Making a worthy B&N bow, it’s Mark Blakemore…
Can you win anything with kids?
July 21st 2016. The New York Yankees, with a lineup including veterans such as Alex Rodriguez, Carlos Beltran, Mark Teixeira and Brian McCann lose 4-1 to the Orioles to drop their record to 48-47.
Fast forward one month to August 24th and the Yankees win 5-0 in Seattle, a game I was fortunate enough to witness at first hand.
However what happened between these two dates was nothing short of seismic. Beltran was traded to the Rangers, Teixeira announced his retirement at the end of the season whilst A-Rod was shuffled off to the TV booth where he proved far more effective than his bat had been to the team during 2016. Moreover the Yankees traded uber-relievers Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman to the Indians and Cubs respectively, both those teams looking for a push to make the World Series. That kind of worked out well for them.
Those trades flooded the farm system. In came Clint Frazier, Justus Sheffield, J.P Feyereisen and Ben Heller from the Indians, Gleyber Torres (recent winner of the Arizona Fall League MVP – at age 19), Billy McKinney and Rashad Crawford from the Cubs (together with Adam Warren returning) whilst the Beltran trade netted Dillon Tate, Eric Swanson and Nick Green from the Rangers.
The Yankees signalled that they may double down in the off-season, shipping catcher Brian McCann to the Astros in exchange for a pair of RHP in Albert Abreu and Jorge Guzman.
Seemingly overnight the relatively mediocre Yankees farm, traditionally seen more as an afterthought as the franchise philosophically sought experienced (and expensive) veterans to lead the way to the postseason, became seen as a top 5 system.
The crusade for youth didn’t stop there. That same game in Seattle saw the Yankees trot out Tyler Austin at 1B, Aaron Judge in LF and Gary Sanchez behind the plate, all three called up from the minors to fill the void left by the departing veterans.
Whilst Austin and Judge would have typical rookie seasons with mixed results, Sanchez had one of the more astonishing debuts in MLB history hitting 20 home runs with a slash line of .299/.376/.657 whilst receiving plaudits for his defensive work behind the plate in a 53 game cameo which nearly saw him win the Rookie of the Year award.
The infusion of youth didn’t hurt the Yankees much in the standings either. After that game in Baltimore they went 36-31 the rest of the way and, whilst never really in the hunt for a playoff place, were only eliminated in the dying embers of the season. So much for giving up on the season.
For their next trick?
So what are the prospects for 2017? In truth many of the position players are set – Sanchez will be the everyday catcher with Austin Romine as back up, Greg Bird (another youngster who cruelly had a season ending injury before the season even started) is the favourite to man first base now that Teixeria has retired (though I suspect he may platoon with Tyler Austin), Starlin Castro at second, Didi Gregorius at shortstop (who quietly had a very effective season with a slash line of .276/.304/.447 and from nowhere hit 20 home runs) and Chase Headley at third whose defence is now far and away more impressive than any offensive showing.
The outfield, as it currently stacks up, will be Jacoby Ellsbury, who represents the final albatross contract the Yankees will carry once both Rodriguez and C.C. Sabathia leave the books in 2017, Brett Gardner (himself a serious trade candidate) and that man mountain Aaron Judge. Aaron Hicks will continue to provide back up and bad offense, perennial prospect Mason Williams is once again in the running for a spot on the roster whilst utility man Rob Refsnyder should also make the 25.
The Yankees currently have a hole at DH although there are strong rumours that they are looking to reunite with Beltran – provided this is on a one season deal this makes a lot of sense as the batting skills are still there and he could fill a leadership role to the ‘baby bombers’.
Then comes the pitching. Hmmm.
Outside of Masahiro Tanaka (3.07 ERA, 3.51 FIP) there is no-one likely to strike terror in the hearts of opposing hitters. Michael Pineda is maddeningly inconsistent (an absolute clown show – ed.) and often has one bad inning per outing although still demonstrated an impressive 10.6 k/9 rate in 2016 whilst Sabathia is now not much more than an effective No.4 but seems to have accepted his fate.
Elsewhere the starting rotation will be filled out by a mixture of Adam Warren, Chad Green, Bryan Mitchell, Luis Cessa. Add to that Luis Severino, although he proved far more effective in a relief role than starting in 2016 and at this stage it’s unclear what role he will take in 2017.
The relieving corps no longer have last season’s three headed monster of Miller, Betances and Chapman, although I do expect the Yankees – with some personal regret – to be in race to reunite with the volatile Cuban. A 5/90 deal is not out of the question – Goose Gossage would be turning in his grave if he were as dead as his opinions of sabermetrics.
It’s clear that the Yankees liked and copied the Royals model of having a strong set of relievers who can lock down a game past the 6th inning so in the event they lose out on Chapman then it would be no surprise to see them pick up Mark Melancon or Kenley Jansen.
The Bombers should look to spend wisely on any free agent signings to augment the youth. Being the Yankees though, and much to the chagrin of others, they do have the deep pockets to do so and to land a game changer like Encarnacion, Bautista or Chapman.
It’s reasonable to think that the Yankees could have yet another winning season, as they have for last twenty-four, but to win the AL East? I’m not sure.
The Red Sox have their own youth movement in Benintendi, Bogaerts, Betts, Bradley (and probably a few others whose surnames begin with ‘B’) who are more progressed than the Yankees. All those prospects from the Miller, Chapman and Beltran trades aren’t realistically likely to contribute in 2017 but are primed for seasons beyond that. Moreover players like Cessa, Bird, Judge and Austin could use more seasoning in the minors and Sanchez can only regress from the stratospheric heights he hit last season.
The end of decade years could well witness a dynasty akin to one that started in 1996, which itself was infused primarily with youth. The Cubs World Series win has proven that the model of a young offense complemented with an experienced pitching brigade, can be very successful – in Brian Cashman the Yankees certainly possess a mind smart enough to give it a go.