Five keys to a successful 2016

Being trapped inside for the last two days due to the snowstorm that pounded the entire eastern seaboard has only enhanced my desire for the return of baseball season. Considering all indications from ownership point to the Yankees being done for the most part as far as additions are concerned, I felt as if now would be a prompt time to make some early predictions about the 2016 season. As I look at the Yankees team as currently comprised, I'm feeling the same sense of uncertainty as I did at this point last season. A successful 2016 season is contingent on production from players who are either old, injury prone, or in some cases, a combination of both. Normally, this would seem to be a recipe for disaster, however I'm going to try the optimistic route. Below, are what I view as the five keys to a successful 2016. In my view, each of the five are equally important. Unfortunately, the Yankees need a lot to go right in order for them to return to the postseason. Having one postseason game in three years is unacceptable, and last year's taste made me miss it even more!

1. The 35+ year old veterans MUST continue to produce.

Last season, Alex Rodriguez returned from his year long suspension and shocked the baseball world by putting up his best statistical season since 2010. While Rodriguez did cool off considerably down the stretch, the Yankees will need him to be just as productive in 2016 if they plan on making a playoff run. Despite turning 41 this July, Rodriguez is still our best right handed power bat. In addition to Rodriguez, the Yankees need Mark Teixeira to pick up where he left off last season before getting injured in August. After Teixeira went down, the entire offense went into a slump. Although Greg Bird filled in admirably, and hopefully will be starting come 2017, the job is still Teixeira's and I expect him to have a big year heading into free agency. He will be 36 and should be looking to cash in on another contract, although in all likelihood that deal wont come from the Yankees. Another important piece to the puzzle is Carlos Beltran. Despite getting off to a horrific start in 2015, Beltran carried the team down the stretch. I think we should expect his pattern of clutch hits to continue. Turning 39 in April, Beltran wants to go out on top, so this desire to win should motivate him as has always been the case. Rodriguez, Teixeira, and Beltran at the heart of the Yankee lineup will be imperative to any chances of a successful season.

2. A lockdown bullpen.

Brian Cashman shocked the baseball world when he acquired Aroldis Chapman last month. Having been cleared of any criminal charges, Chapman still likely faces a suspension from MLB. That being said, he is still arguably the best closer in the game. While Joe Girardi has expressly stated that Chapman will be the closer, the roles of Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances appear as if they will fluctuate depending on the circumstances of any given game. Though this may be the best 7-8-9 combo ever assembled, the Yankees still have some work to do with the rest of the bullpen. After trading away Adam Warren and Justin Wilson this offseason, the latter of which still has me scratching my head, the team is in need of dependable middle relievers. The Yankees need Chasen Shreve to return to the form he displayed during the first half of 2015. We can also expect James Pazos, Jacob Lindgren, Branden Pinder (unfortunately), and Nick Rumbelow, along with the new additions of Kirby Yates and Tyler Olson to compete for bullpen spots. If even 2 or 3 of those options can turn into dependable options out the bullpen, then this strength gets even stronger.

3. Bounce back years from the 2015 scapegoats.

While Rodriguez and Teixeira were pleasant surprises last season, there were also a number of disappointments. Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner got off to great starts, however the two slumped for most of the season. After suffering an injury in late May, Ellsbury was unable to regain the the level of play he had displayed up until his injury. Gardner who made his first all star team last season, suffered from a second half slump where he almost became an automatic out at certain points. Both of these guys depend on speed for their game, and the Yankees NEED them to be the table setters they are capable of being. I've come to expect streakiness from Gardner, however with the amount of money Ellsbury is making, it was inexcusable for him to have played his way towards being benched during last year's one game playoff. Another player worth mentioning is Chase Headley. Headley was awful both offensively and defensively last season. I find it hard to imagine Headley performing much worse than he did in 2015m so I guess it would be reasonable to expect a certain degree of improvement.

4. A healthy starting rotation.

Despite having a lockdown back end of the bullpen, the Yankees still need starters to hand them a lead. As of now, every starter has question marks so it's hard to be too confident in this bunch. Although we should expect some sophomore struggles, Luis Severino is the closest to a sure thing. His biggest downside might be a potential innings limit. Masahiro Tanaka will still be a pitch away from having to get Tommy John surgery. He also gives up a lot of home runs. Tanaka is not an ace by any stretch of the imagination, however he must perform better than he did last season. Michael Pineda has been consistently inconsistent. We need him to overcome his extensive injury history and realize his true potential. Nathan Eovaldi must also realize his true potential, and take the next step in his career progression. CC Sabathia pitched much better after getting a new brace on his knee so hopefully with his alcoholism behind him, Sabathia can rediscover the success he had the last month or so in 2015. Ivan Nova is also a candidate, but he shouldn't come close to sniffing a spot in the rotation.

5. Youthful breakthroughs

The Yankees have often been criticized for having too many "old guys" in the lineup, so having two starters under 27 is quite refreshing. Didi Gregorius showed us last year that he can be an elite defensive shortstop. After overcoming struggles with both the glove and bat early on, Didi evolved into one of the more consistent offensive players on the roster. Although it is crucial that Didi abandon his tendency of swinging for fences in key situations, I expect him to make this adjustment. Didi will only get better. I'm very excited to see Starlin Castro in the Yankees lineup. In an ideal world, he would be batting second, however Girardi has too much respect for Gardner and Ellsbury to move either of them down in the order. I think the Yankees got Castro for a steal, and we should expect a real breakthrough year in 2016. I'm also intrigued by the addition of Aaron Hicks. Considering the age and injury concerns of Beltran and Ellsbury, Hicks should get a considerable amount of playing time. He is younger, faster, and a better defender than Chris Young. If he can provide consistent offensive production, then he can be a real weapon off the bench.

The Yankees have their share of question marks, but then again so does almost every team. If most things go right then I can see the Yankees winning the division, or at the very least earning an appearance in the AL Wild Card game. Unfortunately, I can also see them missing the playoffs altogether, by god forbid finishing with a record under .500. The 2016 Yankees need consistent offensive production from both the veterans and youngsters, a lockdown bullpen, bounce back years from players who struggled in 2015, and consistency out of the starting pitching. If all these things occur, and the Yankees make some moves for reinforcements midseason, which they failed to do in 2015, then I foresee a playoff run in this team's future. If not, we will have yet another dark October in the Bronx.

Article by Steven Eareckson
Follow me on Twitter: @SteveTheScholar
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