With the addition of Aroldis Chapman, the Yankees may have the strongest back end of the bull pen in all of baseball. The tandem of Closer Andrew Miller, who saved 36 of 38 attempts in 2015 and had an earned run average of 2.04 with 100 strikeouts, and Dellin Betances with an ERA of 1.50 and 131 strikeouts in 84 innings were as good as anyone in baseball. Add Chapman, who struck out 106 with the Reds in 54 innings while saving 33 of 36 attempts with an ERA of 1.63, to that pair and no one will want to go to the seventh inning trailing the Yankees.
More and more teams are following the lead of the Kansas City Royals who rode a strong back end of the bullpen to two World Series in a row over the last two years. The Yankees could lose Chapman for a part of the season as he is facing a possible suspension as a result of a domestic violence incident.
The Yankees also picked up Starlin Castro from the Cubs to fill their hole at second base that has seen a parade of people since Robinson Cano went to Seattle. The infield will have Mark Teixeira back at first, if he can stay healthy at 35, Castro, who hit .265 with 11 homers and 69 RBI’s for the Cubs last year, at second, Didi Gregorius, coming off his best year yet with a .265 average, at short, and Chase Headley, who hit .264 with 11 homers and 62 RBI’s at third.
They have 23 year old Greg Bird to back up Teixeira at first. Bird hit .261 with an impressive 11 homers and 31 RBI’s in 46 games while filling in for him last year. They also have 25 year old Rob Refsnyder, who played 16 games at second last year and hit .302 after hitting .271 in AAA in 111 games before being called up.
The outfield, as of this writing, has Brett Gardner in left, Jacoby Ellsbury in center, Carlos Beltran in right and Aaron Hicks, acquired from Minnesota as backup. Gardner, .259 with 16 homers, 66 RBI’s and 20 stolen bases in 2015, Ellsbury with a .257 average in just 111 games and 21 stolen bases and Beltran, .276 with 19 homers and 67 RBI’s look to be the starters if one of them doesn’t get traded. Gardner was rumored to be on the trade market but so far is still a Yankee. Hicks, picked up from Minnesota where he hit .256 in 97 games last year will share the outfield duties.
Brian McCann behind the plate, is a workhorse, playing in 135 games last year with 26 homers and 94 RBI’s on a .232 batting average. He is one of the best hitting catchers in the game. The Yankees unloaded backup catcher John Ryan Murphy to get Hicks from the Twins and it appears that either rookie Gary Sanchez or young Austin Romine will be the back up this year unless a trade is made.
The Yankees have seemed to be aging forever and this year’s version is no exception. Aside from the middle infield with Gregorius and Castro, both 25, all the position players are over 30, including Beltran at 38 and don’t forget designated hitter Alex Rodriguez, now 40. He had a comeback year last year, hitting .250 with 33 homers and 86 RBI’s but was just 35 for 183 or
.191 in August, September and October. Don’t look for as much production from him this year.
They have five right handed starters in Masahiro Tanaka, 27, Michael Pineda, 26, Nathan Eovaldi, 25, Ivan Nova, 28 and Luis Severino, 21. Tanaka was 12-7 with a 3.51 ERA with only 24 starts due to an elbow problem, and Pineda, who missed all of 2012 and 2013, was 12-10 with a 4.37 ERA in 27 starts. Eovaldi had his best year ever at 14-3, with a 4.20 ERA, after coming over from the National League where he had been 14-33 in the last three years.
Nova, coming back from Tommy John surgery, was only 6-11 with a 4.33 ERA after his return on June 24, but averaged over 93 miles per hour on his four seam fastball, a good sign after surgery. Several teams have indicated an interest in Nova but, as of this writing, it appears no one is willing to give up enough talent to get the Yankees to trade him. Highly touted rookie Luis Severino, brought up in August, was 5-3 with an impressive 2.89 ERA in 11 starts. Veteran left hander, C. C. Sabathia, who left the team to be treated for alcoholism at the end of the season was 6-10 with a 4.73 ERA but went 2-1 with a 2.17 ERA in five starts after being fitted for a leg brace in September.
If Sabathia and Nova can return to close to their old form and the rest of the rotation stays healthy the Yankees’ starters are more than adequate to make the Yankees capable of holding their own.
Their long and middle inning relief may be the Yankees weakest spot at this point. Chasen Shreve, a 25 year old left hander, who was in 59 games last year with a 3.09 ERA and 79 strikeouts in 70 2/3 innings and 24 year old left hander Brandon Pinder, 25 games with a 2.93 E RA, are expected to lead the way now that Justin Wilson has been traded to the Tigers and Adam Warren went to the Cubs for Castro.
Like most teams, pitching is the key to the Yankees season. The potential is there and I won’t be surprised if Joe Girardi works his special magic with them and makes a run at the Eastern Division Championship. With the young, talented Red Sox team poised to realize their potential, this could be a classic Yankee/Red Sox pennant race.