Jays From the Couch brings you 2016 MLB Wrap Ups. We sit down with Off the Bench Baseball to discuss the New York Yankees’ season
Jays From the Couch is kicking off a little series of wrap ups of teams around MLB. We’ll sit down with writers from all over the league to get their thoughts on teams we might not have been paying attention to in Blue Jays Land.
To kick things off, I checked in with Max Frankel of Off the Bench Baseball to get his thoughts on the New York Yankees 2016 season. In many ways, it was a season that folks could probably look back on fondly. Despite the aging roster, the Bronx Bombers managed to make things exciting near the end of the year with Gary Sanchez captivating the imagination of the league. Max talks about the rookie phenom and much more in our little interview.
You can follow Max on Twitter @otbb_max and be sure to head to Off the Bench Baseball to check out their great coverage and follow them on Twitter @OTB_Baseball
JFtC: If you could sum up the Yankees’ season in a paragraph, what would you say?
Max: 2016 was a genuine, actual, for real transformational season for the New York Yankees. A changing of the guard, if you will. Out are old (in more than one way) mainstays such as Carlos Beltran, Alex Rodriguez, and Mark Teixeira and in are new, young position player prospects. With the Yankees’ season looking increasingly lost, GM Brian Cashman was finally able to market some of his most valuable commodities and swapped bullpen arms Aroldis Chapman and Andrew Miller for a sorely needed influx of minor league talent. Of course, the on field product was, well, lackluster, but the Yankees entered April with another boring mid-80s win season on the horizon and left September energized for the future.
JFtC: What went right for the Yankees this year?
Max: A lot actually. Gary Sanchez is the catcher of the future and a likely middle of the order bat. The Starlin Castro– Didi Gregorius middle infield combo has promise. Aaron Judge made his big league debut and looks likely to be a key piece of the team going forward. Masahiro Tanaka seems to be fully healthy and is still really good. The bullpen, lead by Dellin Betances was strong even after the short-lived three headed monster was destroyed. And all of a sudden the Yankees have a pretty good farm system.
JFtC: What went wrong for them?
Max: Besides CC Sabathia’s option vesting? Sabathia is a back end innings eating starter at best at this point in his career but the Yankees will be paying him $25 million next season. In fact, it’s the starting rotation that will pose the biggest issues for this team going forward. After Tanaka, there’s no one the Yankees could realistically call a number 2 starter or rely on at all. Each season is supposed to be the one that Michael Pineda finally puts it all together, but that didn’t happen, again. And the collection of minor league call ups aren’t talented enough to make that a sustainable plan. The Yankees offense will be good going forward, but they’ll only go as far as the rotation takes them.
JFtC: Who stood out on the roster?
Max: The obvious answer here is Gary Sanchez. Sanchez hit an astounding 20 home runs and batted .299 in just 201 At Bats. He has a very real chance at AL Rookie of the Year honors despite playing only 53 games. Sanchez finished second among Yankees’ position players in WAR, behind only Brett Gardner, and Gardner played nearly 10 more games! New York ended their season, despite missing the playoffs, with fans and the team feeling largely positive about the future. That’s in very large part thanks to Sanchez.
JFtC: Who went under appreciated?
Max: Two options for this one: Didi Gregorius and Masahiro Tanaka. Didi hit 20 homers and batted .276, posting a 2.2 WAR in 2016. He became one of the Yankees’ most reliable hitters throughout the season, even batting cleanup a couple times. Tanaka, though, was spectacular. The Yankees’ Ace had a 5.4 WAR, leading the team, to go along with a 3.07 ERA in a team high 199.2 innings. Tanaka is the Yankees only consistently reliable starter and their guy to match up against the league’s best. Without Tanaka, who finished 14-4 for what it’s worth, the Yankees would have been piecing together a truly dreadful starting staff all season.
JFtC: Who underperformed?
Max: Again, two candidates. There were high hopes for Luis Severino coming into 2016 after he posted a sub 3 ERA in 11 starts in 2015. Things did not go as planned, however. Bouncing between the rotation, the bullpen, and the minor leagues, Luis posted a 5.83 ERA and gave up 78 hits in 71 big league innings. He no longer looks like a potential 3 starter on a good Yankees team. One thing Severino doesn’t have hanging over his head, however, is a big money contract. Chase Headley does. The Yankees paid him over 4 years to be the starting third basemen but things haven’t gone very well, especially this season. Headley was a consistent presence at the bottom of the order, but he didn’t really perform. .253 with 14 home runs and 8 steals over 467 at bats is something you might expect to see from a journeyman utility player thrust into a bigger role, not a $54 million free agent.
JFtC: Where do the Yankees go this offseason? What do they do?
Max: Pitching, pitching, pitching. The Yankees’ biggest need is clearly on their pitching staff. Last season, faced with few starting options, they traded for Chapman to help bolster the bullpen. This winter, they face a similar situation as there are very few really good starters available. They might finally need to pull the trigger on the trade market to find a compliment to Tanaka or risk treading water yet again. They are, without a doubt, in better shape than they were a year ago. They now have fewer financial burdens and good, young, cheap, exciting players lineup at first base, catcher, and in both corner outfield spots. If nothing else, that gives the Bombers the ability to trade guys like Gardner that they have begun to transition away from.
The big move would be to go get Chris Sale from the White Sox but that would probably require surrendering more prospect talent than the Yankees would be ok with. Jose Quintana is another guy that would help a lot and might be more attainable. Short of that, picking up some mid-tier rotation guys or free agents like Andrew Cashner might be more realistic. The youth movement is underway among position players, now they need to fill out the roster with some pitching.
JFtC: What can fans expect from your team in 2017?
Max: Incremental improvement. The offense will be better but there will be some growing pains with Sanchez, Greg Bird, Judge, and others. Jacoby Ellsbury will need to be better as well but on balance it will be a much stronger batting order in 2017. My concern is, as always, pitching. I don’t think the Yankees will be able to find enough talent on the trade and free agent markets to rally catapult the team over the top in one year. By 2018 or 2019 though, look out.
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