The next Yankees meaningful game is not for another six months, which means the dreaded offseason is finally upon us. The Yankees have a lot of question marks going into the offseason, but first we must reflect the great journey that was the 2017 New York Yankees season.
Most experts and Yankee fans went into Spring Training thinking that this team was not going to be the one that won the 28th championship in franchise history, instead it would be lucky if they played meaningful games in late September. This team not only played meaningful games in late September, it played its last meaningful game of the season on October 21st, which is like a month of over achievement.
For my preview of this season, I had said that the Yanks would finish fourth in the division and they would really struggle this season, but boy did they prove me wrong. They finished second in the division and were just one win away from going to the World Series. I would have signed the piece of paper in blood, if someone told me this team was going to be this good.
When most teams make great runs like the Yankees just did, their fans are disappointed with how the season ended, and though Yankee fans are slightly disappointed, they are still more excited for things that are going to come in the future. This season was technically Year 3 of the rebuilding plan that most teams follow, but the Yankees never really had Year 1 or Year 2, which is being really bad. The Bombers were always competitive throughout their process and were competing for a championship in 2017, even though the plan was to contend in 2019, when they first laid out the plan a couple of years ago.
Enough talking about their plan, now lets focus on what actually happened this season. I will go through and review their offense, rotation, and bullpen before talking about what they should do in the off season to return to their dominance next season.
Going into the season, we did not know much about Aaron Judge, who had really struggled after being called up late in the 2016 season. Most experts thought that Judge could not survive at the major league level and would strike out too many times to make a real impact. One thing that the experts knew about Judge was that he has always improved in his second season after being called up and he did exactly that. Judge hit 52 home runs this season, which led the American League and was by far the team MVP. Judge had slumps during the season, in which he could not get a hit, one of those slumps came during the Postseason, in which he did not do much for the Yankees. This offseason judge needs to focus on avoiding those slumps so he can be great hitter for every single month that the Yanks play a meaningful game in 2018.
Gary Sanchez had a great end to the 2016 season, he almost led to Yankees to the postseason and finished second in the Rookie of the Year voting, despite playing only one month in the majors. Sanchez’s 2017 campaign started out really slow as he got hurt in the fourth game of the season and missed a month as a result, but he more than made up for it. Sanchez was hitting bombs as soon as he came back from the DL and along with Judge they formed a modern day Bash Brothers. With both players being in their mid-20’s, the Yankees are lined up for great run production from the tandem.
The main focus for Sanchez in the offseason is to improve his defense. He is one of the worst defensive catchers in the majors and has a hard time catching the ball and then holding on to it. He dropped the ball in Game 2 of the ALCS, which resulted in the Astros winning the game and eventually winning the series. He has become a liability late in close games because he has a lot of passed balls that can lead to runs for the other team. Sanchez needs to get better at defense next season or else the Yankees should think about moving him to DH and Austin Romine becoming the permanent catcher.
Greg Bird missed all of the 2016 season due to injury after having a promising 2015 campaign. Bird was the best hitter in baseball during Spring Training and had high expectations going into the regular season. Bird really struggled at the start of the season and missed majority of the early part of the season with another injury. When he did get healthy, he was a good hitter in the middle of the Yankee lineup and proved that he should be the Yankee first baseman of the future. Bird needs to learn how to remain healthy for a full season and his production will come if he is healthy.
Replacing one of the most beloved Yankees of all time is a hard task that can mentally cripple a player, but not Didi Gregorious. Didi has seamlessly become a great shortstop for the Yankees and had a better statistical season than Jeter ever had in terms of home runs. Didi was the MVP of the Postseason for the Yankees after hitting the game tying home run against the Twins and hitting two home runs in Game Five against the Indians. Didi has the potential to be a perennial All-Star and he is still young enough to stick around for the entirety of the next great Yankees dynasty.
Todd Frazier came over in a midseason trade from the White Sox and his contributions were seen more off the field then on it. Frazier quickly became the vocal leader of the team and took pressure away from the young players like Judge and Sanchez when they were struggling. Whether it was the thumbs down movement or hitting a three run home run in Game Three of the ALCS to keep the Yanks alive, Frazier made valuable contributions for the Yankees in the three months he was here. Frazier is going to be a free agent and it is going to be interesting to see what happens to him. He wants to play for the Yankees, but they have an excess of third basemen, so they probably will not be able to bring him back even if they want to.
