Most years, spring training predictions are based around which rookies and unknowns will fight their way onto a major league roster, or which players will bounce back from injury-marred seasons. This year, however, spring training predictions are forced to revolve around players not yet in any camp, as the wealth of Major League talent yet to sign contracts far surpasses any past precedent or the unproven talent fighting to be the 24th or 25th man on Major League rosters. As such, despite the Yankees finally having a wealth of prospects for the first time in what feels like ages, the major headlines still revolve around potential additions. In an effort to move away from these free agency dominated headlines, here are my top 3 predictions for Spring Training 2018:
1) The Yankees continue the slow offseason by not making any major roster moves
While Jake Arrieta, Lance Lynn, and Alex Cobb still remain on the market, and the Yankees have minimum proven major league talent beyond their starting five, ultimately the Yanks desire to both get younger and get under the salary cap will prevail. While New York could manage fitting one of the above players and maintain their salary under the cap, it would either mean a) removing their ability to make a major move at the trade deadline or b) trading a player on a large contract. Removing their flexibility to make a big move at the deadline would be too big of a risk to gain a 6th starter, considering that the trade deadline is a perfect opportunity to fill a hold left by an injured player or an under-performing veteran. Regarding (b), while moving Jacoby Ellsbury’s contract at this point would be a miracle, even Ninja-Cash cannot pull off that magic; in addition, David Robertson, the only other viable contract to move, provides far more value than a 6th starter. Robertson is certain to play a big role in the ‘pen, while a 6th starter is really only insurance in case of an injury.
Adding a veteran infielder like Mike Moustakas, while nice in theory, presents similar problems, even on a 1-year contract. The Yankees would be forced to give up either an important contributor like Robertson or the trade deadline flexibility they need in order to plug a hole in preparation for a postseason run. Given such high-upside internal options as Gleyber Torres or Miguel Andujar, the gain of adding Moustakas would not provide as much upside as holding onto Robertson or making a big move at the trade deadline.
2) The Yankees take the risk, and roll with two rookie starters in the infield on Opening Day
Without adding any Major Leaguer infielders, the Yankees only two options are to start their highly touted rookie infielders or to plug the gap with replacement level veterans. Thus far, many people have been predicting that the Yanks will start Andujar on Opening Day, but hold off on Torres to save a year of pre-free agency control. The problem with this plan is it potentially sacrifices a few wins in 2018 in exchange for a benefit 6 years down the road. If New York ends the season behind Boston by 1 game in the division and then loses the coin-toss of a wild-card game, Cashman could regret this decision for years. You don’t trade for a 325 million dollar contract (that’s right, Giancarlo Stanton is a Yankee!) unless you plan on going all-in right away, and the best way to do that is to fly north of the border with the best 25 players available, regardless of the impact 6 years down the line.
3) The injury bug strikes again, and the Yanks are missing either a starting pitcher or impact bat when they travel to Toronto to open the season
The real season is sure to have its fair share of ups and downs, and so predictions must as well. As much fun as it would be, navigating spring training without a major injury is very unlikely. Aaron Hicks bad luck with injuries may continue, and he could miss the first few weeks of the season with some minor ailment. The clear downside would be having Ellsbury back in center field on a daily basis, but on the plus side, we would get to see more of Red Thunder.
If Hicks can manage to avoid injury, then perhaps one of the starting pitchers will go down. Perhaps Sonny Gray’s injury past comes back and sidelines him for some time, or CC’s magic knee brace finally gives in, and he misses time. While seeing a starter go down, even for only a few weeks, would be terrible, we might get the opportunity to see Chance Adams in Pinstripes for several starts, and the excitement of finally having another starting pitching prospect after so long may offset the damage of losing one of our starting five.
Predictions are fun, but nothing compares to real baseball. I can’t wait until spring training games start, and we get to see how rookie manager Aaron Boone pieces his new lineup together. Until then though, let the debate continue. Share your thoughts in the comments section, and let’s wait for Opening Day the only way we know how – predicting the memorable season to come!