Without making any moves, the New York Yankees have the potential to field a championship team, that is if all of the “if’s” on the roster fall into place.Have you ever sat back and wondered what would happen if every member of the New York Yankees‘ reached their full potential?
Like every team, these guys would be one scary looking group if that were the case, even without a single offseason move being made.
Yet, that’s not the case. Trades and signings need to be made to improve the group will be made, as this team is truly more than one move away to fix the mediocracy exposed in 2016. Or are they?
Please sit back and enjoy the components of this team that would turn the Yankees into world beaters, IF they were to work out.
10. If … Aaron Judge Figures Things Out
An Aaron Judge at his greatest potential could help the Yankees’ lineup become an inexhaustible one. The catch is, Judge still has some proving to do.
Along with striking out in exactly half of his at-bats, the monstrous slugger set the Yankees’ record for the most strikeouts (42) within a player’s first 27 games. But my goodness gracious when he made contact …
Judge’s average exit velocity on batted balls, according to Statcast, was 96.82 miles an hour. MLB’s average for 2016 was 89.57. The average distance his batted balls traveled was 249.67 feet while the average in baseball was 218.08. His average generated velocity was 8.00 m.p.h. The league average was 1.45.
Aaron Judge’s power can be confused with the power of “The Incredible Hulk,” but translating that into major league success is his contemporary hindrance.
Which is why this offseason is huge for him. Whatever transpires from now until he arrives in Tampa this spring will have a huge bearing on the Yankees’ 2017 season.
If he takes this failure in his first go around in the show like he did in Triple-A, where he struggled in 2015 but adjusted flawlessly in 2016, then nothing but a turnaround should be expected.
9. If … Jacoby Ellsbury Becomes Consistent
When Jacoby Ellsbury is consistent, the Yankees’ offense is an unstoppable force and the team is a winning machine.
From Opening Day to May 3, the centerfielder slashed a mere .247/.293/.366 with five stolen bases and an OPS of .659.
As Ellsbury stumbled out of the gate, the Yankees did as well, kicking their campaign off with an 8-16 record, good enough for last place in the AL East with already a narrow 12 percent chance to reach the postseason.
On May 4, Ellsbury commenced a surge in which he slashed .337/.407/.526 with an OPS of .934, 17 runs scored, and a .380 BAbip (batting average on balls in play) leading up to play on June 8 (28 games).
RELATED: Ellsbury Is The New York Yankees’ Biggest X-Factor
Thanks to the improvement of output, New York was able to go on a 17-11 run and overcame the .500 two games later to pull out of the gutter in the division. For those who might not know how good 17-11 is, that’s a 98-win proportion.
Following this brief hot streak, the 33-year old fell into a 43 game funk in which he went 38-for-164 (.232) while maintaining an OPS of .574. With that, New York was never truly able to heave themselves over the .500 plateau and sold at the trade deadline with a record of 52-52.
From Aug. 1 to Sept. 10, Ellsbury slashed .288/.351/.447 with nine doubles, four home runs, and 20 RBI in 34 games. With some help from rookie phenom, Gary Sanchez, the rebuilding Yankees went on a 23-11 stretch to pull within one game of a postseason spot.
Unfortunately, the wheels fell off yet again (Ellsbury would bat .209 in the 19 remaining games) and New York would go 7-12 to conclude the year on the outside of the playoff bracket for the third time in four years.
Overall, in games the Yankees emerged as victors (77 times with Ellsbury making an appearance), Jacoby slashed .343/.411/.534 and totaled 151 bases. In 71 losses with him making an appearance, his slash line deteriorates to .179/.239/.205 with a mere 55 total bases.
At the end of the day, Jacoby Ellsbury applies a dimension to the Yankees’ offense that turns it into a vulnerable unit when it’s not present.
The great unknown is specifically defined as whether a year can be full of steadiness. If that steadiness finds its way onto the 2017 club, New York will wheel in nothing but benefits.
8. If … Severino’s Sophomore Struggles Are A Fluke
Luis Severino was arguably the reason why the Bombers didn’t fall completely out of contention in 2015.
After he made his major league debut on Aug. 5 against the Boston Red Sox, the then 21-year old went 5-3 with a 2.89 ERA to compliment an 8.1 K/9 rate, .229 BAA, and a 1.203 WHIP.
In his sophomore season, however, his title of “future ace” didn’t fit the production, as Sevy went 0-8 with an 8.50 ERA while serving up 11 home runs and 70 hits in 47.2 innings of work across the same amount of starts (11).
