New York Yankees 2018 Season Preview
(Craig Calcaterra/Yahoo! Sports)

With the stardom of young studs like Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, and Luis Severino becoming a reality years ahead of schedule in the Bronx, the Yankees have mastered the craft of yet another element of today’s game. One which they’ve had virtually no experience within the past 30 years: the modern-day rebuild. Whatever team you root for, hearing the word “rebuild” as a fan in today’s game is one of, if not the worst, words you can hear regarding the team you support. To fans that understand how the business side of the game works the agony that comes with this term doesn’t come from a disagreement they have with the team’s immediate plans, but rather the fact that the rebuilding process could take a couple of years to complete itself. So many things have to go right for an organization to rebuild effectively, and it’s not uncommon for a team to take a couple of cracks at it before they’re happy with the core of players they’ve assembled. The process is not quick, and it’s certainly not easy. True supporters of any team committing to a rebuild understand this, and upon hearing the disturbing news begin to mentally prepare themselves for at the very least one year at the bottom of the standings. Just two years ago, the middle of the Opening Day lineup for the Bombers included a washed up Mark Texeira hitting cleanup. Joining him was a 38-year old Carlos Beltran hitting, and a 40-year old Alex Rodriguez who had virtually done nothing over the past couple of years but drain New York’s bank account and rise to the top of baseball’s “most hated players” list. Just two years later, the Bombers are back to doing what that name entails and are once again striking fear into opposing pitchers immediately upon their arrival in the Bronx. With the epic rise of Aaron Judge and the acquisition of NL MVP Giancarlo Stanton, the Yankees are back to being the bad boys of the MLB we know and love. Their grip on the throne is only getting tighter with most of their lineup still yet to enter their prime years and more formidable talent in the minors knocking on the door of the Big Leagues.

Offseason Grade: A+

Notable Acquisitions: Giancarlo Stanton, Brandon Drury, Neil Walker

Any time you’re able to add the National League MVP from the year before to your lineup which already includes the AL Rookie of the Year and not one regular starter from the year before who recorded below a .700 OPS, you’re going to turn a lot of heads and gain a ton of respect from around the league. That’s just what Brian Cashman and the Yankees did when they traded for Giancarlo Stanton in the middle of December. With Stanton and Judge hitting back to back, opposing pitchers are going to be forced to pick their poison when it comes to which of the two mammoths they’d rather go right after. The Yankees weren’t initially in on the Stanton sweepstakes when the Marlins initially made it clear that they planned to clean house and trade away their superstar, but when coveted Japanese star Shohei Ohtani completely ruled out New York as a possible destination, Cashman saw an opportunity to make an even bigger splash. The Yankees quickly struck a deal with the Marlins that had Miami chipping in enough of Stanton’s remaining contract earnings to keep the Yankees under the luxury tax, which was a top priority of the front office’s moving forward. Judge and Stanton hit a combined 111 home runs in 2017 and finished number two and number four respectively in total OPS. With Stanton now getting a majority of his at-bats in Yankee Stadium, which is miniature compared to Marlins Park, there’s no reason to think that these two guys can’t beat their collective home run total from last year. Anything can happen in baseball and Judge is facing unprecedented expectations for a player going into just his second full season. Nonetheless, if both of these guys continue their domination of opposing pitchers, there’s a good possibility the AL MVP race could come down to two guys hitting next to each other in the very same lineup.

Besides the addition of Stanton, the Yankees solidified a couple of question marks in their infield with the acquisitions of Brandon Drury and Neil Walker early on in spring training. Before camp began in February the Yankees opening day infield was projected to have two rookies starting at second base and third. The Drury signing transpired a couple of weeks before Walker came on. Once that happened, and fans educated themselves on Drury’s career so far in Arizona, and where his ceiling might be potential-wise,  the 25-year old pretty much became a lock at third base for the Yanks likely pushing top prospect Miguel Andujar back down to triple-A to at least start the season. Those assumptions were confirmed when the club did indeed option Andujar to triple-A camp earlier this month. The Bombers are pretty high on Drury, and they should be. His signing reminds me a lot of when New York brought in Didi Gregorius in 2014 to follow Derek Jeter’s reign at shortstop. Yankee fans weren’t sure what to expect from Didi, and by nature, most fans questioned the team’s choice in Jeter’s successor. Didi was just 25 as well when the Yankees first brought him in, so there was a lot of untapped potential the club saw in him that they believed he was on the cusp of realizing. Obviously, Cashman hit the nail on the head with Gregorius, as he has with so many other players throughout his career, and New York now has a widely regarded top-10 shortstop and active clubhouse leader for this next surge of dominance they hope to embark on. Like I mentioned above Drury is also 25 as he comes into New York, and coincidentally also spent his years before being a Yankee in Arizona with the Diamondbacks. Drury’s shown a lot of positives in his game so far in his young career, hitting .271/.319/.448 across three big league seasons. Drury is a safer bet at third base right now as opposed to Andujar and if he can maintain the kind of numbers this year in the Bronx that he’s shown he can put up, the Yankees are sure to be extremely happy with their acquisition of him.

