The New York Yankees surprised us all by how long they stayed in contention for the second wild card before slipping away in the final week or so of the regular season. However, in reality they didn’t really maintain the momentum that they had worked up in August and the team both in terms of their batting and pitching struggled over the last few hurdles and the much vaunted Baby Bombers began to look a little more ordinary after the initial excitement around the call-ups had settled down…
|New York Yankees – Batting – Month – September / October|
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Gary Sanchez continued as the first choice catcher and as the batter who is tied for the major league record for reaching 20 home runs most quickly (with Wally Berger of the Boston Braves, way back in the 1930s), there is much excitement around this young phenom. However, without wanting to spoil the party, I want to suggest a little caution here. In August, he was .389 with 20 extra base hits. In September and to the end of the season, he was .225 with 12 extra base hits. Now, I don’t want to evoke the spirits of Kevin Maas and Shane Spencer but the Yankees faithful are not slow to get excited a little too soon sometimes. Let’s see what April brings.
That then means that the team also needs a little caution about the remainder of the catchers on the roster. The Yankees have Austin Romine and Brian McCann. McCann has the offensive power. Romine has the greater defensive skill. During the final weeks of the season, there was not much difference in the degree that they were being used in the catcher’s role. McCann played more but mostly as the designated hitter. McCann had the much stronger finish in terms of just getting on base but he was far exceeding his season’s batting average in that capacity. McCann has a no-trade clause but he is the one that other teams are more likely to come sniffing around. How would I handle that one? I’m glad it is Brian Cashman’s problem.
In the infield, one of the most notable factors is that backup utility guy, Ronald Torreyes, didn’t keep up his offensive “breakout” month from August to September. He had a similar false dawn in April. Chase Headley only batted .218 in the final weeks but compared to to Torreyes’ .176 that looks quite strong. Torreyes may have done enough to earn himself an ongoing backup role but no more than that. By contrast, Headley has two more years contracted at $13m a year which will be enough to put interested parties off the scent.
In middle infield, both Didi Gregorius and Starlin Castro saw a little time on the bench as a long season left them a little banged up. Both also finished out the year relatively well and barring surprise moves, Gregorius should be back for his third year in 2017 and Castro for his second. The Yankees will look for a little more power from Starlin in the new season but his defensive transition to being a second baseman has caused him no real problems.
At first base, Mark Teixeira stumbled to the end of his final weeks before retirement and while it is sad to see his career come to an end (contra A-Rod), there is no question that it is time. Tyler Austin had an encouraging month (.298, 7 extra base hits) and it looks even-stevens between him and Greg Bird as we look ahead. Bird has a lot to prove in the Arizona Fall League and in Spring Training if he is to regain his lock on that position in the post-Teixeira era.
Journeyman, Donovan Solano also saw a little time in the infield following the September roster expansion but didn’t set the world alight. The off-season will likely see him accepting an assignment to Scranton or looking for a non-roster invite to Spring Training on another club.
One of the conundrums that the Yankees must address is whether to continue with the pairing of Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury at the top of the line-up or to try and bring in a new face. These two might just be too darn similar. In the last month and more of the season, Gardner performed slightly better than his team mate. He hit .269 compared to Ellsbury’s .247 and had 6 doubles whilst Ellsbury had 4. However, over the last 10 weeks of the season, Ellsbury had 5 homers while Gardner had none. They both remain a threat on the basepaths but they only contributed three stolen bases each between the beginning of August and the first week in October. Ellsbury has the much larger contract and the longer term contract and this may be a big factor in deciding who my go, if the Yankees decide to make a change.
Offensively, Aaron Hicks has had a disappointing year reflected by the fact that his .250 batting average this period and his .280 in August are by far his best of the season. Aaron Judge struggled at the plate and then got injured. The strain to his right oblique is not likely to affect his contribution to next season but there must be questions as to whether he was promoted too quickly.
All of this raises large question marks over next season’s outfield. It seems likely that either Ellsbury or Gardner will still be in place but not necessarily both. Rightfield though is anybody’s guess. The Yankees used five players in that role over these final weeks. As well as the aforementioned pair of Aarons, the Yankees gave 7 appearances each to Rob Refsnyder and Mason Williams (Austin who played there twice was mostly used at first base, Refsnyder also saw time at second base and in left field). Mason, who played all three outfield positions, was the most encouraging and going into Spring Training, I would be looking for him to establish himself as at least the fourth outfielder unless big names arrive in off season trades.
Eric Young Jr. gave the Yankees some pinch running options but won’t be around next year.
With the previous incumbent retired, Brian McCann and Gary Sanchez saw most playing time at DH when they weren’t occupied with the “tools of ignorance”. That’s an arrangement that could continue in 2017 if McCann does not relocate to pastures new. Another interesting acquisition was Billy Butler, who was cut from the Oakland roster in mid-September and picked up by the Yankees at minimal cost. His tenure with the As had been so disappointing that they were willing to pick up almost all of his $10m contract rather than keep him around even at the point when rosters were expanded. Somewhat surprisingly, as you can see by our table, he burst into life upon joining the New York club and gives them an intriguing option going into next year as his contract with Oakland was to run through 2017.
A whole bunch of other faces were used in the DH spot in the closing days of the season – Romine, Young, Austin, Solano and Williams.