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New York Yankees: An early look at the 2017 season


The 2016 season is still in progress, and technically the New York Yankees are not out of contention yet. With a little over a month left in the 2016 season, the Yankees sit seven games back in the American League East and four and a half games out of a wild card spot. But in the division they sit fourth, meaning they would need to leapfrog three teams to win the division. Likewise in the wild card, they would need to jump over three teams to get a playoff slot.

So while not mathematically eliminated, as their elimination number is 37, a playoff appearance from the 2016 Bronx Bombers is not likely. Even if the team were to put together a run that got them to October baseball, the team is not build to win this season. They were sellers at the deadline, and their eyes are clearly in the future.

Therefore, it is not too soon to begin looking at what 2017 may hold for the Yankees and their pinstripes. So below we will take a look at a position by position level to get a feel for what Yankees’ fans can expect when they arrive for 2017 spring training down in Tampa.

Catcher:

The team still has Brian McCann under contract, and that contract is not simply going to disappear. The 32-year-old catcher is still hitting home runs, but this season is clearly still one of his more disappointing in his career. The team’s big time catching prospect Gary Sanchez has come up and shown he can make a difference with the bat this season.

This puts the team in a bit of a difficult spot. As long as McCann is on the roster, he will see playing time because of the money he is making. But given Sanchez’s presence, the team will look to deal McCann this off-season like they have been doing thus far in August. But they are going to take on some serious cash if they wish to pull off a deal, which makes any trade questionable.

Sanchez is going to be in the lineup next season; it is just a matter of at what position. He is in the lineup because of his bat, not his defense. So it is possible the team decides to continue giving him at-bats as the DH and allow for McCann to hold onto catching duties. McCann’s status with the team will also likely dictate what type of future Austin Romine will hold with the club.

If the team moves McCann, Romine likely stays as a cheap backup to Sanchez. But if McCann remains, Romine’s days in pinstripes may be over. The pursuit of a free agent or trade target at the position seems unlikely, so do not expect any new names in the mix.

My prediction is the team is unsuccessful in moving McCann, and McCann and Sanchez will both see some time behind the dish next season.

First Base:

At the end of this season, Mark Teixeira’s days as a Yankee will be over. This will open the door for a young Yankee who gained the love of fans late last season but unfortunately has not played this season because of a shoulder injury: Greg Bird.

The 23-year-old launched 11 home runs in under 16o at-bats last year, and certainly, has the power to play in the big leagues. The Bird should have no issues come 2017 spring training, and the club is hoping to see him get into some games during the Arizona Fall League. Tyler Austin and Ben Gamel are two other young guys who may see a shot at the position in a backup role, or more if Bird were to struggle mightily.

It would not shock me one bit if the team went out and signed an aging veteran to a small contract to serve as a backup plan either. Names like Adam Lind, James Loney, Mike Napoli and even a younger guy like Logan Morrison could be on the Yankees radar. Anyone the team does add will simply be as Bird insurance, as the young guy is a clear cut favorite to hold down first in 2017.

Second Base:

Starlin Castro has had an ok first season as a Yankee. He has been nothing special but nothing completely terrible either. He is still under contract for three years plus a club option, so unless he is traded, he is not going anywhere. And lucky for Castro, he should not see much competition for his role to start next season.

Rob Refsnyder was a hot name coming into this season, but his stint with the club this season was not super impressive. He seems more destined to be a utility type of player than a starter, meaning he is not a name Castro should be too concerned about. Tyler Wade, currently at AA Trenton, could find himself Major League ready at some point next season. He is a contact type of hitter who does not have much power, and will be used more for his glove than his bat.

This may eventually become Didi Gregorius’s spot, but that will depend on how fast some of the Yankees’ bigger prospects, Jorge Mateo and Gleyber Torres, come up. Mateo himself may find himself at second, and could be Castro’s biggest threat in 2017, but he is more likely to be ready come 2018.

