As pitchers and catchers report this week in Florida and Arizona, Athlon Sports will preview every team in Major League Baseball. Outlooks for every team and so much more information, including rosters, advanced stats and anonymous scouting reports, are featured in the Athlon Sports 2016 MLB Preview, available on newsstands everywhere and in our online store.
The Yankees ended a two-year postseason drought in 2015, but their Wild Card loss to the Astros left them with a bitter taste in their mouths. Now they’re looking to take the next step toward a 28th World Series title.
“We expect to win,” manager Joe Girardi says. “We’re doing everything to help us win a World Series as soon as possible. I liked what our guys did last year. I think we can do better.”
GM Brian Cashman spent the winter watching the rest of the league spend lavishly on free agents, but the big-market Yankees held firm to their vow not to hand out any more significant contracts, turning to the trade market to bolster the roster. This year’s big additions were Starlin Castro, the three-time All-Star shortstop who will take over as New York’s everyday second baseman, and hard-throwing reliever Aroldis Chapman, acquired on the cheap from the Reds in late December. Castro turns 26 in March, continuing the Yankees’ efforts to get younger and more athletic as they prepare for the future while trying to win at the same time.
The Yankees return the same batch of arms led by ace Masahiro Tanaka, who enters his third season in the majors after signing a seven-year, $155 million contract with New York in 2014. Tanaka went 12–7 with a 3.51 ERA in 24 starts during his sophomore season, missing nearly six weeks with wrist and forearm injuries. The good news was that the partial ligament tear in Tanaka’s elbow never reared its ugly head, though the righthander did undergo offseason surgery to remove a bone spur. Behind Tanaka is the ace of the future, second-year righthander Luis Severino. The rookie was impressive during his two-month debut, posting a 2.89 ERA in 11 starts. Severino might have a slight innings restriction this season, though he should be able to give the Yankees 190 during his first full season in the majors.
Nathan Eovaldi was on his way to a solid season in his first year in pinstripes before being shut down for the final month with an elbow injury. The 26-year-old had a 3.43 ERA over his final 14 starts. Eovaldi continued to show improvement all season with his splitter. Michael Pineda showed flashes of brilliance but must still prove he can stay healthy, having missed a month with a flexor forearm strain. CC Sabathia figures to fill out the rotation, though Ivan Nova will return again as a potential sixth starter if the Yankees decide to give their top five an extra day from time to time. Sabathia battled problems with his chronically bad right knee, though he had success during the final month with a new brace on his leg.
Chapman will join Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller to form a devastating trio in the back end of the bullpen. Betances and Miller combined for 45 saves and a 1.73 ERA in 134 appearances, giving Girardi the ultimate weapon in the eighth and ninth innings. With Chapman now on board, the Yankees can shorten games even more. One of the hardest throwers in the history of the game, the lefthander from Cuba has 546 strikeouts in 319.0 innings in his six-year big league career. Major League Baseball is investigating domestic violence allegations against Chapman that could lead to a 60-game suspension in 2016. Chapman’s arrival — even if it is delayed into the summer — will more than make up for the loss of two key bullpen arms, Justin Wilson and Adam Warren. Chasen Shreve is expected to earn a spot despite a dreadful September, while young arms such as righthanders Nick Rumbelow and Branden Pinder and lefties Jacob Lindgren and James Pazos will be among those competing for jobs.
Charged with the task of taking over for Derek Jeter, Didi Gregorius overcame a terrible first two months of the season and wound up posting respectable numbers while playing Gold Glove-caliber defense. Gregorius’ second year in New York should be smoother from the start, giving him a chance to post even better numbers. Gregorius will also have a new double-play partner after the Yankees acquired Castro from the Cubs. Castro struggled at the plate during the first four months, but a move from shortstop to second base seemed to energize him as he posted a .942 OPS with six homers and 25 RBIs in his final 156 plate appearances.
The Yankees were banking on a comeback from Mark Teixeira last season after the first baseman battled myriad injuries in 2014. Teixeira answered the call by hitting 31 home runs through Aug. 15, but his season was cut short once again, this time by a foul ball that fractured his leg. He’ll be ready to go for spring training, but Girardi might need to give the 36-year-old an extra day off here and there during the season. Chase Headley returns for a second full season in pinstripes, looking to improve on his pedestrian output from 2015. Headley’s offense was not his only problem, as he committed 23 errors to lead all American League third basemen and had more errors than all but three players in the majors.
Brett Gardner earned his first career All-Star selection with a superb first half in 2015, but the speedster slowed down considerably after the break and limped to the finish line. Jacoby Ellsbury’s hot start lasted six weeks before he landed on the disabled list with a knee injury, and he never found his stroke after returning in July. If the Yankees are to make any noise this season, Gardner and Ellsbury need to be the table-setters they’re expected to be in front of the big bats in the middle of the lineup. One of those bats is Carlos Beltran, who shook off a miserable April to post solid numbers over the final five months. Beltran turns 39 in April but will have to play right field as often as possible given Alex Rodriguez’s status as full-time DH.
Brian McCann looked more comfortable during his second year in the Bronx, and it showed in his production. The catcher set a new career-high with 26 home runs and matched his personal best with 94 RBIs, playing solid defense behind the plate and working well with the Yankees’ pitching staff. With John Ryan Murphy headed to Minnesota in an offseason trade, the backup job appears to be Gary Sanchez’s to lose heading into the spring. Sanchez, 23, hit well at Double-A and Triple-A last season before posting excellent numbers in the Arizona Fall League. If he’s not ready, Austin Romine could fill the job.
The arrival of Castro at second base means Dustin Ackley will play off the bench, giving the Yankees protection at second base, first base and in the outfield. Aaron Hicks, acquired from the Twins, will take over for Chris Young as the fourth outfielder, giving Girardi a switch-hitting bat to play against lefties. Castro could serve as Gregorius’ backup at shortstop, giving the Yankees the opportunity to carry an extra reliever rather than using the spot on a utility infielder. Rodriguez will continue to get the majority of his at-bats as the DH.
Girardi hasn’t led his team to a postseason win since 2012, but he may have done his best managing during the past three seasons. The Yankees have squeezed 87, 84 and 85 wins out of teams that could have easily had losing records, finally snapping the postseason drought last year by winning a Wild Card spot. Girardi has excelled with his use of the bullpen, though the uncertainty surrounding this year’s group could be his biggest challenge yet.
The talent is there for the Yankees to contend for another AL East title, though they’ll need to avoid major injuries and get more innings from the rotation. If they can do that, a 90-win season isn’t out of the question. If they can’t, it could be a long year in the Bronx.
Prediction: 3rd AL East
CF Jacoby Ellsbury (L)
LF Brett Gardner (L)
RF Carlos Beltran (S)
DH Alex Rodriguez (R)
1B Mark Teixeira (S)
C Brian McCann (L)
3B Chase Headley (S)
2B Starlin Castro (R)
SS Didi Gregorius (L)
C Gary Sanchez (R)
INF Dustin Ackley (L)
INF Pete Kozma (R)
OF Aaron Hicks (S)
RHP Masahiro Tanaka
RHP Luis Severino
RHP Nathan Eovaldi
RHP Michael Pineda
LHP CC Sabathia
LHP Aroldis Chapman (Closer)
LHP Andrew Miller
RHP Dellin Betances
RHP Ivan Nova
LHP Chasen Shreve
RHP Nick Rumbelow
RHP Branden Pinder