The New York Yankees are going to be an interesting enigma for the 2017 season. Limited by their budget in the new collective bargaining agreement (CBA), the Yankees have made their free agent signings in DH-to-be Matt Holliday and fireball pitcher Aroldis Chapman. Aroldis Chapman can bring behinds to seats on a regular basis because just watching 102-103 mph is amazing. The Yankees signed Holliday to be just a designated hitter, but he does not bring in the fans like Aroldis Chapman will.
The Yankees are also a team that is on a pseudo-rebuild. While they are rebuilding with a new young core, the Yankees are also a team that intends to contend every year, rather than accept several years of 65-75 wins. The front office knows the Yankees’ fans expect a team that contends every year for the playoffs. The team we had last year, even with the rough July, still managed to eke out another winning record with an 84-win season. A couple less embarrassing losses, they might have made the Wild Card.
The Yankees are starting to develop that young core that they want, and it was thanks to people drafted long before this new approach was developed. Gary Sanchez looks to be the new captain of this core, with a power bat, power arm and excellent defense. The kid, a long touted prospect for the Yankees, finally got his chance in August and proved himself. He was on fire and made himself must-see television. With an amazing 20 home runs in 53 games with a .299 / .376 / .657 line. He managed to finish second in the Rookie of the Year, behind Michael Fulmer.
Right behind Sanchez is the long-time Yankee Austin Romine, who had an improved year in 2016 (can you believe he made his MLB debut 5 years ago?) and the now amazing prospect Kyle Hiagshioka. Higashioka came out of nowhere in 2016, healthier than ever, swatting 21 home runs between AA and AAA along with a .276 / .337 / .511 batting line. The Yankees know how to develop catchers and it shows.
The next section of core would have to be first base. At first base, the Yankees have a pair of extremely interesting prospects. In 2015, 22-year old Greg Bird made his MLB debut to replace the injured Mark Teixeira. Throughout his short debut of 46 games, Bird swatted 11 home runs and a .261 / .343 / .529 batting line. In the offseason, it was announced that he would need to have surgery to repair a right shoulder labrum tear, which ended his 2016 season before it even started. He did manage to play in the Arizona Fall League, playing in 17 games, but only managed 14 hits and one home run, hitting only .215 / .346 / .354, but the shoulder was healthy, most important.
Aside of Bird, the Yankees have an interesting decision in Tyler Austin. The third of the famous trio of outfielders (Tyler Austin, Slade Heathcott and Mason Williams), Austin projects to be a bench player, but he earned his trip to the majors. While Austin’s numbers in the majors were not amazing (.241 / .300 / .458 in 31 games), Austin won awards for being clutch, something that the Yankees could benefit from on their bench. Aside of those, they also have Holliday, who only played ten games at first base last season with the St. Louis Cardinals. In that short time, Holliday committed no errors, but basing him as a good defender purely on sample size of ten games is not a wise decision.
Up the middle, the Yankees have the benefit of the slick defenders in Didi Gregorius and Starlin Castro. While Castro is a head-desk moment highlight tape, the two are almost perfect when it comes to defense. While Castro is a bad-bad chaser, having two middle basemen hitting 20 home runs each season is worth every cent paid for them. The Yankees have a pair of middle infielder prospects that the fans love, Gleyber Torres (who we got in the Aroldis Chapman deal) and Jorge Mateo (long-time top prospect in the Yankee system known for his speed.) While Torres has passed Mateo in terms of being the better infield prospect, both are still the future of this team in some fashion, even if it’s trade-bait. For now, Gregorius and Castro are going to be the best infield defense we will have for a long time.
The Yankees’ outfielder situation is by far the most interesting one. The Yankees currently have Brett Gardner, Jacoby Ellsbury, Mason Williams and Aaron Hicks along with top prospect Aaron Judge (who Hal Steinbrenner has anointed the RF-to-be). They also have Clint Frazier (acquired in the Andrew Miller trade) ready to dominate AAA. Fans want the twitter-happy prospect (he is hilarious!) to be in the majors soon and they hope he can prove himself.
On the other side, there are the fans who want Jacoby Ellsbury off this team. Look at it this way Yankees fans, Ellsbury is being paid to play. This will be the cause until the front office or Girardi says he should not. Expect him to be on this team in 2017, and 2018, and 2019. Everyone also wants to trade Brett Gardner. That is a poor decision up front because right now no one is part of the 1-2 OBP in the lineup. Rob Refsnyder was supposed to be that, but he is not as good as it seems.
While the Yankees will market the hell out of Chapman, their prospects in the rotation may be worth marketing, too. Jordan Montgomery and Chance Adams are pushing their way towards the majors as starters. Paired with Bryan Mitchell and Luis Cessa, they can work to be a solid young rotation. There is a lot of fun coming in terms of rotation pieces. However, the Yankees must be patient with Masahiro Tanaka, Michael Pineda, CC Sabathia and Adam Warren in some fashion. All can dominate when they want, all can be frustrating, but a good team needs good starters. Hopefully they will have something to look forward to in this enigma. It’s tough to say the Yankees will compete in 2017, but Brian Cashman is giving them every chance he can.