The 2017 Yankees weren’t just well-regarded because they were winning, it’s because they were also fun. Led by a young core of potential (actual?) superstars, those Yankees were a far cry from past teams. With Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez destroying baseballs and Luis Severino establishing himself as a top starter, they made the Yankees likable as they ushered in a new era in the storied franchise’s history.
Fast forward to this winter. Now that the Yankees have established themselves as a top-flight squad, this was going to be the winter they completed their team. Bryce Harper and Manny Machado are free agents and both had been tied to the Yankees for years now, and yet both remain unsigned.
It’s okay though because we get Brett Gardner and J.A. Happ and a dominant bullpen again. All of that makes me feel like this:
It’s not that the owners are being “cheap.” They’re not. It’s that they’re “being smart” (read: spending stupidly). Instead of Harper or Machado, we get to see them spend money on DJ LeMahieu. Instead of spending on a young, exciting pitcher like Patrick Corbin, we get to root for J.A. Happ and CC Sabathia.
The moves they made would be fine if they tried for the premier free agents but lost out. At least then we could say “hey at least they tried but still managed to find a solid Plan B.” But it’s not great when Plan B is really their Plan A. The organization doesn’t seem to want to put the best possible team out there, and they’re fine with spending less as long as they can say they spent and upgraded so they can sell fans on the “championship-caliber team” dream.
We always knew they didn’t need Harper or Machado to be good or contend. They were always going to be good and they were always going to contend and in this era of rampant rebuilding, they’ll probably waltz right into the playoffs. Either or both of those guys would just add the “umph” to make us crave baseball again.
It’s difficult to see the super-rich owners care more about being extra-extra-rich instead of just extra-rich. All of this makes spring training harder to look forward to. All of that being said, when spring training does start and highlights of Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton sending baseballs to the moon trickle in, I’ll get that warm feeling in my stomach. I’ll be giddy. Because while the organization makes it difficult, the Yankees still have an exciting team.
So what exactly will get Yankees fans feeling all giddy?
1. Aaron Judge doing Aaron Judge things
2. Has Sevy figured it out?
When he’s right and healthy, there’s no doubt Luis Severino is one of the best starting pitchers in baseball. None of us know for sure whether he was tipping pitches, fatigued, or both, but after an electrifying first half, Sevy fell off a cliff. He thinks a new workout will help him from getting fatigued, so maybe this is the year he puts it together for a full season?
3. Sophomore Sensations
All eyes will be on Gleyber Torres and Miguel Andujar this year, especially the latter. The Sophomore Slump is a very real and dangerous phenomenon and it’ll take a lot for last year’s rookie sensations to adjust as the league adjusts to them. Andujar will be under even more scrutiny as his presence and ability is one of the main reasons Manny Machado isn’t a Yankee right now, so it’ll be fun to see whether the he rewards the team’s belief in him.
4. Giancarlo, Part II
Some people think Giancarlo Stanton has a “bloated contract” or that he was bad last year. Those people are wrong. While Aaron Judge was on the disabled list it was Stanton who almost single-handedly carried the team on his back à la 2016 Gary Sanchez. Sure he didn’t hit 50+ home runs, but he still hit 38 moonshots. Now he’s had time to adjust to his new league and new surroundings, so let’s get ready for his second act.
5. Return of the Kraken
I think most people agree that Gary Sanchez isn’t as bad as he was last year. If that’s really the case, then he could be an early contender for Comeback Player of the Year. If he can return to form and help solidify the middle of the lineup and also improve his pitch-receiving, he’ll bring back that excitement he initially brought when he was called up to the majors for good in 2016.
There are plenty of reasons to be frustrated by the Yankees but I have no doubt that when the games start these special players will come together and have me feeling fuzzy inside again. The organization can be frustrating, but luckily they have fun players to make up for that.