For better or for worse (probably the former), there is less than half a day remaining in this bizarre year of 2016. A new year is on the horizon, so to pass the time until midnight, here’s a Yankees-related countdown to 2017.
As mentioned the other day, 2017 will be Joe Girardi’s 10th season as Yankees manager. The baseball landscape has witnessed plenty of change since then, but Girardi has been a constant presence. Only five managers in Yankees history have lasted longer than Girardi, who is 819-639 at the helm, a .562 winning percentage.
How many more years will Girardi remain with the Yankees? 2017 is expected to be a year of development for the Yankees and their burgeoning young talent, but the higher-ups will definitely have their eyes on their major-league quality. For instance, Girardi probably can’t afford to have too many of those seasons end up like 2016 Luis Severino.
Number nine is right field on a baseball scorecard, and the odds are high that the Yankees ninth-place hitter in 2016 will also be the right fielder. The spotlight will be on whoever takes that role, and a couple of Aarons are vying for the bulk of the playing time. Aaron Hicks is really in a make-or-break position, as despite his potential, his 2016 was mostly a nightmare. If he struggles again out of the gate, then the Yankees won’t have much incentive to keep him and hope he turns it around.
Meanwhile, Aaron Judge had the prospect sheen on him fade a little bit with his first exposure to MLB pitching. The titanic homer in his first at-bat could only help him so much, and he hit just .179/.263/.345 with a 61 OPS+ and 42 strikeouts in 27 games before going down with an oblique injury. I’m not personally worried about Judge since every time he’s received a promotion, he’s gone through initial slumps, but the average Yankees fan will not be so patient.
2015 rookie sensation Greg Bird missed roughly eight months of baseball following surgery to repair a torn shoulder labrum in February. It was the duration of the 2016 season, and his presence at first base was seriously missed, particularly given Mark Teixeira’s dismal campaign and the number of injuries at the position.
Bird did return to game action in time for the Arizona Fall League, and it appears as though the 2017 starting role at first is his to lose. It’s not easy to come back from season-ending injuries though, so next year will be big for him. Regardless, the “Return of the Word” is absolutely one of the most exciting Yankees storylines to follow.
After the 2016 trade deadline, the Yankees suddenly had seven of the top 100 prospects in baseball: Clint Frazier, Gleyber Torres, Gary Sanchez, Jorge Mateo, Aaron Judge, Justus Sheffield, and James Kaprielian. Of that group, Sanchez has graduated (Judge still qualifies), but given the early praise for 2016 first rounder Blake Rutherford, it looks like the Yankees will once again have seven top 100 prospects.
Even if the analysts determine that the sheen has worn off Kaprielian a little due to his injuries, Miguel Andujar and the recently acquired Albert Abreu should be in the conversation as well. There’s a good chance that Torres, the 2016 AFL MVP, is ranked among the top five in baseball. Regardless of where all these names fall, the consensus is clear that the Yankees have the best farm system in baseball.
The 2017 campaign will be CC Sabathia’s ninth season in pinstripes but the sixth since he signed his somewhat controversial extension prior to the 2012 season. This could very well end up being the big lefty’s final year with the Yankees, as his contract is up at year’s end. One of last active connections to the 2009 championship, Sabathia has had a superb Yankees career, even while acknowledging his shaky years in the middle.
Sabathia was an annual Cy Young Award candidate from 2009-12 and the consummate ace. Those other years shouldn’t diminish from that fact, and his comeback from alcoholism was the team’s most inspiring story from 2016. In terms of on-field performance, he was better than he had been in any year since 2012 (111 ERA+ in 30 starts). If the Yankees have any playoff hopes for 2017, they will need him to deliver again in his possible swan song.
Here’s the Yankees’ projected starting lineup for 2017, with age included in parentheses:
LF Brett Gardner (33)
CF Jacoby Ellsbury (33)
C Gary Sanchez (24)
DH Matt Holliday (37)
1B Greg Bird (24)
2B Starlin Castro (27)
SS Didi Gregorius (27)
3B Chase Headley (33)
RF Aaron Judge (25)
Five players in that batting order are 27 or younger. Even if one substitutes Hicks for Judge, he is only 27 years old, too. The team is definitely getting younger, and they should be fun to watch grow with even more youth on the way.
Masahiro Tanaka is a relatively reliable ace for the front of the Yankees’ rotation, though it gets dicier at the second and third spots with Michael Pineda and CC Sabathia. The key will be everyone in the fourth starter role and down though, as right now, those spots are complete wild cards. Luis Severino, Luis Cessa, Chad Green, Bryan Mitchell, and Adam Warren will all be in the mix there in spring training, and Triple-A starters Jordan Montgomery and Dietrich Enns could see time during the season as well.
The back of the rotation is a major weakness and could definitely use at least one generic MLB arm like Jason Hammel or Doug Fister to at least absorb some of those innings. It’s not as though the Yankees would be short-changing the youth all that much by signing one, either, as the starting pitching is fragile enough to still feature plenty of time for them. I doubt Hal Steinbrenner does much of anything beyond non-roster invitees along the same ilk as 2013 Freddy Garcia though. Oh well.
Since Adam Warren might end up in the rotation due to the Yankees’ needs, they currently only have three reliable arms in the bullpen in Dellin Betances, Aroldis Chapman, and Tyler Clippard. That is concerning, and like the back of the rotation, they will need the youth to step up to stabilize the middle relief.
Maybe it will be an intriguing prospect, like Jonathan Holder. Maybe it will be an overlooked veteran, like Tommy Layne. Maybe it will be a possible starter seeing bullpen time due to need, like Warren or Severino. Either way, someone needs to step up because otherwise, those three arms are going to be absolutely exhausted by season’s end.
On May 14th, the Yankees will do the inevitable and retire Derek Jeter’s number two, sending the last of the single digits to Monument Park. That will obviously be one of Yankee Stadium’s biggest events of the year, and the tickets for that game are already at sky-high prices.
Well, there is another single digit remaining. Now, to pressure the Yankees to actually issue number zero...
Only one catcher in MLB history has ever hit 20 homers in his first 51 career games, and that is the man behind the plate for the 2017 Yankees. With such a torrid start, Gary Sanchez will have crazy expectations on him by Opening Day 2017. Even simply hitting 20 homers again in a full season would be huge. I can’t wait to see what Gary does for an encore.
Cheers to the possibilities of 2017!