Given the depth the Yankees have in the middle infield within their system, fans can expect Castro to be manning the position to start next season. If the team finds themselves out of it, come next year’s deadline, Castro and his multiple years of control could be moved to make room for either Wade or Mateo.

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Third Base:

If you think the Yankees are regretting the Chase Headley contract right about now, you would be correct. Headley will be under contract for the next two seasons, and there are no clear cut answers to replace him. So third base is a safe bet to be one of the teams biggest weakness’s come 2017.

Ronald Torreyes has seen some time this season, and he is no more than a utility type fill in. The free agent pool is not all that attractive either. A reunion with Martin Prado is likely the most appealing option, but given he is not likely to put up any numbers better than Headley, it probably does not make sense to add payroll for one of the two to sit.

So the team pretty much has two options. Stick with Headley. Or trade him and try to get a young guy to take the position in the future while eating money. At the end of the day, the team likely is waiting on Miguel Andujar, who is on pace to have a shot in 2018. So expect to see more of Headley in 2017 as he keeps the seat warm. If someone is willing to take him, expect a one year deal to go to someone like Prado or David Freese.

Shortstop:

One of the bright spots of the Yankees current roster comes in the form of the man the team acquired to replace Derek Jeter: Didi Gregorius. Gregorius is having a solid season, and will most definitely be back in 2017. He is under contract for another three years, and he will likely remain with the club throughout those years.

As I mentioned earlier, the team does have two top shortstop prospects in the form of Torres and Mateo. Torres was the big name acquired from the Chicago Cubs in the Aroldis Chapman deal and is the team’s number two prospect. 2017 is likely still too soon for him, and the team will be in no rush to bring him up with Didi holding down the fort. But if he is tearing up the minors next season, I would not be surprised to see him mid-season, with Didi shifting to the other side of second.

Mateo is in the same boat. We will not see him until mid-season at the earliest, and if he comes up it will likely mean a change at second base as opposed to short. So expect to see a lot of Didi in 2017, with a young and upcoming shortstop prospect potentially making an impact come mid-season.

Outfield:

The outfield is likely to see a major change from the start of 2016 to the start of 2017. The team has four veterans who are currently under contract: Jacoby Ellsbury, Brett Gardner, Aaron Hicks and Dustin Ackley. Of the four, Ellsbury is probably the best bet to return in 2017 given his massive contract. Despite his spastics not living up to the money he makes, moving his contract is extremely unlikely, and he is likely to be manning center field in 2017.

Gardner is not having his best season, and while his trade value is not as high as it once was, he is likely to be moved given the team’s prospect depth at the position. I fully expect to see a Gardner deal in the off-season, likely for pitching. Hicks has had a disappointing first season with the Yankees, but his future could go either way. I see the team retaining him given he is a cheap fourth outfielder who still has some upside at 26. Ackley is currently recovering from a shoulder injury, and only has one more season left on his deal. He may start 2017 as a Yankee, but he will not finish it as one. Heck, I would not be surprised if he was elsewhere come spring training either.

In right field will be Aaron Judge, no questions asked. He has been a top prospect for the team for several seasons now, and he has finally arrived. And he has had success in the limited at bats we have seen from him in 2016. The power-hitting right fielder is as close to a lock for the 2017 lineup as anyone else.

And then comes to the plethora of other options the team has for left field assuming Gardner is moved. Clint Frazier, the big name acquired from the Cleveland Indians for Andrew Miller, is the leading candidate as things stand right now. He currently sits as the team’s top prospect, and we will be seeing him in 2017 for sure. But it does not stop at Frazier. Other young names we could be seeing in pinstripes roaming the outfield include Dustin Fowler, Billy Mckinney, Mason Williams, Tyler Austin and Jake Cave. Any of those names could find themselves with a role in the 2017 Yankees outfield, but Frazier-Ellsbury-Judge are the early favorites to be the starters.

Designated Hitter:

The role of DH is currently wide open. As mentioned earlier, we could see Gary Sanchez getting some at-bats without having to take the field. Ben Gamel and Tyler Austin could find themselves getting into the lineup here if they have a hot spring. Also, any one of those outfield names mentioned earlier could find themselves in the lineup as the DH.

