Offseason Autopsy: Position-by-position breakdowns for Yankees this offseason

The 2016-2017 offseason is underway, and the Yankees have many holes to fill. General Manager Brian Cashman got off to a quick start this past week, making a series of moves. Trading Brian McCann, releasing Dustin Ackley, and designating Nathan Eovaldi for assignment are amongst the most notable. Still, the Yankees have quite a few flaws on their roster, particularly the pitching staff. In this article, we’ve decided to do a position-by-position breakdown of how the Yankees are looking across the diamond. For some positions, the Bombers have a degree of certainty. Conversely, there are many open spaces on this roster that need to be filled by opening day, whether that be via free agency, trades, or even from within. The Yankees have been connected to some big free agents, but have also expressed a desire to get under the luxury tax threshold. The Yankees can approach this offseason in a number of ways. We’ll just have to sit back as usual and watch the process unfold.
Photo via NJ.com

Infield

Catcher:

Chad: With the trade of Brian McCann, the Yankees have seemingly solved the mystery that was on the minds of many Yankee fans. As expected, Gary Sanchez will be in the lineup on opening day as the team’s starting catcher, and the backup job will be Austin Romine’s to lose. I say that it is his to lose because there are three catchers on the 40-man roster with Sanchez, Romine, and the surging Kyle Higashioka. After a solid year between Double-A and Triple-A for Higashioka that included a .276/.377/.511 slash line and 21 bombs in 370 at-bats, Higashioka is an aging prospect on the rise in the Yankees farm system. Turning 27 in April, Higashioka should battle Romine for the backup job, and will likely make it MLB debut in 2017.

Steven: As of one week ago, this would have been a tough spot to assess. After trading Brian McCann to the Houston Astros for two young pitching prospects, the Bombers have officially handed the position over to the young phenom, Gary Sanchez. While it would be unfair to expect Sanchez to replicate the impressive stretches he went on during his rookie campaign, he appears to be a star in the making. Austin Romine will likely remain with the team and serve as Sanchez’s backup. The Yankees look to be set at catcher for years to come.

First Base:

Chad: With the retirement of Mark Teixeira, first base provides a conundrum for the Bronx Bombers going forward. The apparent heirs to Teixeira seem to be Greg Bird, who will be returning from a shoulder injury that kept him out in 2016, and Tyler Austin, who had a renaissance year in both the minors and in the big leagues to become a promising young player. With Austin’s ability to play both first and third base in addition to left and right field, I expect Bird to see most of the playing time at first base, with Austin becoming a key man off the bench. Additionally, both will likely see time in the DH role.
Photo via DeadSeriousness.com
Steven: First base could be one of the positions to watch in spring training. The Yankees have indicated that they envision a competition between youngsters Greg Bird and Tyler Austin. Bird, sidelined for the entire 2016 season after suffering a shoulder injury, will hope to pick up where he left off in 2015. Taking over for an injured Mark Teixeira, Bird made quite the impression, batting .261 with 11 home runs and 31 RBIs in 46 games. Austin, on the other hand, was a member of the Yankees youth movement in the second half of 2016. After hitting a home run in his first major league AB, he cooled off considerably, but still managed to put together a series of big hits to help keep the Yankees in contention. I’m predicting Bird will take the position and run with it; however, it could go either way.

Second Base:

Chad: Under contract through 2019, with a club option for 2020, Starlin Castro will be in the lineup at second base on opening day next year. There will be added pressure on Castro in 2017 with Jorge Mateo recently making the 40-man roster to protect him from the rule-5 draft. It is likely the Mateo is called up in September of 2017 and used as a pinch runner, but he could force the Yankees hand in giving him a hard look at taking over at second base in 2018 if he performs once again in the minors next season. The undersized and light-hitting Ronald Torreyes will also head into spring training as the super utility man backing up second base, third base, and shortstop, but that could change if he does not produce at the plate.

Steven: Second base is another position that the Yankees seem to have locked up moving forward. Starlin Castro put together a respectable first year in pinstripes, batting .270, with 21 home runs and 70 RBIs. The Yankees do have have some infield depth in the minors so Castro may not be here long-term, but it’s safe to assume he’ll be the starting second baseman next season. It may not be too long until Gleyber Torres and Jorge Mateo begin to make a case for some major league ABs. That time, however, will not come in 2017.

Shortstop:

Chad: Didi Gregorius surprised much of the Yankee faithful with his stellar campaign in 2016. Most surprisingly was his power surge which included 20 long balls and a slugging percentage of .447 (his career slugging percentage entering 2016 was .368). As Steven mentioned above, with the middle infield prospects Jorge Mateo and Gleyber Torres looming, Gregorius may not be the long term solution that some Yankee fans see him being, but he will certainly start at least 140 games at shortstop for the pinstripers next season, barring he is healthy.