Yankees, Rays, D-Backs Agree To Three-Team Deal; Souza To Arizona, Drury To New York

The signing of Neil Walker was initially meant to be an insurance play on the Yankees part, with the amount of infield depth already present on the roster. With Gleyber Torres starting the season in triple-A and Greg Bird going down with yet another injury setback Walker’s versatility could prove much more valuable than the Yanks initially thought it would. The opening day lineup has Walker batting eighth and playing second base, which is probably going to become a regular occurrence at least until Bird returns in a couple of months.

Infielders: B+

Both Walker and Drury will see regular time in the infield this season, at least in the first couple of months. Drury will probably be more of an everyday slot in at third, while Walker might be part of some rotation with Tyler Wade at second base, and with Tyler Austin at first base with the absence of Greg Bird. We’ve talked enough about those two guys, so let’s get into the rest of the guys calling the Yankee Stadium infield home. The leader of this infield and frankly this entire defense will be Didi Gregorius at shortstop. His ascension to stardom in regards to the league’s current group of starting shortstops is briefly touched on above, but it honestly can’t be emphasized enough how amazingly well the 2015 addition of Gregorius worked out for this team. Didi’s overall numbers have increased significantly over each of the last three seasons, and he’s showing absolutely no signs of slowing down, In fact, I don’t even think he’s entered his prime yet, and I’m willing to bet that the best of Didi Gregorius in pinstripes has yet to come. He’s quickly become a fan favorite and a player this front office believes will be at the forefront of the chase for a 28th championship in the Bronx. The rest of the infield, except for Drury at third, will be by committee until the hopeful return of Bird in May. At second base we’ll be seeing a lot of Neil Walker, along with the promising Tyler Wade and the little big man Ronald Torreyes. Walker will get some time at first as well, but personally, I’d like to see Tyler Austin get a fair shot to put his stamp on the position. Austin’s done nothing but impress fans with the limited time he’s gotten since his debut in 2016. He’s got a short, powerful swing that shows power to all fields, and if Greg Bird continues to have trouble staying on the field, I wouldn’t be surprised if Austin snuck in and swiped some significant playing time from Bird upon his return. This group of infielders shouldn’t have much trouble defensively; it’s just a matter of finding the combination of guys who can get the job done on both sides of the ball.

Outfield: A

The group of guys you’ll see featured in the Yankees outfield throughout the season is a very good one in my mind. You’ve got a top-10 left fielder and one of the more consistent leadoff guys in the league in Brett Gardner, along with Aaron Hicks who has made just six errors his entire career, and of course Judge and Stanton rotating between right field and DH. Jacoby Ellsbury and Clint Frazier will start the year on the DL as Ellsbury continues to get over that strained oblique and Frazier works past his concussion symptoms. Both guys should be back within the first few weeks of the season, so it’ll be interesting to see how rookie manager Aaron Boone uses the both of them in an already crowded outfield. With the steady decline we’ve seen in Ellsbury’s game over the past several seasons, I would expect him to get limited time in center with most of his impact being made as a pinch runner/hitter off the bench. Frazier’s a more intriguing subject because fans and the organization alike are incredibly excited about the role they see him playing maybe not this season but definitely in the foreseeable future. I love Clint and the intensity he plays with and was very relieved that the Yankees didn’t deal him away this offseason. Brett Gardner has been as underrated as they come his entire career with the Yankees and has rarely disappointed me as a fan, but he’s undoubtedly entered the back nine of his career and is in the last year of his contract with New York. The Yankees have a formidable talent, both offensively and defensively, in Frazier to succeed the scrappy left-hander if he exits the Bronx post-2018. Overall, the Yankees have a plethora of different combinations they can go with when it comes to the outfield this season, and I’m sure Boone will play around with all of them until he finds one that clicks. We’ll see both Stanton and Judge in left field occasionally, but I don’t think that’s something Boone needs to force on a regular basis.