This may be the most likely spot for an older veteran who is signed in the off-season. A guy who can be a leader in the clubhouse who brings a fun atmosphere would be ideal to provide that role model the young guys can pattern themselves after. It would be a no frills signing that will not garner much attention, like a Loney or Prado type.

Starting rotation:

The only real lock as of right now is Masahiro Tanaka. He is the ace of the staff and is a lock to hold down one of the five slots in 2017 as long as he is healthy. Nathan Eovaldi would have been a member of the five, but has undergone Tommy John Surgery and will miss the entire 2017 season.

Micheal Pineda is having a rocky 2016 season, and will be entering his contract season in 2017. Given the talent he does posses, however, he is probably going to begin the season in the rotation. His leash will not be long, however. Another pitcher who will be in his final season as a Yankee in 2017 with a short leash is CC Sabathia. His struggles and the fact that he will have no future with the club past 2017 means Sabathia may start the year in the rotation, but could quickly be pushed to the background.

The remaining two slots will likely be filled with a young guy, and possibly a cheap veteran (Or simply two youngsters). If the team pursues a veteran to add, names like Jeremy Hellickson and Doug Fister are the types of names I would expect. But let’s not think too much on those guys, and lets focus on some of the younger guys.

Lefty Chad Green has had mixed results this season, and he will be given the rest of this season to audition for next year. If Green pitches well to finish 2016, expect to see him as a favorite to get a slot next year. Luis Cessa is another name who may be given that type of audition as well. Both men were acquired for Justin Wilson in a deal with the Detroit Tigers before the 2016 season, and both men will be given a chance to start in 2017.

The big name acquired for Carlos Beltran, Dillon Tate, will also be in the mix. Tate has not had the greatest 2016 season, and likely needs a minor league seasoning, but a hot spring could catapult him into the Yankees rotation sooner rather than later. Even if he does not break camp in the rotation, which he likely won’t, he is a pretty safe bet to appear at some point in the season.

Then there is the enigma that is Luis Severino. Entering this season, he was one of the hottest names in the Yankees’ system. He surely has the talent, but 2016 was a disastrous season for the 22-year-old righty. He likely just needs to spend more time in the minors perfecting his craft. But that does not mean he will be out of contention for a role in the rotation completely. Given how poor he pitched this year, I do not expect him to be a favorite to start 2017 with the Yankees, but his presence could very well be felt at some point in the season.

Bullpen:

Let’s keep this simple. Delin Betances will be the team’s closer in 2017 and Tyler Clippard will be the set-up man. Those two are the clear cut top two names in the pen, given the departures of Chapman and Miller. Now Chapman is a free agent and could return to the club. If he does he would obviously close, but I would say that is not likely (but won’t rule it out).

Clippard will be in his contract season, and will likely be trade bait come mid-season. As for the rest of the pen, it will also feature the likes of Adam Warren. No one else is a given for the pen, as it will be a mix and match of younger guys and off-season acquisitions. But the key is Betances and Clippard will be a formidable duo at the back end, until Clippard gets moved, if the team is out of contention.

Given the club’s depth in the minor leagues, I would not expect a very active off-season. Next year is poised to be a transition season of sorts, as it will bridge them to 2018 when most of their big time prospects should be ready to make an impact.

So 2017 may be a year of growing pains for the Yankees, as they should have a bit of a youth movement. The team has plenty of extremely talented prospects, but that does not mean it will translate into success immediately. Some veterans will continue to hold down their respective positions, while some positions make way for up and comers. After this season’s trade deadline, the future is bright for the New York Yankees, but it just may not show in 2017.


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Robert D. Cobb
Founder, Publisher and CEO of INSCMagazine. Works have appeared and featured in places such as Forbes, Huffington Post, ESPN and NBC Sports to name a few. Follow me on Twitter at @RobCobb_INSC, email me at [email protected]