Steven: Didi Gregorius has become a fan favorite in the Bronx, batting .276 with 20 home runs and 70 RBIs. Gregorius’ power numbers have been a pleasant surprise. He seems much more comfortable in the field than he did in his first year replacing the legendary Derek Jeter. Moving forward, Gregorius could find himself in a similar position to Castro due to the rise of the Yankees’ infield prospects. For now, though, Gregorius will be a fixture in the Yankees lineup, hopefully near the top of the order.

Third Base:

Chad: Chase Headley’s name was directly mentioned by Brian Cashman as one that has been involved in trade talks with. The consensus is that the rising stud prospect 21-year-old Miguel Andujar (recently added to the 40-man roster to protect from the Rule-5 Draft) will be ready at some point in 2017, and that could force Cashman’s hand in dealing Headley to continue the youth movement. Headley had a disastrous first month with the Yankees but rebounded nicely to finish with a modest .253 average and 14 homers. Headley is owed $26 million between 2017 and 2018, so with a movable contract, don’t be surprised if the Yankees deal him this offseason. At the same time, I am expecting Headley to be the Yankees third baseman, at least until midseason if Andujar is called up. And let's not forget that Manny Machado is a free agent after 2018, the same year that Headley's contract is up, so it is not too early for a Yankee fan to dream.

Steven: On paper, it would seem that the Yankees are stuck with Chase Headley at third base for the next two years, as his contract indicates. To his credit, Headley rebounded from a horrific start to finish the season with respectable numbers. Headley also overcame the defensive miscues that haunted him during 2015 and reverted back to a gold glove caliber player. There have been some rumors suggesting that the Yankees are shopping Headley around. Should the Bombers be able to move Headley, that would open an instant hole at a very important position. The Yankees infield prospects likely won’t be ready until 2018 at the very earliest. The Yankees are also rumored to have looked into acquiring the Todd Frazier of the Chicago White Sox, who is a free agent at years end. If the price is right, this would be a fantastic upgrade. My best guess is that Headley will remain in the Bronx for at least 2017.

Outfield

Left Field:

Chad: Surprise! The New York Yankees have involved Brett Gardner in trade talks for the third offseason in a row. However, this time may be different. One of the Yankees most highly touted prospects is outfielder Clint Frazier, and although he told Bronx Pinstripes he is most comfortable in center field, he likely projects as a left fielder in the bigs. Though Frazier experienced his fair share of struggles in 2016, with a solid start to 2017, he could be called up in the summer in a similar situation to what the Yankees did with Tyler Austin and Aaron Judge. The Yankees have also been linked to Yoenis Cespedes, though signing him would go against what Cashman has been working towards of late. While I do not see the Yankees signing Cespedes, I do see Cashman working the phones and trading Gardner, which will put Aaron Hicks, Tyler Austin, or Mason Williams in left field for the Yankees until Frazier is ready for the call.
Aaron Hicks, Jacoby Ellsbury, Aaron Judge photo via Getty Images' Rich Schultz

Steven: Rumors have it that the Yankees are shopping Brett Gardner. This is intriguing for a number of reasons. Should the Yankees be able to trade Gardner, that opens the door to a series of possibilities. Top prospect Clint Frazier, acquired in the Andrew Miller trade, is on the horizon. He may not make it to the majors this year, but it’s no secret he’ll soon have Gardner’s job. The Yankees have also been in contact with representatives for Yoenis Cespedes. This may be a bit of a stretch, but trading Gardner is not. He has two years remaining on a reasonable contract. I’d personally love to see the Yankees sell high on Gardner. While I’d be pleasantly surprised if Cashman makes something happen, I’m not expecting it. It’s more likely than not that Gardner will be suiting up with his high socks on opening day.

Center Field:

Chad: Obviously, the 153-million dollar man Jacoby Ellsbury will roam center field for the Yankees next season. Being as injury prone as he is, any combination of Aaron Hicks, Mason Williams, and Brett Gardner (if he is not traded) will also get starts in center, but the Yankees will be putting Ellsbury out there for as long as he is healthy. Not even halfway through his seven-year contract, Ellsbury appears to already be on the downward slope of his career. After stealing 39 bases in 2014, Ellsbury has swiped just 41 bags in the two years since. Ellsbury has also hit just 16 homers between 2015 and 2016 after hitting 16 in 2014. I’m an Ellsbury fan, so I hate to say what I am about to say, but his contract will forever be an albatross, and unless he turns things around soon, he may become one of the most overpaid players in the history of the game.

