Thanksgiving is a time to reflect on what we have in our lives and to give thanks for certain things we take for granted. This can be perfectly applied to sports. Right now, Yankees fans have a lot to be thankful for. Despite a 2018 season that was frustrating at times, the Yankees had a highly successful campaign and are poised to take the next step in the near future. Here are five things Yankees fans should be thankful for this holiday season.
1. The team is aware of (and addressing) its weaknesses
In a vacuum, the Yankees had a great 2018 season. Several players had quality seasons and the team notched 100 wins. There were a few notable flaws, however, that held the Yankees back this year, namely starting pitching, defense and depth.
The Yankees could have sat on their hands and hoped things would work out, but they have already been proactive in addressing these weaknesses. They will move on from Sonny Gray, a massive underperformer last year, in a case of addition by subtraction. They will find a veteran shortstop to help plug the hole left by Didi Gregorius’s injury and to lengthen the bench. They will invest starting pitching, and already have added one of the game’s top available starters in James Paxton. The bullpen is still in flux, but the Yankees have been linked to several key arms, including David Robertson, Zach Britton, and Adam Ottavino.
Brian Cashman is an expert at identifying and addressing areas of improvement, and he has said that he will not pinch pennies when it comes to adding to the roster. The same problems that dogged the 2018 Yankees should not still be there next year.
2. Most of the core is entering or in its prime
As difficult as it was watching the Red Sox beat the Yankees and win the World Series, Yankees fans should remember that this was just the second year of a (hopefully) very large championship window. That doesn’t mean that the Yankees shouldn’t keep adding, but it does mean that the team still hasn’t hit its full potential yet, a scary thought for the rest of MLB. Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, Aaron Hicks, Didi Gregorius, Aroldis Chapman, James Paxton and Masahiro Tanaka are in their primes now, but the rest of the team is still developing on the fly.
Judge will be 27 next year and probably still has four-plus years of dominance left. Gary Sanchez is more than capable of bouncing back at age 26. Gleyber Torres and Miguel Andujar will be 22 and 24 next season, respectively. Luis Severino will be 25. These are incredibly young players who went through some growing pains last year and the team still had 100 wins. If the young players continue to develop, they’ll create one of the deepest teams in the MLB.
3. Veterans are still around in the right roles
While the team does have a large number of players in or near their primes, the Yankees also kept some veterans around at the right price and in the right roles. The only real leaders on the Yankees last year were CC Sabathia, Brett Gardner and Aaron Judge. As Judge continues to grow as a leader, keeping Sabathia and Gardner around in smaller roles is a win-win for both the player and the team. The Yankees can’t expect these guys to play like they did in their primes, but they are perfect depth pieces and excellent clubhouse guys who should also benefit from more rest.
4. Favorable payroll situation
The Yankees finally got under the luxury tax this year, which puts them in a prime position to start spending again. Furthermore, the team is no longer burdened by long-term contracts. Only six players are actually under contract right now, and only two are under contract through 2021. An overwhelming majority of the team is either arbitration-eligible now or even pre-arbitration-eligible. The Yankees will have to start paying their young players before long, but right now, they have a lot of financial flexibility that they can use to their advantage when it comes to this year’s free agency market. The Yankees should have no financial limits in adding pieces to this team.
5. Absence of other threats in the American League
Although I said earlier that the Yankees have a reasonably large contention window, the fact is that these windows always end up being shorter than we anticipate. Right now, there are only two other legitimate potential super-teams in the American League: the Boston Red Sox and the Houston Astros. The Rays had a good 2018, but can’t (or won’t) invest enough to become power-players. Similar things can be said about the Athletics and Indians, good teams with questionable commitments to winning.
The time for contention is now for the Yankees. Fans endured a mini “rebuild,” but the team has emerged about as good as could have been reasonably expected. If the Yankees can just find a way to beat the Red Sox, then the team’s 41st pennant can be theirs. There isn’t much competition in the division outside of Boston, and Houston is the only other team in the American League that can realistically challenge the Yankees for ultimate AL supremacy. Despite the sour note that 2018 ended on, the Yankees still look poised for a deep playoff run in 2019.