rather high walk rates (5.4 and 4.7 per nine respectively), and I still think the Yankees could use another solid, experienced arm. That being said, this is mostly the same group that finished second in MLB last year in WAR amongst all relievers with Dellin Betances hurt for all but one appearance. Not to mention, there could be room to improve upon an ERA of 4.08 last year.
All in all, the Yankees are still World Series contenders. My biggest concerns with the Yankees actually come from the lineup, as they could use a left-handed impact bat. That could come from Tauchman or Ford, but some reinforcements could be helpful. Regardless, the Yankees have a lot to be hopeful fore come Spring Training next month.