Now more than ever, the veterans on this New York Yankees roster are being relied upon to lead the way.
When it comes to the 2017 New York Yankees, no one wants excuses. All the fanbase wants is progress and a positive trajectory.
Sure, Gary Sanchez is down for a month and Greg Bird is banged up, struggling mightily to find his stroke as a result, but if these Yankees want to compete, the youth cannot be an ultimatum. In fact, it never was.
Anyone that thought two players who combine for 48 years of age and have yet to play a full major league season were going carry this team into contention had most likely forgotten what a winning team looks like.
The Yankees have been able to execute this “rebuild-in-disguise” — which features a team staying on the right side of .500 while going through a youth movement — for one reason, and one reason only: they have experienced and productive veterans in place to provide guidance and lead the way in scarce times.
This year’s group has that same task of maintaining respectability. However, for the remainder of this month, and for the foreseeable future if New York wants to remain relevant, they will have to lead the way.
Through seven games, Jacoby Ellsbury‘s 8-for-24 (.348) clip has not only kept the offense from falling apart, but it has provided a glimmer of hope that the Yankees’ huge 2014 investment may finally turn the corner.
Brett Gardner, on the other hand, is finally using his speed to his advantage — turning it into much-desired aggressiveness. His five stolen bases lead baseball.
Suddenly, the 1-2 punch that was talked about in 2014 as one of the best in the game (on paper) is panning out to its potential.
Now, this is not to say Ellsbury and Gardner need to turn back the clock to their best respective seasons, but it is to say that a winning team in 2017 would require advanced outputs from both speedsters.
In the middle of the lineup, Matt Holliday is thriving out of the DH role, which will likely belong to him exclusively as long as he is on the field. His five RBIs and .533 on-base percentage in the early going demonstrate how much he is relishing the idea of an offensive focus, strategizing at-bat by at-bat, without taxing his aging body in left field.
There is no reason to believe his productiveness will not continue and, even when the youngsters are actively contributing, his presence is vital as a means of protection and lineup spacing.
Although Chris Carter was simply viewed as an expendable $3-million investment, who will likely only see part-time action, the fear he imposes as the reigning NL home run champion is legitimate. Additionally, his worth will be felt if he is utilized in the proper circumstances, whether that be as a starting first baseman in Bird’s absence or a guy who can shift a potentially unfavorable outcome with one swing of the bat.
Excess production from unexpected areas will always help a team, particularly one that lacks true depth. Chase Headley‘s 7-for-24 (.375) and two homers have been a pleasant surprise. If he can be a fraction of the guy who was highly effective in his prime, there would not be an ounce of doubt as to what this offense can accomplish.
Of course, there will be tailspins, dry-spells and the aches and pains that come with aging talent. That is expected.
But those same factors have already occurred and will continue to transpire with the youth.
The veterans who have been there and done that are more experienced in weathering their own storms, rather than tending to the growing pains of others.
This lineup’s exciting feel goes beyond the Sanchez’s, Bird’s and Judge’s of the world. Everything is pushed to the next level when Gardner is swiping bags, Ellsbury is finding gaps, Holliday is driving the ball with authority and Headley is finding the seats.
These are aging commodities with a lot left in the tank, yet a lot still to prove.
When they lead the charge, success is not just an aspiration for the 2017 New York Yankees, it is a reality.
Sustaining this early production and leading by example will add contention to the growing list of realities as well.