Lineup: A

  1. Brett Gardner
  2. Aaron Judge
  3. Giancarlo Stanton
  4. Gary Sánchez
  5. Aaron Hicks
  6. Didi Gregorius
  7. Brandon Drury
  8. Neil Walker
  9. Tyler Austin

The above lineup is what we’ll see the Yanks open the 2018 season with. Obviously, the last minute setback for Greg Bird and his glass foot shook the order up a bit, but the top half is right in line with what most fans were expecting out of Boone’s lineup card to open the year. Bird probably would’ve been slotted into the five-hole originally, so everyone from there down would just be knocked down a spot, with Austin being the odd man out. Nonetheless, with Bird out this is what we’re left with in the Bronx, and to be honest, you’d be hard pressed finding a more potent lineup around the league even with the absence of the big first baseman. With this lineup, you have to pray for the opposing pitcher that he’s able to get around Gardner at the top because if he gets on, there’s very little chance he doesn’t come around to score with the modern day murderer’s row the Yankees have following him. If Aaron Hicks can stay healthy, he’ll be a force to be reckoned with in that five hole as well, from both the right and left sides of the plate. Didi and Drury will be an excellent left-right combo in the bottom half of the order as well and should give the eight and nine hitters opportunities to drive in some runs. Depending of course on how Boone decides to mix and match those last two slots.

Keep It To Yourself – Episode 14 – 3.24.18

Rotation: B+

  1. Luis Severino
  2. Masahiro Tanaka
  3. CC Sabathia
  4. Sonny Gray
  5. Jordan Montgomery

A lot of people might look at this rotation and not think much of it, but if you watched these guys go to work every day last season, you saw that when this group clicks, it’s one of the better rotations in the American League. The dark horse for me is Sonny Gray. Gray has shown the league in the past that he can buckle down and dominate at times. If he can put together a full season of quality appearances, we could be looking at an arm that could sneak into the Cy Young race. If Severino can build on last year, he’ll be right there in the discussion as well, and we saw what Tanaka was able to do down the stretch and into the postseason in 2017. I fully expect CC to be the horse he always has been for this team and eat up innings when we need it the most. I’ve liked Jordan Montgomery from the get-go, and he should Yankees fans last season that he genuinely knows how to pitch to big league hitters. Like any young arm in the league though, he’ll need a little more experience under his belt to develop into the two or three starter I think he’ll become. Montgomery will get the chance to get his feet under him this season with a pretty tight grip on that fifth starter spot.

Bullpen: A+

The best in the game in my opinion. There’s no part of this bullpen you can point to and question. The only slightly grey area would have to be whether or not Dellin Betances can keep his command under control. When Betances is locked in and throwing strikes, he’s got one of the nastiest repertoires in all of baseball. When he’s not though, you hold your breath and pray he doesn’t hurt someone. Other than that, the five guys above should be able to pitch loose and worry-free knowing that they have some of the most talented bullpen arms in the game behind them. Expect to see Betances, Tommy Kahnle, Chad Green, David Robertson, and obviously closer Aroldis Chapman the most, with Chasen Shreve making appearances as a lefty specialist. With a bullpen like this one, the Yankees should be able to shrink most games down to six or seven innings.

Overall Grade: A+

Projected record: 105-57 (1st in the AL East)

This season is going to be so much fun as a Yankees fan. As much as I hate the Red Sox, Boston being a favorite in the AL at the same time as the Yankees is what’s best for baseball, and I expect that top spot in the East to be thrown back and forth all season between the two clubs. That said, I think the Bombers ultimately come out on top. Obviously, I’m biased being a Yankees fan, but when you look at this team top to bottom it’s hard to imagine how any team would be able to match up with them. While the Red Sox are probably the team most suited to do so, I cannot and will not bring myself to believe that they will repeat as AL East champs.