New York Yankees

The New York Yankees have their fair share of question marks as they get set for the 2016 season, resulting in many “experts” projecting them to finish below their AL East foes.

By Christian Kouroupakis

What’s there not to like about the 2016 New York Yankees?

Okay, yeah, injuries, but with the exception of Jacoby Ellsbury getting hit by a fastball in the wrist yesterday, the team has been nothing but healthy and promising this spring. The X-rays were also negative, and the Yankee center fielder could be back Thursday, so there’s no concern.

Injuries are going to remain a constant on this team (just like every team in baseball), but let’s put them aside and dive into how good the Bronx Bombers could be this season.

To everyone’s surprise, New York did not ink a free agent to a major league contract for the first time since free agency began in 1976. General manager Brian Cashman instead traded for their three biggest acquisitions: Starlin Castro, Aaron Hicks and Aroldis Chapman, who will help create a threatening 7-8-9 trio with Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances.

Castro not only gives the Yankees’ a reliable starting second baseman, something Stephen Drew was not, but he gives the lineup some flexibility, another thing Drew couldn’t do.

The flexibility is that he could really hit anywhere in the order, and even play shortstop if Didi Gregorius gets hurt or just needs an off day. Speaking of Didi, he and Castro seem like they could be the most athletic double play combination in the game.

After switching over to second base from shortstop, Castro hit .365 in the final month of last season and looked like the player who would help lead the Chicago Cubs into the future. Without a doubt the Yankees will look for Castro to lead his new team not only in 2016, but in the years to follow.

With Ellsbury and Brett Gardner being the number one and two hitters in the lineup, Castro won’t have the same high expectations that were put on him in Chicago, and will likely bat in the bottom part of the order. He’ll see better pitches and can simply focus on continuing his resurgence as a solid hitting second baseman.

Hicks was brought in to fill in for whoever needs a rest day during the season. His potential is much higher than Chris Young, the Yankees’ fourth outfielder in 2015. Hicks has blazing speed, a cannon for an arm, and is a switch hitter that doesn’t have to only play against lefties like Young did.

Hicks was acquired in an offseason trade for backup catcher John Ryan Murphy, and is coming off his best season in the majors, hitting 11 home runs in only 97 games for the Twins a season ago

When you look at what Hicks brings to the table, the best attribute is his ability to keep the outfielders fresh. Ellsbury, who is struggling to remain healthy in New York, will come out of his shell in his third season in New York because of Hicks.

Throughout his career (as a Yankee too) New York’s $153 million investment has proven he can hit for contact, power and is known for his great speed. Next up is to prove he can remain off the disabled list.

Prior to his DL stint in 2015, Ellsbury had the highest batting average in the American League (.324) and has proved he’s the most consistent Yankee hitter when healthy.

RELATED: The Yankees Cannot Afford Another Ellsbury/Gardner Collapse

The rotation is a question mark for all, but Masahiro Tanaka looks better than ever, Nathan Eovaldi is tearing it up this spring, Luis Severino is answering the hype, and Michael Pineda has appeared to return to his rookie form.

The exciting part is, they get a full year of Severino and a CC Sabathia that could only improve

Then, there’s the bullpen.

The strikeout leaders in 2015 for relievers looked something like this:

  1. Betances: 131
  2. Chapman: 116
  3. Miller: 100

Yup, the Yankees have all three.

Regardless of the suspension, Chapman, Betances and Miller are expected to dominate the late innings in 2016, which should have Yankee fans pumped up. The trio combined for a 1.70 ERA with 347 strikeouts in 212 2/3 innings in 2015.

No team in Major League history has had three relief pitchers with 100 strikeouts in the same season, and there’s a legit chance these Yankees could reach that mark since this trio has posted 100 Ks apiece in each of the past two years.

Hypothetically speaking, Girardi could shorten about 40% of ballgames by one-third. Miller could be used to get out of a jam or just relief in the sixth inning, Betances could pitch two innings (we’ve seen it done time and time again) and Chapman will show off his fastball in the ninth.

Of course, that can’t be the case every day. Betances was used a ton in 2015 and ran out of gas as the season entered the dog days and September. The key is getting through April, May, June, etc. without tiring arms before you start racking up innings on your monster pen.

In a playoff series, however, I can see Girardi go to the pen with a lead in the FOURTH inning and there’d be a good chance the game would end with a Yankees win. We’ve witnessed the San Francisco Giants and Kansas City Royals fuel World Championship teams with a lights out bullpen, and that’s exactly what the Yankees have done.

If any other team made moves like the Yankees did this offseason, they’d be World Series favorites. So why do these so called “experts” telling us the 2016 Bombers will finish in the middle or behind the pack this season?

Age. Ah there it is.

If there’s one thing the 2015 Yankees proved, it’s that age is a non-issue. Just take a look at the resurrected careers by players that “experts” told us were as good as done.

Many questioned Alex Rodriguez’s ability to produce after a year off baseball, and being 39-years of age. A-Rod proved his age was not a problem by producing a .250 batting average, .356 on-base percentage, and .486 slugging percentage and leading the team in home runs (33)

All of us though that Mark Teixeira had nothing left, and that injuries had taken whatever production he has left out of the equation. Teixeira proved he still has plenty left in the tank by putting up MVP type numbers.

The first baseman slashed .255/.357/.548 with 31 home runs in 2015, and if it weren’t for his leg injury late in the year (a freak injury), those numbers would have been even more phenomenal.

Carlos Beltran was shaping up to be one of the poorer investments of Brian Cashman’s career, but last season he was the best hitter in the Yankee lineup with a slash-line of .276/.337/471 with 19 home runs. Given regular days off, he was able to avoid the disabled list and remain healthy even at 38-years old.

All in all, the Yankee offense that was “too old” scored the second most runs in baseball and have taken the necessary steps to make sure their 2015 downfall doesn’t occur again.

Projection “experts” such as Fan Graphs shows the Yankees at 83-79 (they were 87-75 in 2015) and in as the second American League Wild Card team. They’d square off with the Toronto Blue Jays in the one game playoff at the Rogers Centre.

Some other predictions has New York out of the postseason, and the majority of them have the Boston Red Sox winning not only the division, but the American League Pennant.

Yeah the Red Sox added David Price, but what about the rest of the rotation, their bullpen, and they even have aging veterans (David Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia).

The Blue Jays have a juggernaut offense but pay very close attention to Jose Bautista’s age and the new contract dispute. Also, besides Marcus Stroman their starting pitching looks quite awful and the new addition of Drew Storen doesn’t compare to the Yankees with the addition of Chapman.

So dear Fan Graphs and other who say the Yankees have too much injury concerns, or age problems to win the division: stop focusing on comparing their problems to the rest of the division’s problems.

Instead, look at what they did a year ago, and realize the 2016 New York Yankees are even more prepared when/if injuries or age concerns pop up.

NEXT: Aging Veterans Make Bench Imperative