It's (finally) almost baseball season. After four months of the offseason and a month of spring training, we're now just over a week away from regular season Yankee baseball. Although there are still some questions left to be answered by the end of spring training, it's time we also start looking ahead to the regular season questions and storylines that should dominate the Yankee world over the first month or so of the season.
Which middle reliever(s) will step up during Aroldis Chapman's suspension?
One of the biggest additions for the Yankees this offseason is the flame-throwing lefty, but he'll miss the first 30 games of the season serving a suspension. Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller will hold down the fort late in the game, but the rest of bullpen is weakened without Chapman.
Chasen Shreve was reliable for most of last season but struggled down the stretch. He's a lock to be in the bullpen, and should be a dependable tertiary option, but he's not a sure thing. The rest of the bullpen is still mostly up in the air. Johnny Barbato and Kirby Yates have both pitched very well this spring, but neither has much major league success. Bryan Mitchell has also impressed, but they may want to keep him as a starter. Nick Goody, Branden Pinder, Diego Moreno, and Anthony Swarzak are also in the mix, but none of them have given sufficient enough reason to believe they'll be reliable in middle relief.
Even with a historic backend, the rest of the bullpen figures to be questionable all season. The problem will be particularly magnified without Chapman, but it could give someone the opportunity to step up and be a force all season.
Will Mark Teixeira have one of his typical slow starts?
Teixeira has been a notorious slow starter throughout his career. Through 2014, Teixeira was a .236 hitter in his April career with just 36 home runs, over 20 less than his next lowest month's total. Last season, however, the switch-hitter looked good in April. He still only hit .216, but he just doesn't hit for average anymore anyway. The important thing was he hit eight homers and drove in 18 runs, so he was definitely producing.
Perhaps Teixeira's slow starts are behind him. The Yankees will have to hope so. The offense struggled down the stretch last season while missing his switch-hitting power bat that really balances the lineup and protects the hitters around him. It could be a long April for the Yankee offense if Tex starts slow.
How will Starlin Castro and Aaron Hicks adjust to pinstripes?
The Yankees were relatively quiet this offseason, but these two are the main offensive additions. Castro will play every day, while Hicks will start against all lefties and probably some righties. Castro has looked great in spring training, hitting the cover off the ball. He should be a huge upgrade over Stephen Drew, although I suppose that's not saying much. He still has some adjustments to make, though. He's played his entire career in Chicago and has limited experience at second base, where he'll now be playing every day.
Hicks, a former top prospect, will have to get used to being a backup/platoon player and basically only batting right-handed. Ideally, he'll excel in that role like last season when he slashed .307/.375/.495 against left-handers. If one of the starting outfielders goes down, though, Hicks will have to adjust to being an every day player.
Both are young, exciting players who should contribute this season, but if they get off to slow starts in April/May, Yankee fans are not known for their patience.
How will A-Rod perform another year older?
Alex Rodriguez was the biggest question mark entering last season. At almost 40 years old and coming off a year-long suspension, people thought he'd be lucky if he could play at all. On April 17th, it became clear he was back to his old self when he launched a 471-foot moonshot in Tampa Bay. A-Rod continued to put all the doubts behind him and had a great first half, hitting .278 with 18 home runs.
He struggled mightily in the second half, though. He put up a .216 average (.153 in August), and was striking out more than a quarter of the time. Now at 40, almost 41, and without the luxury of having a year and a half off prior to playing, it's fair to wonder how productive he can really be. He has looked pretty good in spring, hitting .303 with a home run and six RBI, but who knows how much that really means.
The rest of the offense can be projected somewhat reasonably, but A-Rod is a bit different. As a once perennial MVP candidate turned into the face of PEDs with a breaking down body who then reinvented himself to have a resurgent season, it's safe to say he's unpredictable. So, it's fair to ask how good he'll be this season. I wouldn't be surprised if he hits over 30 home runs again, but I also wouldn't be surprised if he gets hurt or is just unproductive. We'll find out soon what the 2016 version of A-Rod will look like.
Even though the Yankees aren't a perfect team and have many questions like the ones above, I think it's safe to say we're all just happy that Yankee baseball is almost back.