RELATED: Luis Severino To Bullpen Shouldn’t Be Unwelcomed
Additionally, his K/9 ratio also declined from 8.1 to 7.7 while his opponent’s batting average spiked from .229 to .337.
Then, after a couple demotions, manager Joe Girardi decided to throw the youngster into the bullpen — where he may have commenced his legacy as a dominant reliever.
In 23.1 innings of relief starting on July 27 against the Houston Astros, he has held opponents to a .105/.209/.158 slash line while maintaining a 0.39 ERA and striking out 25.
While some people, like myself, consider his future is in the bullpen, if Severino could produce the same success he had when he had his first cup of coffee in the Bronx, Masahiro Tanaka would have the perfect No. 2.
The rotation could sure use another piece but if Sevy could recapture his rookie dominance, they’re certainly heading in the right place.
7. If … Gary Sanchez Avoids The Sophomore Slump
There’s no ignoring it: Gary Sanchez made history in his first go-around in the Bronx.
In the month of August, the 23-year old slashed .389/.458/.832 with an OPS of 1.290 and 11 home runs en route to winning the American League Player Of The Month award.
Then, on September 21, Sanchez became the fastest player in baseball history (45 games) to reach the 18 home run mark and later tied Wally Berger as the fastest to reach 20.
Despite going just 23-for-102 (.225) in the final month of the year, expectations are sky-high for this kid as he enters his second season.
Some called him the next Babe Ruth, some say he’s the Yankees “savior,” and some have no words to describe it yet, heading into 2017, however, at least a portion of that magic needs to come back next season.
When he’s hot, he’s shown he can carry an offense and even a team.
Take Sept. 10- Aug. 10 for example. In 27 games played Sanchez batted .373 and smashed 13 of his 20 home runs. During that span, the Yankees went 18-9 and jolted themselves back into relevancy.
It’s completely unfair to think that those numbers will carry through to 2017, but to see such a professional hitter with that kind of potential is ensuring that you have a superstar, to say the least.
Even if New York only gets 25-30 homers and a .280 batting average, they’ll take it. What they won’t, however, is Kevin Maas 2.0.
6. If … Castro/Didi Build On A Successful 2016
With a career-high 21 home runs in his first year sporting Yankee pinstripes, Castro became one of just four Yankees’ second baseman to hit 20 home runs in a single season, joining Cano, Joe Gordon and Alfonso Soriano.
The Dominican-born righty also slashed .290/.310/.486 in the second half, solidifying his year as a successful one — despite the fact that he swung at pitches in the left-handed batters box.
Coming off a year in which he struggled to adjust to life as a Yankee but showed promising signs, shortstop Didi Gregorius ended his second year in the Bronx by becoming just the third shortstop Yankees history to hit at least 20 HR and bat over .275.
With a depressing offense that finished second-to-last in batting average with runners in scoring position, this double play duo was a consistent bright spot, helping the Yankees finish in the Top-10 in OPS among AL shortstops and second baseman.
With a year of Gary Sanchez on order, a Greg Bird return, and a hopeful breakout by Aaron Judge, if these two could build on this success in their second year together, New York’s lineup would be feared by all.
5. If … Michael Pineda Figures Himself Out
Michael Pineda is an unimaginable enigma that not only makes everyone scratch their head but it also something that has never been seen in baseball.
Big Mike is the only starting pitcher in major league history to give up 25+ homers while maintaining an era over 4.80, a K/9 rate of 10+, and also striking out 200 or more batters.
RELATED: Yankees Should Give A Former Draft Pick A Shot
So, while Larry Rothschild hasn’t “fixed” this seemingly unfixable problem Pineda has, there is no mechanical issue Rothschild can alter for the better. It comes down to his confidence. Like you said, Mike, this guy has the stuff. It’s evident in his AL-leading 10.6 K/9 and career 1.174 WHIP.
Pineda has to be able to attack batters early and get ahead. When he’s ahead in the account, batters are hitting .184 with just four homers and an OPS of .487 but when he falls behind, those numbers jump to .344 with 10 homers and a 1.140 OPS.
While that’s a general trend across baseball, batters are also swinging at Pineda’s first pitch 43% of the time and are slashing .291/.300/.550 compared to .254/.331/.421 when they took the first pitch.
Again, that’s fixed by trust in your stuff and being able to pitch to your strengths. His wipeout slider is easily the greatest pitch in his arsenal while his fastball gets hit out of the park on almost a nightly basis.
If he can get that trust and transform himself into that pitcher we all know he could be, then New York has a Cy Young dark horse on their hands for the 2017 season.
4. If … Dellin Betances’ September Struggles Were Caused By Fatigue
Dellin Betances stretch to end his 2016 All-Star campaign was an absolute disaster.
