Nothing like a December ultimatum to establish a 2020 Bronx mood. At the press conference to introduce mega-signing Gerrit Cole, Yankees owner Hal Steinbrenner dropped this beauty, setting up exactly what’s expected of his powerful — and pitching-rich — club: “We need to win some world championships,” Steinbrenner said. “Plural.”
Inking Cole to a record $324 million pact is certainly a nice winter start. He’ll top an ace-laden rotation, act as the Game 1 starter in October and add a dose of mound grit to a team that was good enough to get to the Game 6 of the American League Championship Series in 2019.
Backing Cole will be a healthy Luis Severino, dynamite lefty James Paxton and playoff maestro Masahiro Tanaka. Good luck to opposing hitters against that quartet and a bullpen built on power arms.
All of the Yanks’ pitchers can expect massive run support, considering that the lineup led MLB in scoring in 2019. Gleyber Torres is soaring, Aaron Judge should be healthy and all DJ LeMahieu does is get hit after hit after hit.
It’s all set up for the Yankees, who haven’t won the World Series since 2009. That’s how you get ultimatums in the Bronx.
Opposing Scouts Size Up the Yankees
“This is easily the best team in baseball. The Yankees, the Astros and the Dodgers all won 100 games, but only the Yankees have gotten better — a lot better. They needed to upgrade their rotation and got the most dominant pitcher in baseball in Gerrit Cole. Two high-impact guys, Luis Severino and Giancarlo Stanton, were basically hurt for all of last season, and now they’re back. Even if some of their unexpected contributors come back to earth — like Gio Urshela, who had a career year he probably can’t repeat — they’ll have enough depth to get by with guys like Miguel Andujar, who is healthy again. They’ll miss Aaron Hicks in center after Tommy John surgery, but Brett Gardner showed last season that he’s got a lot left in the tank, and, of course, nobody on the planet has as much power as Aaron Judge. A better rotation should keep them from taxing their relievers and keep guys like Adam Ottavino, Zack Britton and Aroldis Chapman fresher for October. And I’d watch for James Paxton to have a breakout, All-Star season.”
Beyond the Box Score
Take a RISP DJ LeMahieu led MLB by hitting .392 with runners in scoring position and also topped the majors by going 10-for-15 (.667) with the bases loaded. His RISP average was the highest by a Yankee since Paul O’Neill batted .428 in 1997.
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The Right Stuff
James Paxton and Gerrit Cole both had starts in 2019 in which they got 29 swings-and-misses, matching Justin Verlander for the most in a game last year.
Powerhouse Gary Sanchez hit 19 home runs with an exit velocity of 110 miles per hour or higher in 2019, according to Statcast, tied for the most in MLB with Pete Alonso of the Mets. Overall, the Yankees had 99 balls measured at 110 mph or faster, third in MLB.
Glove Story Aaron Judge (19) and Mike Tauchman (16) had the most defensive runs saved in 2019 among outfielders in the American League.
Sign of the Times Think Cole is fired up about being a Yankee? He was famously photographed as a kid holding a sign he made extolling his Yankee fandom. Then he brought the same sign, which had been saved at his parents’ house, to his introductory press conference in December.
Homer Happy A year after setting the MLB record with 267 home runs in a season, the Yanks obliterated their mark by hitting 306. The Twins edged them by hitting 307 in 2019, but the Yanks’ total is a vivid illustration of their power. Fourteen Yankees hit at least 10 homers, an MLB record, and seven players had at least 20. Two (Gleyber Torres and Sánchez) cracked 30-plus homers.
M*A*S*H Unit The Yankees wore out the injured list last year, putting 30 players on it for a total of 39 stints. Both are the highest ever for an MLB team. The Yankees lost 2,129 player games to injury but still won 103 games.
Good Company With a team-best 38 homers in 2019, Torres became the third Yankee to have multiple seasons of at least 20 homers before turning 23. The first two Yanks to do it? Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle. Only DiMaggio had more homers in his first two seasons as a Yankee, 75, than Torres, who has 62.
Star Watch The Yankees will have had at least four players selected to the MLB All-Star Game in each of the last three seasons. It will be a significant surprise if that streak is not increased to four in 2020.
2B DJ LeMahieu (R)
RF Aaron Judge (R)
SS Gleyber Torres (R)
DH Giancarlo Stanton (R)
C Gary Sanchez (R)
1B Luke Voit (R)
LF Mike Tauchman (L)
3B Gio Urshela (R)
CF Brett Gardner (L)
C Kyle Higashioka (R)
OF Clint Frazier (R)
1B Mike Ford (L)
INF Miguel Andujar (R)
INF Tyler Wade (L)
RHP Gerrit Cole
RHP Luis Severino
RHP Masahiro Tanaka
LHP J.A. Happ
LHP Jordan Montgomery
LHP Aroldis Chapman (C)
LHP Zack Britton
RHP Adam Ottavino
RHP Chad Green
RHP Tommy Kahnle
RHP Jonathan Holder
RHP Luis Cessa
*Note: LHP James Paxton, expected to be in the starting rotation, underwent spinal surgery on Feb. 5 and will start the season on the injured list. He could return in May or June.