Yankees: Baseball’s Most Improved Team
(Photo Credit: Noah K. Murray - USA TODAY Sports)
KEY PLAYERS ADDED:
James Paxton (SP, via trade w/ SEA)
D.J. LeMahieu (2B, two years/$24 million)
Troy Tulowitzki (SS, one year/$555,000)
Adam Ottavino (RP, three years/$27 million)
KEY PLAYERS RESIGNED:
C.C. Sabathia (SP, one year/$8 million)
Brett Gardner (LF, one year/$7.5 million)
J.A. Happ (SP, two years/$34 million)
Zack Britton (RP, three years/ $39 million)
KEY PLAYERS LOST:
David Robertson (RP, two years/$23 million w/ PHI)
Sonny Gray (SP, via trade w/ CIN)
Neil Walker (2B, one year/$2 million w/ MIA)
Justus Sheffield (SP, via trade w/ SEA)
Outside of the complete frenzy that the Philadelphia Phillies went on, no other team in baseball has had a more productive offseason than the New York Yankees. They re-signed four of their top five free agents while strengthening any other thinkable weakness from their 100-win roster a year ago.
Some fans may be disappointed that they did not reel in one of the big free agents. Instead of spending $300 million to one superstar though, they spent less than half of that while filling all team needs with impact veterans. The roster assembled for 2019 is a step above the one that produced the third-best record in baseball last year.
The Starting Pitching Staff
The Yankees will have four of the five starters from last year’s rotation returning in 2019. James Paxton will replace the 5.62 ERA baseball that Domingo German and Gray produced in their combined 181 innings.
Paxton was acquired from the Seattle Mariners in November for Sheffield and a pair of minor leaguers. He went 11-6 last season, striking out 208 batters in 160 innings. His career 3.42 ERA is the lowest of any Yankees starting pitcher.
Paxton will play second fiddle to ace Luis Severino, who signed a $40 million, four-year extension on February 15. Severino will most likely have to begin the season on the injured list due to right shoulder inflammation, but should back by mid-April, if the healing goes as planned. German, Luis Cessa and Jonathan Loaisiga will compete for the remainder of spring training to decide who earns the starts in Severino’s absence. In his two seasons as a full-time starter, Severino has made two all-star appearances along with two top-ten AL Cy Young Award finishes.
The rotation rounds out with Masahiro Tanaka, Happ and Sabathia. Tanaka bounced back nicely from his sub-par 2017 campaign, going 12-6 and posting a 2.85 ERA in the second half, good for eighth in the American League. Manager Aaron Boone tabbed Tanaka as the Opening Day starter, marking the fourth time he will take the hill for the season opener.
Happ’s contract comes with a third-year option that is based on his 2020 statistics. He made 11 starts for the Yankees after being acquired from the Blue Jays at last year’s trade deadline. His 7-0 record and 2.69 ERA in pinstripes earned him the fourth-richest deal handed out to a starting pitcher this offseason.
2019 will be the last of Sabathia’s hall of fame career. He’ll have to wait for the rotation’s second go-around to make his 2019 debut as he faces a five-game suspension to begin the year. He is four wins shy of 250 for his career as well as 14 strikeouts shy of becoming the 17thpitcher to punch out 3,000 batters.
Yankees relievers finished top-five in ERA, saves, strikeouts, and batting average against last season. For the past five years, they have led the MLB in K/9, and it seems that 2019 will bring a good chance to continue that trend. The Yankee’s pen provides five legitimate major league closers in Chad Green, Dellin Betances, Aroldis Chapman, Ottavino and Britton.
Acquiring Britton from the Baltimore Orioles was the first of six trades the Yankees made at the 2018 trade deadline. In 25 games with New York, he posted a 2.88 ERA and held opponents to a .196 batting average.
Robertson’s departure to the Phillies left a hole in the bullpen and the team filled it with Ottavino, coming off the best year of his career with the Colorado Rockies. A 2.43 ERA and 112 strikeouts earned him a deal with his favorite team as a child, in what he described as “a dream come true.”
Tommy Kahnle could offer some depth if he returns to the pitcher the Yankees traded for in 2017. He had a rough season with his command last year, but the Yankees don’t need him to be one of the big guns in the pen anymore. This allows Kahnle the chance to give the Yankees solid middle inning relief, a role that will also be occupied by Jonathan Holder.
The injury sidelining Didi Gregorius until the summer made the middle infield an area that needed to be addressed in the offseason. Troy Tulowitzki is the guy the Yankees are turning to as a bridge between Opening Day and Gregorius’ return.
The Yankees signed Tulowitzki to the veteran minimum, giving them a low-risk option that could provide a solid few months. If his injuries continue, or he simply doesn’t hit, Gleyber Torres has hundreds of games played at the position in the minors and has already been named the secondary shortstop.
LeMahieu will provide one of the most talented utility men in recent franchise history, and is a sure upgrade over Walker. He brings over three Gold Gloves at second base from his tenure in Colorado but has also been named back-up to Miguel Andujar at third and Luke Voit at first. LeMahieu’s .298 career batting average is higher than any player on the roster with at least 600 career at-bats.
No changes were made to the outfield from a year ago, but a big addition to the team this season could be the potential emergence of Clint Frazier. He is entering his third full season with the Yankees in 2019. When he was acquired at the 2016 deadline, it was expected that he would have a job with the team by now, but he will begin the season in the minors to get everyday at-bats.
Another player in a similar role is Jacoby Ellsbury. He will begin the season on the injured list and then will find himself in the fifth outfielder role. It is bound to happen that these two guys get some meaningful plate appearances in the majors this season. Having these guys be the players they can be solves any outfield depth issues the team will face this year.