2016 was a tale of two seasons for the Yankees. In the first half, the team massively underperformed. The lineup was lifeless, the pitching left much to be desired, and the roster was filled with disappointing and injured veterans. Things were looking pretty ugly, and just when fans began to wonder if the team was due for their first losing season in decades, things turned around. After selling at the deadline, an infusion of youth turned the team from an unwatchable mess, and into an exciting dark horse playoff contender.
We all know how the season ultimately ended, but what about the players that helped get us there? Here are the winners and losers of the 2016 Yankees.
The team’s best starting pitcher hit the jackpot a year early. In the season before he can opt out of his remaining deal, Tanaka proved that he is bound to leave in free agency and is probably looking ahead to that big fat raise. He proved that he is indeed the ace pitcher the Yankees have always needed him to be, and he is sure to finish among the top 5 Cy Young candidates. The 2016 season went a pretty long way toward attracting the attention of every other team in baseball.
Most importantly, he showed that his elbow is doing just fine by pitching for a full season without missing substantial time from injury. He essentially threw 200 innings this year, a number that has been tough for the Yankees recently. While an opt out was always likely, as long as his elbow holds up, Tanaka will enter free agency and score big. His performance this year just goes to show how little time the Yankees have before their best pitcher is gone.
Obviously not a player, but I have to give him a nod here. He took a disappointing, ugly team and managed to turn it into arguably the best farm system in baseball. He might not have been looking too good during the summer, but he more than made up for it at the trade deadline. Cashman managed to turn Andrew Miller, plus outgoing players Aroldis Chapman and Carlos Beltran into five top 100 prospects in Clint Frazier, Gleyber Torres, Justus Sheffield, Dillon Tate, and Billy McKinney. When you consider all the other ancillary talent in those deals, it’s no surprise that the Yankees organization is thought to have one of the deepest systems in baseball.
Add to this the fact that both Miller and Chapman helped their respective teams make it to the World Series, dueling on the national stage. They were such good additions that people asked who had won at the trade deadline. The answer is Brian Cashman.
At the beginning of the year, it seemed unlikely that we would see Gary Sanchez for a significant amount of time. Brian McCann was the starting catcher, and there was no way the Yankees would allow Sanchez to sit on the bench as the backup. All he could do was continue to hit in Triple-A as we continued to wonder about his future in the organization. Then the team gave up on the season, brought one of their top prospects up to get some reps–because, hey, why not–and everything fell into place.
In just 53 games, Gary hit 20 home runs, brought in 42 RBI, and finished the season with a 1.032 OPS. He began his incredible run by hitting .389/.458/.832 over the month of August, and was the first rookie in history to win back-to-back Player of the Week awards. By the end of the season, he led the team with 3.2 WAR and was among the top five catchers in baseball. What made things even better was the fact that he looked like an actual catcher behind the plate, to the point where he looked better than McCann and displaced the veteran from his job. Look up winner in the dictionary, and Gary Sanchez’s cherubic face will be there, staring back at you.
After a promising rookie season, Severino turned in a disastrous sophomore effort. We’ve seen young pitchers struggle before, but this was something different entirely. The 22-year-old had no fastball command, completely abandoned his changeup, and often looked incapable of getting an out. As a starter he pitched to an 8.50 ERA and rarely reached the fifth inning. On top of that, he was yanked around for a good portion of the season, and when he was finally given instructions on how to do better, he was enlisted into the big league bullpen for a fairytale playoff chase.
Severino did manage to turn things around after he was moved to the bullpen in September, but that small amount of time doesn’t make up for months of failure. In fact, that success only compounds the problem because it prevented him from working on what he needed to improve, and it could potentially turn into an ongoing debate about where exactly he should be pitching long-term. Instead of debating, second guessing, and pulling him every which direction, the Yankees should be letting him figure out how to be a starting pitcher.
It was just last winter that Mark Teixeira showed up for spring training and said he wanted to play for another five years before he retired. He was obviously riding high on his magical 2015 season, but at the time there was no reason to think he couldn’t stick around somewhere, in some role, for another few years. However, the 2016 season didn’t just end up being the worst of his career, it also managed to sink all his plans for the future. Funny how life doesn’t work out like we want it to.
Teixeira got off to an ugly start to the season before hitting the disabled list with torn cartilage in his knee that very nearly ended his season. For a moment it seemed he would go under the knife, but he avoided surgery and made it back. Nothing changed, though. It was about this time that we found out about all the pre-game rituals and conditioning he went through just to get into game shape. Hours of massages, heat and pressure treatment, acupuncture. It was so bad that he needed advanced notice before he played because it was too hard for him to get his body ready. I guess somewhere along the line he got tired of it all and decided to call it quits. What a difference a year makes.
At one point, Eovaldi was supposed to be the team’s latest project to turn into something magical. Unfortunately, for various reasons, it just never worked out like everyone wanted. Instead of finally unlocking his secrets, he looked like more of an enigma than ever before. His blazing fastball velocity never converted into more strikeouts or less contact, and just as the team introduced a splitter to his arsenal of pitches, everything fell apart.
Known to wear on a pitcher’s arm, the new pitch could have been a contributing factor to the fate that befell his arm. After leaving a start in August, it was discovered that Eovaldi had torn his flexor tendon and damaged his UCL, a ligament he already had repaired once before. Now after having undergone Tommy John for a second time in his career, he is expected to miss all of 2017, his time in pinstripes is likely over, and his career is probably in jeopardy. The moral of the story is always to never pitch, but if you have to, make sure you’re on a guaranteed contract before you do.