The stars of this season are going to be the young core of Bird, Judge, and Sanchez, but the Yankees do not get to Game Seven of the ALCS without timely contributions from the veterans on the roster. Brett Gardner was among the best leadoff hitters in baseball and got on base plenty of times to force the pitcher to throw hittable pitches to Judge and Sanchez. Starlin Castro, Chase Headley, and Jacoby Ellsbury had resurgent years and showed that can still contribute to a winning team and should not be run out of town. Aaron Hicks had a terrible 2016, but the organization stuck with him and he is going to be a staple in the Yankee outfield of the future. Matt Holliday added the veteran experience in the locker room, which was very valuable despite him struggling on the field. Holliday is a free agent at the end of the season, so we will see what happens to him.
The Yankee offense was great and the best part is, the majority of the assets they acquired have yet to see much action with the big club. Clint Frazier came up late in the season but was not on the Postseason roster, he will be a big part of the 2018 season in the Yankee outfield. Gleyber Torres was phenomenal in the minors and was going to end up in the majors before he suffered a season ending injury. Torres should be healthy in time for next season and I would shocked if he is not in the starting lineup on Opening Day next season. The Yankees have a lot of other bats in the minors, so their offense is only going to get better.
The Yankee rotation was going to be their biggest hole going into the season, but by the end it was one of their strengths. The rotation always kept the Yankees in games and allowed the offense to figure itself and score some runs. The bullpen blew a lot of leads which led to fewer wins for the rotation, but they were an important piece for their success in 2017.
One of the biggest keys to the success of the Yankee rotation was Luis Severino, who struggled as a starter in 2016. Sevy became a bullpen arm late in 2016, but the Yanks took a gamble and put him back in the rotation for 2017. That gamble paid off would be an understatement. Sevy was dominant throughout the season and will probably finish third in the Cy Young voting, which is incredible considering how bad he was a starter in 2015 and 2016.
Sonny Gray came to the Yankees at the trade deadline and was supposed to be the missing piece for the Yankees in winning the division. Gray was not as good as advertised and the Yankees obviously did not win the division. He also struggled in the Postseason and the Yanks had to shut him down for twelve days in the middle of the Postseason. The Yanks gave up a lot of coveted assets to acquire Gray, so he needs to pitch better or the Yanks will have a big egg on their face.
CC Sabathia and Masahiro Tanaka were the veterans on the pitching staff and were very valuable this season. Both pitchers were great and often ended losing streaks for the Yankees. CC was undefeated this season following a Yankee loss, until he lost Game 7 of the ALCS. Tanaka started out really slow, but finished great, bailing out the Yankees many times when they needed him to go deep into games. CC is a free agent and wants to come back and if the money makes sense Yanks would love to bring him back. Tanaka has a player option and can opt out to become a free agent, so it will be interesting what happens what happens to these two pitchers and they both could have pitched their last games in Yankee pinstripes.
If the Yankees lose both CC and Tanaka, they still have plenty of arms in their farm system to more than make up for it. Jordan Montgomery had a great start to his career before he hit his innings limit. Next season, Monty will not have a limit, so he is going to be a horse in the middle of the Yankee rotation. Chance Adams and Justus Sheffield have been lights out in the minors and will be in contention to crack the rotation next season.
The biggest strength for the Yankees this season was their bullpen and it is still that way. The bullpen had its ups and downs but did a good job in preserving the lead in majority of the games. The big parts of the bullpen, Tommy Kahnle, Chad Green, David Robertson, and Aroldis Chapman, all return next season hoping to build upon a great 2017 season for the bullpen arms.
One person that really struggled in the bullpen was Dellin Betances, who was the best bullpen arm going into the season. Betances did not appear much in the Postseason and there is a possibility that the Yanks do not bring him back. Betances still has a great arm and if he gets the bad mojo out of his system, he is going to dawn the Yankee Pinstripes for many years to come.
This offseason is a little funky for the Yankees, they are in a win-now mode but prefer not to spend much money in free agency. The Yankees are trying to get under the luxury tax threshold so that they spend money without limits in the future, which makes this offseason interesting. Do they try to fill the holes on the major league roster by calling up players in their minor league system or do they spend the big bucks and go after players like Shio Otani who is coming over from Japan.
This concludes the exit interview for the 2017 New York Yankees, which was a fun ride to be on. I am not a 100% sure how many Yankee related blogs I am going to do in the offseason, but rest assure that if something major happens in Yankeeland, Mehtaphors.com is going to have it covered from all angles. See you all next Spring Training.