In 2015, the New York Yankees finished the season with an 87-75 record before being bounced in the American League Wild Card game against the Houston Astros. The Yankees led the division for the majority of the first half of the season until the Toronto Blue Jays surged by them. They had a 6-13 record against Toronto, the worst against any of their division rivals. Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez had years that nobody expected which seems to be necessary for the Yankees to improve in 2016. Teixeira must stay healthy, however.
This winter the Yankees have traded for outfielder Aaron Hicks, second baseman Starlin Castro, and star closer Aroldis Chapman. Key departures include John Ryan Murphy, Adam Warren, Stephen Drew, Justin Wilson, and Chris Young. Surprisingly, they are the only team in baseball who has not signed a free agent. Toronto will again be the favorites to win the division despite not making many moves of their own this winter. Boston improved with acquisitions that include David Price and Craig Kimbrel. Baltimore also expects to rebound in 2016 with the returns of Matt Wieters, Darren O’Day, and Chris Davis. The Yankees will need a lot of things to go their way to punch a ticket to the postseason.
Here are a few in order to accomplish that task.
Major Key to Success: Health
The Yankees are way too aware of injuries and got their first taste of it again this past week. Greg Bird was diagnosed with a torn labrum in his shoulder, which will keep him out for all of 2016. Jacoby Ellsbury was limited to 111 games due to a knee injury. Mark Teixeira’s season ended early in a freak incident when he hit a ball off his leg. Teixeira was an All-Star in 2015 and the Yankees need him ready to go if they have any chance of reaching the postseason in 2016. Nathan Eovaldi was also shut down in early September with elbow soreness. Masahiro Tanaka has dealt with his fair share of injuries as well in his first two seasons in the Bronx.
Tanaka is projected to be the Yankees number one starter, and if he spends an extended period of time on the DL, it could be alarming for a Yankees rotation that already has question marks on the back end. CC Sabathia will wear a knee brace this season, something that seemed to help him at the end of last season. Durability will be important for this team especially with Alex Rodriguez who will be 41 in July, and Carlos Beltran who turns 39 in April. The Yankees should be in the running for a playoff spot next season, but if they are not healthy, their chances will diminish.
Major Key to Success: Ellsbury and Gardner
Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner, when healthy and playing their best baseball, can arguably be considered as the best 1-2 in the whole league. In Ellsbury’s first two seasons with the Yankees, he owns a .265 batting average with 23 home runs and 103 RBIs. Ellsbury still has five years left on his deal with a no-trade clause, so trading the oft-injured outfielder doesn’t seem like a viable option. In 2015, Ellsbury had his lowest amount of home runs and runs batted since 2012. He was also benched in the Wild Card game against the Astros in favor of Chris Young.
Brett Gardner was having a career year last year, and was named an All-Star for the first time in his career, before becoming a complete non-factor in the second half of the season. Gardner had a .302 batting average in the first half of the season. His batting average in the second half of the season, .206. Gardner even found himself in the center of trade rumors this winter.
Ellsbury and Gardner need to be the catalysts at the top of the lineup for A-Rod, Teixeira, and Beltran to drive in. If they can play up to expectations in 2016, it gives the Yankees a dynamic that not many teams have in the league.
Major Key to Success: Top of the Rotation — Masahiro Tanaka, Luis Severino, and Nathan Eovaldi
Many thought that the New York Yankees would add a starter to the rotation this winter. They did not and the questions start to come up, is this rotation good enough to clinch a postseason berth. The back end of the rotation underperformed which included Michael Pineda, Ivan Nova, and CC Sabathia. Adam Warren and Bryan Mitchell also made starts last year due to the inconsistencies the Yankees had. Nova, Pineda, and Sabathia all had ERAs over 4.00.
Tanaka went 12-7 with a 3.51 ERA in 154 innings last season. The Japanese right-hander has dealt with his fare share of injuries, but is expected to start for the Yankees on Opening Day when they play the Astros. Eovaldi was the Yankees’ most reliable starter last year when he went 14-3 in 27 starts before being shut down with a month left in the season. Severino, 21, was the Yankees’ top pitching prospect, and proved to Yankee fans that he is the real deal with a 2.89 ERA in 11 starts. These top three starters for the Yankees can make up for the back end and make a difference if they all pitch like they are capable of doing.
Major Key to Success: Bullpen has to be as phenomenal as it was last year
Last year, we witnessed the Kansas City Royals win the World Series over the New York Mets. The MLB is a copycat league, and many of us discovered how crucial a bullpen can be for team success. The Yankees already had a well above-average bullpen and General Manager Brian Cashman was able to improve it. Setup man Dellin Betances is a two-time All-Star, and closer Andrew Miller won the award given to the top reliever in the American League. Now they have flamethrower Aroldis Chapman, who manager Joe Girardi announced as the team closer. Betances, Miller, and Chapman all had at least 100 strikeouts in 2015.
The Yankees were undefeated last season when leading after eight innings. These three elite relievers give Girardi numerous ways to close out games. He can use all three in one game, which could make these games, six inning games for the Yankees. Girardi can also rest his guys in the pen since all three have experience as a closer.
The Yankees are in a challenging division this year, but if these keys can be in their favor, they could contend for championship number 28.