Steven: The Yankees are stuck with Jacoby Ellsbury for the next four years. In the 2013 offseason, Cashman foolishly handed Ellsbury a seven-year, $153 million contract. The Yankees could try to get rid of Ellsbury, but they’d be hard pressed to find a team willingly to eat that kind of money. At his best, Ellsbury has the potential to be a game changing player. Unfortunately, that has not been the case since he arrived in the Bronx. He’s struggled to replicate the success he saw in Boston. When he’s been healthy, Ellsbury is very streaky. He can have a week or two stretch where the Yankees think they’re finally getting what they paid for, but then he’ll quickly revert back to what we’ve seen the last three years. As he continues to get older, we can only expect him to get even worse. That being said, barring injury, he’ll be in center field come opening day.

Right Field:

Chad: Spring training is going to be an interesting time for the Yankees organization with the youth movement and full swing and a plethora of position battles. In right field, Aaron Judge is set to battle for at-bats with Aaron Hicks as well as Tyler Austin and Mason Williams. With the team placing Dustin Ackley on release waivers, New York seems intent on placing one of those four in right field every day. Judge should be the early favorite, but with Joe Girardi’s love-affair with Hicks, I would not be surprised if Hicks gets the majority of at-bats early in the season. The good news is, Hicks and Williams have experience playing all three outfield positions, while Judge and Austin can play the corner outfield positions, so they can move around allowing all of them to see playing time in the Yankee outfield.

Steven: Similar to first base, right field is wide open at the moment. The Yankees would love to hand the position to former-top prospect Aaron Judge; however, he strikes out at an alarmingly high rate. While he displayed impressive power in the majors last season, he struggled to make contact. Austin, should he lose the first base competition to Bird, could also find himself in the equation. Aaron Hicks is another player to watch. Hicks became a favorite scapegoat for Yankees fans due to his struggles, but began playing much better prior to his injury near the end of the season. The Yankees really like Hicks so we should expect him to get an opportunity next season. My best guess is that, barring an attorious spring training, Judge will be the opening day right fielder. The Yankees will likely give him a short leash so that may change if he can’t begin making contact more frequently.

Designated Hitter:

Chad: Of any position player, the Yankees are most likely to sign a designated hitter. If the Yankees want to break the bank, they will seek the services of Edwin Encarnacion, who reportedly has a four-year, $80-million contract offer on the table from Toronto. On the flipside, cheaper options include Carlos Beltran and Mike Napoli. A proven winner and leader, Napoli would be an interesting guy to see in pinstripes given his history as a Red Sox player, but his presence in the clubhouse would be welcomed by all. There is also a growing sentiment that the Yankees will win the bidding war for Beltran, having a reunion with the slugger on a one or two-year deal. Beltran would come strictly as a DH, and that is a possible move for the Yankees, given their internal options at DH include Greg Bird, Tyler Austin, and Rob Refsnyder, among a few others.

Steven: It’s hard to believe, but the Yankees actually have an opening at DH! With Alex Rodriguez retired, and Brian McCann in Houston, the Bombers have some flexibility at the position. Rumors have connected the Yankees to Blue Jays slugger Edwin Encarnacion. He will certainly have a high price tag, but it may be worth it. Encarnacion can flat out rake. Not to mention, he’s consistently killed the Yankees over the years. It would be nice to have him on our team for a change. The Yankees are also rumored to be interested in a reunion with Carlos Beltran. While Encarnacion will require a significant investment, Beltran can likely be had on a one-year deal. Beltran has proven he can not only handle, but also thrive in, the pressure of New York. Considering he won’t have to play the field, Beltran should have an easier time staying healthy. I really think the Yankees, primarily due to the frugality of Hal Steinbrenner, will bring back Beltran on a one-year deal. That being said, I’m hoping for Encarnacion.

Pitchers

Starters:

