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What should the Yankees’ 2017 lineup look like?

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Joe Girardi has a number of different ways to construct his lineup for the upcoming season.

Toronto Blue Jays v New York Yankees Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

When the Yankees’ starting lineup is announced for the first time this April (hurry up, please), there will be new faces and plenty of changes from the 2016 look. While that aspect is a certainty, there are still plenty of unanswered questions as to how the lineup should be constructed. Spring training performances could reveal more about this topic, but for now let’s look at some of the many possibilities Joe Girardi has to toy with this season.

The first question I have actually does not pertain to the Baby Bombers and where they will be penciled in on the lineup card, but the positioning of Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner. Brian Cashman hinted that there may be changes coming to the top of the order, which has mainly been occupied by Ellsbury and Gardner.

Ellsbury was the leadoff man in 2016 until after the All-Star break when Girardi elected to give the honors to Gardner. Both played in 148 games last season and posted almost identical batting averages. Gardner had the edge in OBP and walks, but struck out 22 more times than Ellsbury. I would say Ellsbury has the edge over Gardner in terms of speed, but Gardner’s BABIP was 25 points higher than Ellsbury’s in 2016, and Gardner has shown some superiority over Ellsbury in terms of hitting in recent years.

Both seem like an equally qualified candidate for the leadoff role in 2017, but whoever Girardi chooses, the other should drop down in the lineup rather than batting behind the leadoff man. Gardner has experience batting ninth, so that could be an option for Girardi if he wants a catalyst at the bottom of the order. Again, Ellsbury appears to have the edge in speed at this point, although I would like to see him be more aggressive on the base paths this year. If he is willing to do that, he could return as the leadoff man and Gardner can drop down. Even if that situation is flip-flopped, it would be fine with me.

Now we get to the Baby Bombers. With Greg Bird returning, there will be plenty of opinions when it comes to where he and Gary Sanchez are positioned in the middle of the order. Assuming Bird is fully recovered from his shoulder injury and brings back his power stroke from 2015, I would like to see him batting third in front of Sanchez. Sanchez, who finished the year batting .299 last season, will likely hit for a higher average than Bird, but both have shown that they can hit home runs. Now both players are very young and time will tell if they will develop into legitimate middle-of-the-order guys, but I can see Girardi trying to see if he try and build from the ground up what he had in his champion 2009 lineup.

Both Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez were the Yankees’ main power sources when healthy and in the lineup, with Teixeira batting third in front of the cleanup hitter Rodriguez. Like Bird in 2015, Teixeira was a slugger who would not hit for much average but would supply plenty of power. Bird fit that mold in 2015, so the three hole would be a good spot for him with Sanchez cleaning up behind him. Aaron Judge can eventually become a candidate for this job as well if he unlocks his potential, but will need to work on his approach against breaking balls in 2017. Until then, he should start a little further down the lineup. So if Bird and Sanchez produce like Yankees fans hope they will, the lineup could look something like this.

  1. Gardner
  2. Gregorius
  3. Bird
  4. Sanchez
  5. Holliday
  6. Castro
  7. Judge
  8. Headley
  9. Ellsbury

Girardi does have the option of taking the wait-and-see approach on his young sluggers, and place newcomer Matt Holliday in the cleanup role. Holliday has been a lock for 20 home runs over the past few years, and with playing the field no longer a necessity, he should be able to see more at-bats and settle into the DH role nicely. To start the season, the lineup could look something like this:

  1. Gardner
  2. Gregorius
  3. Sanchez
  4. Holliday
  5. Castro
  6. Bird
  7. Judge
  8. Headley
  9. Ellsbury

Of course there will be tinkerings against lefties, where Tyler Austin and Aaron Hicks can replace Bird and Ellsbury. If Bird returns to his 2015 form, we could see a switch between him and Holliday. I like Gregorius in the second spot because of his ever-increasing hitting ability, and as long as he can develop his patience at the plate, he will be a great table-setter for the power bats lurking behind him.

There will always be minor adjustments here and there due to rest and/or pitching matchups, but I could see a lineup of this build in 2017. Much of the unknown is due to the question marks that surround the players that make up this lineup, but clearly there are a few different avenues that Girardi can travel when it comes to shaping his new batting order.