The absence of real expectations can only help a New York Yankees starting rotation that is projected to be one of baseball’s worst.
Heading into the 2017 campaign, the New York Yankees will field one of the more intriguing products in baseball. A youthful attack will induce an aroma of optimism in the Bronx, as Joe Girardi‘s squad has firepower in multiple areas — ranging from a deep lineup to a dynamic bullpen.
The one concern? Starting pitching, known as the only factor standing between the Yankees and their first playoff series since 2012.
Terms like below average, insufficient, subpar and flawed have been thrown around to describe this bunch. Mediocre would actually be perceived as a generous label.
Sure, on paper, this unit does not pop out at you. In fact, on that same piece of paper, it can be prejudged as one of the bottom-five rotations in the American League.
With that said, outsiders are failing to realize that the low expectations placed on the rotation, and even the assessment that it will serve as the team’s downfall, will only play to the group’s benefit.
From top to bottom, there are major question marks. Yet they are all questions that are “destined” to be answered in a negative manner, meaning judgements can only be resurrected from this point forward.
Masahiro Tanaka, who enters the season as the irrefutable ace of the staff, will always have the “ticking-time bomb elbow” associated with his name. Coming off a superb 2016 campaign, the tendency is for fans to be cautiously optimistic for a repeat performance.
However, when you consider that the 28-year-old righty is essentially in a contract year, with an opt-out clause awaiting him at season’s end, you realize that the man has a lot to prove — potentially trying to earn himself another tremendous payday in New York, or elsewhere. Couple his contract situation with the fact that Tanaka relishes the idea of being “the man,” and your concern has been eased.
But that very concern can be the big left-hander’s biggest advantage.
The veteran’s sense of value will be replenished this year, knowing that he has to be as close to perfect as possible. Yes, he took an incredible leap with his sturdy 2016 season. As a number two, an ERA hovering around four will no longer be the name of the game.
He, too, is pitching for a contract in 2018, and one that reflects just how stellar he was in fortifying the Yankees’ staff.
Of course, Michael Pineda is mystifying — it is a broken record. Everyone wants him to be that ace; to reach the ceiling of his massive potential.
How about some good news for “Big Mike”: no one expects it anymore. He can pitch free and easy this year, putting what the fanbase has been patiently waiting for on display. If the same problems persist, it is not as if riots will ensue.
The almost inevitable number four, Luis Severino, will have a chip on his shoulder as the season begins. On a fast track towards becoming the next elite frontline starter in pinstripes, the young electrifying right-hander was crushed out of the gates in 2016.
Nevertheless, everyone witnessed his value out of the bullpen down the stretch, and would certainly prefer a translation of that success into the all-so-important starting rotation — equating to what he brought to the table in 2015.
Simply put, Severino is an immense x-factor. If he can rediscover what propelled him through every level of the minors, and add an effective changeup into the mix, he can be that future top of the rotation guy.
Not to mention how deep it would make a rotation which starves for stability.
Speaking of depth, New York has it at the back-end of the staff. Luis Cessa, Chad Green, Adam Warren and Bryan Mitchell are all live arms who have proven their ability to compete every time they take the hill.
Those are four — yes, four — quality arms, with one spot to spare.
Again, with the unenthusiastic labels that have already been placed on this group, do not expect every start to be placed under the microscope. This only plays to the favor of guys who are trying to solidify their roles the big stage — namely Cessa, Green and Mitchell.
So, sure, a rotation consisting of Tanaka, Sabathia, Pineda, Severino and Cessa does not scream “championship” or “division title” at you, but it gives the team something to work with.
As a fan, particularly one that is unwilling to sit through a real rebuild, that’s all you can possibly ask for.