Chad: The Yankee rotation is full of question marks heading into this offseason. Masahiro Tanaka, fresh off an eighth place finish in AL Cy Young voting will once again be the ace of the staff. With an opt-out clause following the 2017 season, Tanaka will look to bring his ace stuff so that he can opt-out and strike gold on the free agent market next season. If he struggles or gets injured, the Yankees will be stuck with his contract for the next three seasons after 2017. Following Tanaka in the rotation will be wild card Michael Pineda and CC Sabathia, both in their final years of their contracts before free agency. Pineda will look to rebound so he can get a solid contract on the free agent market next season, and Sabathia, potentially in the final season of his career (and surely his final season with the Yankees) will look to turn back the clock one final time. Youngsters Chad Green, Luis Cessa, Luis Severino, and Bryan Mitchell will fight for the final two spots to round out the rotation, and the two that do not win a spot in the rotation will likely find a role in the bullpen. On the trade market, the Yankees could deal top prospects for guys like Chris Sale, Chris Archer, or Sonny Gray. Cashman did recently say he would be very hard-pressed in dealing any top prospects, so the likelihood of the Yankees acquiring a top-line starter in small. On the thin free agent market, the Yankees have been linked to 37-year-old Rich Hill, but they seem to not trust him enough to give him a three-year deal, which he will probably get from another team. The Yankees have also contacted inconsistent lefty Derek Holland, and 15-game winner Jason Hammel. If the Yankees could get Hammel on a one or two year deal, he would help to sure up the enigma that is the back-end of the rotation. If not, the Yankees will fill out their rotation with their internal options.
Photo via ESPN.com
Steven: At the moment, the Yankees rotation is in a state of disarray. With the exception of Masahiro Tanaka at the top, the rest of the starting staff is full of question marks. Sure, CC Sabathia put up fairly decent numbers last season. He’s also another year older, with even more innings to add to his career total. Michael Pineda has been an unmitigated disaster in the Bronx. While I would have been very happy to see the Yankees part ways with the erratic righthander, he appears to be a lock for next year’s rotation. Nathan Eovaldi, who was designated for assignment last week, wasn’t expected to be healthy enough to be a player in 2017 anyway. This leaves at least two holes for the Yankees to fill. Internally, Chad Green and Luis Cessa appear to be the two most obvious candidates. I think it’s safe to assume that the Yankees will pursue at least one starter via trade or free agency this offseason. While the Bombers could complete a blockbuster trade by dealing for Chris Sale, that is highly unlikely. It’s more probable that we’ll see the Yankees try to add some low-risk, high reward types of pitchers. As has been the case in years past, the rotation once again figures to be the roster’s major weakness.

Bullpen:

Chad: According to numerous reports, bringing back Aroldis Chapman is the Yankees top priority of this offseason. To make matters even better, Chapman was recently quoted saying he “would love to be a Yankee again,” in large part due to the organization giving him a chance and treating him with the utmost respect in spite of his incident last offseason. With lefty Brett Cecil inking a four-year, $30.5 million dollar deal with the Cardinals, and two other top closers Kenley Jansen and Mark Melancon also on the market, Chapman would be smart to sit back, and lick his chops at the lucrative contract the fireballer will bring in, which is likely to hover between $80-100 million over five years. The Yankees will also return the solid trio of Dellin Betances, Tyler Clippard and Adam Warren which provided a solid back end of the bullpen over the last two months of last season. If Severino does not win a spot in the rotation, he will return to the bullpen where he pitched to a 0.39 ERA in 11 outings (23.1 innings). The Yankees will also bring back lefties Tommy Layne and Chasen Shreve which will only solidify what could be another stellar Yankee bullpen.
Photo Credit: Paul J. Bereswill

Steven: The bullpen is the one area that I can see the Yankees actively improving via free agency this offseason. With fireballer Aroldis Chapman having publicly expressed interest in a reunion with the Yankees, we have to expect that the feeling is mutual. While the Bombers could also pursue free agents Mark Melancon or Kenley Jansen, Chapman is the obvious answer. He’s proven he can succeed on the big stage, and that’s a huge plus. With the addition of Chapman, the Yankees have a fairly strong bullpen. Dellin Betances, Tyler Clippard, and Adam Warren create a more than formidable bridge to the star closer. To fill out the rest of the bullpen, we should expect to see losers from the starting pitching battle, other internal options, or low-risk, high-reward type guys brought in from the outside. If the Yankees are willing to spend big to bring back Chapman, the bullpen could once again be a deadly force, even without the beloved Andrew Miller.

Conclusion:
It’s no secret that the Yankees have a lot of work to do this offseason. That being said, they’re still capable of fielding a roster that can be competitive in 2017. It’s more than likely that the Yankees will continue the youth movement, and minimize their activity in free agency. It’s worth noting that Mark Teixeira’s albatross contract is finally off the books. The Brian McCann trade also cleared some money for the Yankees to potentially spend. While we shouldn’t expect the Yankees to go all out in free agency for another year or so, they have enough money to make one or two big moves and still stay on pace for the ultimate payroll goal. The starting rotation, bullpen, and offense all need some work. This doesn’t appear to be the offseason of big moves, but we should not count the Yankees out. After all, they could surprise us.

Article by: Steven Eareckson and Chad Raines
Follow the BBB @BronxBomberBlog

Comments