It used to be common for Yankees to be in contention for major awards. It wasn't too long ago that Alex Rodriguez won two MVP awards as a Yankee (2005, 2007), that CC Sabathia finished top three in Cy Young voting (2010), or that (newly resurgent?) Chien-Ming Wang finished second in the Cy Young vote (2006). In recent years, however, there has been little chance of a Yankee taking home major hardware.
Not since 2010 has a Yankee finished in the top three of the MVP or Cy Young vote, when Robinson Cano and Sabathia were still in their primes. Since Cano left, the closest a Yankee has come to any sort of award was in 2014, when Dellin Betances finished third in Rookie of the Year voting. Last year, a handful of Yankees received just a couple of down-ballot votes for MVP. In 2014, the Bombers didn't even appear on a single ballot.
What are the chances that trend reverses in 2016? Let's go through each major award, in order of least likely to most.
Most Valuable Player
Given the lack of stars on the Yankees' roster, it seems unlikely any Yankee will contend for the MVP. If the Yankees as a whole perform well, however, someone may garner at least a hint of MVP consideration. The best bet could be Mark Teixeira.
While he's not the Yankees' best player, he may be the player with the best chance to win this award. In 2015, Teixeira displayed form reminiscent of his excellent prime, posting a team-high 147 OPS+, while smashing 31 home runs and notching 79 RBI. Before succumbing to a leg injury, Teixeira's performance was enough to generate a bit of actual MVP buzz from some in the media. If Teixeira can hold up for an entire season, and perform at last year's levels, he could compile impressive counting stats that are still valued by many who vote for major awards. It is rather foolish to base MVP votes on things like RBI and team wins, but if the Yankees succeed as a team next year, Teixeira's MVP candidacy may have some legs.
If Teixeira represents the Yankees' best candidate in the eyes of an old-school electorate, then Brian McCann may be the best candidate from a more new-school perspective. Much of McCann's value is derived from his abilities as a pitch framer. While his framing numbers declined last season, if McCann can bounce back defensively, he might be the most valuable player on the team. By Baseball Prospectus' value metrics (which incorporate framing for catchers), McCann, based on his aptitude behind the plate, was actually worth over 8 WARP as recently as 2011. If he can recapture anything near that kind of form, and combine it with the power stroke he found last season, McCann would probably the Yankees' best MVP candidate, from a more analytical perspective.
For a Yankee to contend for the Cy Young award, someone will have to breakout. This pitcher will need to have high upside, even if he's not the safest bet. Thus, the team's best chance at the Cy Young Award might be Michael Pineda.
Pineda is anything but a sure thing. Despite a fantastic start that actually had him in early Cy Young discussion, Pineda ended 2015 with just a 4.37 ERA in 160 innings. However, even with his frustrating overall performance, his potential may be the highest of the Yankees' staff. Turning to Baseball Prospectus' PECOTA projections, Pineda's 90th percentile outcome is the rotation's best. Such an outcome entails 206 innings of 2.73-ERA pitching for Pineda, good for 5.0 WARP (for comparison, Clayton Kershaw's 5.2 WARP is the best median projection provided PECOTA).
No other Yankee can match that upside. Masahiro Tanaka sports a 90th percentile projection of 4.7 WARP in 204 innings. Nathan Eovaldi's 90th percentile forecast is only 3.3 WARP in 178 innings. Pineda certainly isn't the safest arm the Yankees have, given his injury history, as well as his problems with home runs and hard contact last season. He may not even be the Yankees' best arm. He just might be the pitcher with the greatest upside, though, and thus the Yankees' best chance at a surprise Cy Young contender.
Rookie of the Year
This might be the award that requires the least strain to imagine, at least in terms of player performance. Aaron Judge, even with his recent demotion to minor league camp, could have a legitimate shot at Rookie of the Year.
Judge likely will get the call to the majors at some point in 2016. If he does, his performance very well might place him among the AL's elite rookies. ZiPS projects Judge for a .464 slugging percentage and 30 home runs in over 500 plate appearances. He almost certainly won't reach that plate appearance threshold, but his power, as well as his surprisingly solid defensive capabilities, could put him in a real race with players like Byron Buxton and Joey Gallo.
Playing time could be the biggest hurdle for Judge. Carlos Beltran and his $15 million salary are firmly entrenched in the right field starting slot, and Aaron Hicks is a more than capable fourth outfielder. With Alex Rodriguez limited to DH, there's simply nowhere to put Judge right now. Injuries will certainly occur, though, and when they do, Judge may get the call. Unfortunately, that call might not come early enough for Judge to toss his name into the Rookie of the Year running.
When running down the Yankees' chances at a major award, a theme emerges; many things would have to go just right. Sure, if Pineda stays healthy and puts it all together, he could be a Cy Young contender. "Aaron Judge, Rookie of the Year" is totally plausible, if injuries strike at the big league level and leave Judge with avenues to major playing time. Ultimately, 2016 will likely be another year in which no Yankee generates genuine award buzz. If a surprise player does emerge and merits award consideration, it would be a serious positive for New York's playoff hopes.