Manny Machado and Bryce Harper will not be wearing pinstripes, much to the chagrin of many Yankees faithful. Despite the team’s reluctance to offer a pile of cash to the two superstars, this team is better than it was a year ago.
To recap, general manager and senior vice president Brian Cashman facilitated a trade for promising southpaw James Paxton, re-acquired C.C. Sabathia on what will be his final contract; signed coveted reliever Adam Ottavino to a three-year deal, and also brought in Troy Tulowitzki and juggernaut defender D.J. LeMahieu.
The aforementioned transactions have indeed improved this Yankees team, but is it good enough to redeem the 2018 team that fell short against their bitter rivals in October in the ALDS? Last year, they witnessed their century-long adversaries win their fourth World Series since 2004, and it also marked their second consecutive postseason series defeat to the Red Sox.
That is the ultimate question, but that question is comprised of multifarious other questions as well, beginning with this: how is Didi Gregorius’s rehabilitation going?
The most recent updates about the fan-favorite shortstop, as reported by the Dan Martin of the New York Post, indicate that Gregorius has been making throws from 60 feet, though he is still not expected to be back until June or July.
Secondly, how will the rotation hold up? In no particular order, the arms at the helm are Luis Severino, who jubilantly avoided arbitration; Masahiro Tanaka, whose second half resurgence in 2018 hopefully carries over into this season; James Paxton, a Cy Young-caliber lefty when healthy; J.A. Happ, who was spectacular for the Yankees down the stretch last year, and the grizzled veteran C.C. Sabathia, who is entering his final season, and his 11th as a Yankee.
Severino exhibited blatanly visible fatigue during the second half in 2018, Tanaka hurt his hamstring last year, James Paxton landed on the DL multiple times last year, C.C. Sabathia experienced more knee problems, and J.A. Happ, while durable last season, should wash his hands more often. Every main starter in the rotation last year had their injury or stamina problems, and that could be exacerbated this year. However, if these five prove they can stay on the diamond, the Yankees could have one of the top five rotations in all of baseball. In the event any of them have to have a stint on the DL, Jonathan Loaisiga, Domingo German, and perhaps even Albert Abreu, currently the team’s No. 3 prospect, could be used as substitutes.
Third, how will manager Aaron Boone align the infield, particualry with his utilization of Troy Tulowitzki and D.J. LeMahieu? While Brian Cashman has said that Tulowitzki is the starting shortstop entering spring training, the former Rockies and Blue Jays pivot has not played in a single MLB game since July of 2017, and realistically could be on the DL at some point this year. LeMahieu, who is yet another victim of the Coors Field effect, is a far more viable option, in my opinion, and he could play second base, his natural position, while Gleyber Torres shifts to shortstop until Didi Gregorius returns. Regardless of where LeMahieu and Tulowitzki will fit in, any kind of venerable offensive production from the two will be enough.
Fourth, how will Gary Sanchez rebound after an abysmal 2018 season? Aaron Boone has said he is impressed with the catcher’s mental maturation, and even had dinner with the All-Star catcher and his wife in Sanchez’s native Dominican Republic. Boone and Sanchez have both insisted that the defense has improved, and his production at the plate will be identical to 2016 and 2017. When Sanchez is focused and healthy, he is arguably the best catcher in baseball, and that will go a long way in 2019 if that is the case this season.
Next, who will occupy first base? As of right now, it is Luke Voit’s job to lose, especially given the fact that the behemoth slugger registered 14 home runs in just 39 games with the Yankees last year, and posted a 1.095 OPS while commandeering the job from the embattled Greg Bird. But, Voit has an infinitesimally small sample size, so the law of diminishing returns and some regression to the mean could be a factor here, and Voit must improve his defense, as he had -7 defensive runs saved last year. Bird, who has played in just 130 games since the end of 2015, could very well be fighting to even make the 40 man roster during spring training.
Finally, will Giancarlo Stanton revert to his 2017 form? By no means was 2018 a dour season for Stanton; has was 27% better than the league average hitter and still hit 38 home runs. But his 2017 numbers were still vastly superior despite having played half of his games in perhaps the worst hitter’s park in baseball, and J.D. Martinez, his Red Sox counterpart, was also vastly better, and that was a major reason why the Yankees finished eight games behind Boston in the AL East.
This Yankees team is absolutely better now than it was at the end of 2018. They have the best bullpen in baseball, a lineup deep enough so it can still be prolific even with key injuries, and a rotation that, it if remains intact during the season, could field three Cy Young candidates. On paper, they are close with Boston, but just how close they really are will be determined soon enough. For now, these questions must all be answered, and hopefully with desirable outcomes.