With spring training under 70 days away, can the New York Yankees successfully address remaining question marks?
During the offseason, the New York Yankees have been driven by the standard set when Brian Cashman declared that most of the “heavy lifting” had previously been accomplished via 2017 trade deadline deals.
Which, in turn, set the stage for a relatively quiet offseason. Except as we know, the elephant walked into the room. But aside from the addition of National League MVP, Giancarlo Stanton, the Yankees still have several holes to fill before they begin the season against the Blue Jays in Toronto on March 29.
Mark Feinsand of MLB.com reported on Saturday that left-handed starting pitcher CC Sabathia is returning to the fold for one more year in pinstripes. Barring any pesky injuries, Sabathia’s return paves the way for the Yankees to have a full complement of qualified starters in their five-man rotation from day one in 2018.
The durability of Sabathia at age 37 will be tested as the season moves along and the Yankees may need to make adjustments accordingly. It’s also not beyond the realm of possibility Brian Cashman will adjust now instead of later.
Pittsburgh Pirates’ ace Gerrit Cole is still a name being mentioned according to George A. King III of the NY Post as someone the Yankees are interested in (more on that here). If executed, adding Cole, while complicating things for manager Aaron Boone, will solidify a rotation that was already good enough to come within a hair of the World Series last season.
The departure of third baseman Chase Headley and second baseman Starlin Castro signifies that two Yankees’ prospects will see their stock rise with the team in 2018. Miguel Andujar and Gleyber Torres are now on the Yankees 25-man active roster, and either or both have a chance to make the Opening Day lineup.
If either one falters, Ronald Torreyes, the Yankees utility man from last season, could very well turn out to be the Yankees most underpaid and valuable member of the team again in 2018. As the holder of the Yankees shortstop position last season until Did Gregorius had recovered from an injury suffered during the World Baseball Classic, Ronald Torreyes could perform the same duty at second base, or if pressed even at third to begin the 2018 season.
As an additional backup, the Yankees have Tyler Wade, who started eleven games last season at second base. Translation: the Yankees could begin the new season today with what they have at three of the four infield positions.
Next question, with Headley gone as a backup first baseman, does Brian Cashman feel comfortable leaving first base untouched while trusting the young Greg Bird to be the everyday first baseman for 145 games with no hiccups?
Tyler Austin started twenty errorless games for the Yankees at first base in 2016, but that number dropped to five last season. Gary Sanchez will continue to take reps at first, but he is hardly the answer if the team needs extending playing time at the position. A glance at the 40-man roster provides no solution either. Similar to last year then, Brian Cashman may still have some work to do in this area.
Dellin Betances? Is he in the Yankees plans for the future, or not? His trade value still reaches the stratosphere but has he reached the point where he’s (Joba) “Chamberlain-ed” out of the team’s plans?
Considering the acrimony accompanying last year’s very public arbitration battle last offseason, coupled with the appearance (at least) that Betances was in nowhere land during several of his late-season outings, the time for a separation may be upon us.
With that old caveat, barring injuries, can the bullpen carry on without Betances? The answer would seem to be yes, even to the point where Boone and pitching coach Larry Rothschild could solidify roles more easily without Betances in the picture.
Finally, we move to the outfield.
With Stanton and Aaron Judge locked into two of the three outfield positions, the third looks like it will be filled by Aaron Hicks as the everyday centerfielder. Brett Gardner will get most of the starts in left field, leaving Boone to decide between Stanton and Judge in the DH spot.
Backup catcher Austin Romine remains a competent backup for Sanchez and also as a spot starter on days when Sanchez needs a rest from his catching duties, which in turn opens the opportunity for Boone to keep Sanchez’s bat in the lineup in the DH spot.
Currently on the Yankees active roster and somewhere in outfield limbo barring trades, is Jacoby Ellsbury, newly acquired Jabari Blash, Clint Frazier, Jack Cave, and Billy McKinney. Finding playing time for each sets up a nightmare situation for Boone in his first season as manager.
Adding to Boone’s dilemma is that none of these players, based on what they’ve done so far in their career, have the flexibility to play anywhere but in the outfield. On paper at least, Brian Cashman would seemingly be forced to make a move or two to ease the congestion and potential for clubhouse dissension before the season begins.
If Brian Cashman isn’t a baseball God, he’s as close as you can get. The Yankees are stacked and, if anything, their biggest problem will be finding adequate playing time for all of the cogs, keeping the machine well-oiled throughout the season.
As we know from experience with these things, Plan A often becomes Plan H between April and October. Those developments are almost always caused by injuries, which is one thing Cashman can’t control.
One thing we can count on, though. Cashman and Boone are already working on at least Plan C in the event it’s needed.