In 11 games pitched in September and October, the 6’8″ right-hander surrendered 10 earned runs in 9.1 innings of work (9.64 ERA) while his opponents slash line (.279/.392/.372) was the highest line against him all year.
Additionally, his 13 surrendered runs in the month were the second-most among major league relievers behind Jeanmar Gomez of the Philadelphia Phillies.
Among starters and relievers, he ranked seventh which is downright terrible when you consider he pitched in 17.1 innings less than the starter ranked in front of him in runs.
It may have been his 73 innings pitched (ninth among AL relievers) catching up to him, and that’s exactly what the Yankees hope is the case.
If Betances can do what he did in the first half of last season, lead MLB in K/9, then Cashman doesn’t even have to bring in one of the top tier closers on the market. Yet, one could bet on either Aroldis Chapman, Kenley Jansen, or Mark Melancon in the Bronx by Opening Day.
Therefore, Tyler Clippard (2.49 ERA) for the 2017 season, New York could be one move away from creating another dynamic trio at the end of the bullpen.
The key word is “if” Betances’ struggles is nothing long-term and was only weariness generated by a heavy workload.
3. If … Sabathia Can Build On Comeback Season
Who accurately predicted CC Sabathia’s 16th year in the bigs would turn out as strong as it did? Whoever claims they did probably lying.
The 36-year old lefty entered this year’s campaign fresh out of rehab for alcoholism and still faced the problem of succeeding with a diminished arsenal.
The veteran southpaw answered questions of his dependability with a phenomenal start (5-4, 2.20 ERA in first 11 starts) but promptly lost his flare as the year hit the dog days.
From June 22 to August 17, Sabathia put together a 2-6 record in 11 starts featuring an opponent’s slash line of .291/.354/.479 and surrendered 13 home runs in just 65 innings of work. Additionally, he maintained a 6.87 ERA.
Just when everyone was ready to call for his head, or at least for him to join those being sold for prospects, the former AL CY Young award winner zoned in and turned back the clock.
Capped off by an outing on in which the 36-year-old overpowered the dominant Red Sox offense over 7.1 innings, Sabathia completed his best season (3.91 ERA) since 2012.
With a rotation cluttered with question marks exceeding their ace and little evidence of substantial help on the way, New York desperately needs an encore as Sabathia enters another year of the back-end of his career.
If that could happen, one can envision the rotation that finished with a 3.82 after the All-Star break (10th best in MLB) could build on their success into 2017.
2. If … Greg Bird Comes Back Strong
In that stint, he In his first cup of coffee in the Bronx, Bird crushed 11 home runs in 46 games and slashed .261/.343/.529 with an OPS of .871 but we never got to see him in action due to a torn right labrum sustained in the offseason.
He has been recovering from injury since the 2016 season began and is currently slashing .210/.338/.355 with one home run in the Arizona Fall League. While not promising, he easily serves as an immense ingredient to the success of the offense next year.
If Bird carries his massive production from two years ago into the lineup, he’ll provide flawless insurance in the cleanup spot behind Gary Sanchez.
Furthermore, if Judge’s power becomes an element of consistency, the 3-4-5 tandem the Bombers can pack is downright horrifying.
1. If … Tanaka Continues To Dominate
If it weren’t for Sanchez’s rise to stardom in August, Masahiro Tanaka takes home the honor of “team MVP” for 2016.
Through 31 starts (199.2 innings), the 28-year old went 14-4 with a 3.07 ERA — good enough for sixth best among qualified AL starting pitchers.
More impressively, however, New York went 23-8 in games in which their ace took the hill, a 120-win proportion.
If you want to take a fun approach to see where the Yankees would be without Tanaka, take that 23-8 and record and assume any other starter would manage only five fewer wins in his total appearances.
That would be an 18-13 record meaning instead of New York finishing 84-78, they’d have their first losing season since 1992 and finish 14 games out of the AL East. Ouch.
I said it during the regular season: His value? Impeccable. His dominance? Extraordinary. His passion? Immeasurable.
This organization simply could not create a better ace than Tanaka has been since coming over from Japan, and if he could continue his 2016 season into next year, they have their big game pitcher.
Now, are all these “ifs” working out in the Yankees favor a realistic possibility? Absolutely not. However, this goes to show you how much potential this team has even before any moves being made.
If Cashman and Girardi had a magic wand, their first act of witchcraft would be to make all these possibilities come true, a trick that would transform this mediocre Yankees’ team into world conquerors.
NEXT: Best Offseason Trades of Brian Cashman Era