We are less than a month away from Spring Training baseball officially kicking off down in Florida and Arizona. The New York Yankees have set their reporting date for pitchers and catchers for February 14th down in Tampa Bay, Florida, while their position players will be showing up on February 18th. Those reporting dates will be followed by a months worth of exhibition games to help the Bronx Bombers prepare for the 2017 MLB season that they hope will bring better success than the 2016 campaign.
Last season the Yanks finished in fourth place in the American League East with a 84-78 record. That was nine games back of the division winning Boston Red Sox, as well as five games back of both the Toronto Blue Jays and Baltimore Orioles, who held down both Wild Card slots. Those three teams from the division made the playoffs in 2016, but there has been a decent amount of roster turnover for each of those clubs. That could very well open the door for the Yankees in 2017 to take a step forward.
But before we find out if that will be the case, the club has a few questions to answer before the 2017 season gets rolling. Every club has its share of questions as Spring Training approaches, some more difficult than others. For the Yankees, many of those questions will revolve around some of their younger players. Some arrived on the scene with a splash last season, while others did not get to shine. Before we know if 2017 will be a successful season or not, the answers to the following five questions will be answers.
Can Gary Sanchez do it again?
Gary Sanchez exploded upon his arrival in the Big Leagues in 2016. The 23-year-old catcher cemented his spot in the lineup with an absolutely stunning display of power. Over the course of 201 at-bats in 53 games, Sanchez batted .299 while hitting 20 home runs, driving in 42 runs and slugging .657. But that was only a small sample size, as he only played in about one third of the Yankees games.
The main part of this question is can Sanchez do it over the course of a full season. If he can, he would be hitting over 40 home runs and in contention to be the home run leader in all of MLB. It is likely his home run to fly ball ration will come down, resulting in a slight dip in that total. But overall, power certainly appears to be his strong point. The batting average likely will come down a tad as Major League pitchers start to study the film on him more. So do not be surprised if Sanchez goes through a bit of a rough patch in 2017, known as the dreaded sophomore slump.
What can the Yankees expect from Greg Bird in a full season?[Kenny]
The Yankees will have plenty of young players in their lineup this coming season, but none of them carry the “What can we expect from this guy?” question as much as Greg Bird, who is expected to be the primary first baseman for the team. Back in 2015, Bird got a small sample of what the Majors is all about. And he proved himself to be a very capable power bat, launching 11 home runs over the course of 157 at bats in 46 ballgames. But then around this time last year, Bird tore his labrum, and underwent shoulder surgery that would keep him out of the entire 2016 season.
Now as we approach Spring Training 2017, there will be plenty of eyes on the 24-year-old lefty swinging first baseman. Will we get the same guy who debuted at the end of the 2015 year, or was that just beginners luck? Is he capable of hitting much more than 20 home runs, given his career high in the minors was only 20 in a full campaign (2013 back in Single-A). We simply do not know, and Spring Training will certainly give us our first idea to what the answer will be.
Who will crack the starting rotation?
The starting rotation for the Yankees is a bit up in the air at the moment. Masahiro Tanaka is certainly cemented into the “ace” role of being the number one, but health concerns always have to be considered. He was dealing with a forearm issue at the end of last year, but assuming he starts this year off healthy, he holds down the one slot. He will be followed by two men who have had their share of ups in downs while wearing pinstripes: CC Sabathia and Michael Pineda. But following those three, the final two slots will be up for grabs this Spring.
Luis Severino entered last year with a ton of hype. He would go on to be extremely ineffective for the majority of the season, ultimately ending the season with a 5.83 ERA. Next up, we have Chad Green, who will start the Spring behind the eight ball as he recovers from an elbow issue. Adam Warren is slightly older option (he is 29) compared to the others, and was re-acquired last season from the Chicago Cubs in the Aroldis Chapman deal. Bryan Mitchell got a small taste last season, as he was given five starts at the end of the year, putting up ok, but far from great numbers. Finally we have Luis Cessa, who’s minor league strikeout rate did not carry over to the Major Leagues last year when he was given just over 70 innings to prove himself. Be sure to check back here in the next week for a more in depth look at the Yankees rotation options.
Will Brett Gardner be in pinstripes all season?
Brett Gardner has seen his name bandied about in trade rumors for several seasons now. He has been on of the Yankees most consistent players for a handful of seasons now, and could certainly bring back something of worth for the club. If the Yankees find themselves out of the playoff hunt by mid-season, expect to see his name once again on the block. The 33-year-old outfielder would provide a playoff caliber club with a veteran player with postseason experience who is a solid complimentary bat to add to a lineup.
After this season, Gardner has one more guaranteed season left on his deal, plus a club option for 2019. Given the prices that current free agents go for, the 11.5 million for 2018 and 12.5 million for the club option seem like fair prices for a player like Gardner. The Yankees would probably want something like a mid-level type of prospect who is close to the Majors in return. If we reach the point where the Yankees become sellers in 2017, I think those rumors will finally turn into an actual deal.
Will they make any big trades before opening day?
The New York Yankees have found themselves in the middle of a few big name trade rumors this winter. They never really seemed too involved in the Chris Sale talks, but his former teammate, Jose Quintana of the Chicago White Sox, is a different story. The Yankees could certainly use a man to anchor their pitching staff, and Quintana is still on the market. Given the club has been connected to him in the last few months, do not be completely surprised if you hear they dumped a bunch of prospects to land him before we reach April.
Another big name they have been connected too is the Pittsburgh Pirates’ Andrew McCutchen. Now this one seems like more of a long shot, but as I mentioned with Quintana, since the discussions have already taken place, it cannot be ruled out entirely. The Yankees do not have an immediate need in the outfield, but if they feel they could land McCutchen, they could also likely swing a deal to move Gardner for a pitcher. I would classify any major trades at this point to be unlikely, but I will not say it is impossible.
What questions do you have regarding the New York Yankees leading up to the 2017 season? Tell us in the comments!