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Yankees year in review | The outfield

Matt Gregory

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Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to Yankees Year in Review. This is the first of a four-part series looking at each position group for the Yankees. The first group up is the outfielders.

Only four players reached over 400 plate appearances as outfielders for the Yankees: Brett Gardner, Aaron Hicks, Aaron Judge, and Giancarlo Stanton. When healthy, this position group was one of the strengths of the Yankees.

Aaron Hicks broke out, reaching nearly 5 fWAR (FanGraphs Wins Above Replacement) despite only playing 137 games. Aaron Judge was on pace for another 6-7 fWAR season before breaking his wrist, he was only limited to 112 games, he settled for 5 fWAR. Giancarlo Stanton played in 158 games total, the first time he has ever played at least 150 games in consecutive seasons and produce 4.2 fWAR. The veteran of the group, Brett Gardner produced 2.5 fWAR, while splitting time between left field and center field while Hicks was injured.

Not to be forgotten, Andrew McCutchen was fantastic after the Yankees traded for him in September. He played 25 games and contributed .391 wOBA and 149 wRC+ in place of Aaron Judge. McCutchen is a free agent but the Yankees have expressed interest in bringing him back.

Judge continued his excellence in the postseason, slashing .421/.500/.947 in five games. The problem was, he was the only outfielder who produced. The other four outfielders combined for nine hits and one home run. Judge had eight hits and three home runs by himself. When healthy, Judge will continue to be an MVP candidate for the next few years.

Fans may be disappointed by Stanton’s year, considering the cost and length of contract. Stanton was wildly inconsistent and seemingly lost the plate discipline he developed during his MVP season in Miami. However, many teams would love to have an outfielder who hits 38 home runs in an “off” year.

What seemingly no one has talked about is that Stanton is a positive outfielder by both DRS (Defensive Runs Saved) and UZR/150 (Ultimate Zone Rating per 150 defensive games). Is he Aaron Hicks level? No, but not being a defensive liability at both corner outfield spots is something that should be recognized.

Aaron Hicks truly was the key to this outfield. He anchored centerfield with great range and an impressive arm. On top of that he nearly topped 30 home runs, despite not playing a full year due to injuries. Every passing day, the John Ryan Murphy trade looks like an absolute steal by the Yankees front office.

I wrote earlier in the season that this outfield could be one of the Yankees best in history and well, they came up short. One concern for the future is health. When Judge was hurt this was a team that was reduced to giving playing time to Shane Robinson and Neil Walker in the corner outfield spots. Still, going forward, this outfield should continue to be a strength both offensively and defensively.

Judge and Stanton are under team control for at least three more years (Stanton has an opt-out after the 2020 season). Hicks is a free agent in 2020 and should anchor centerfield during that time. There is also Jacoby Ellsbury, who is signed until 2021, but if you think he will contribute then I have a bridge I would like to sell you. That leaves us with Gardner, who is the only question mark.

Gardner will play next year at the age of 35 and the Yankees need to decide whether they want to pick up his team option or let him enter free agency. It is a $12.5 million option with a $2 million buyout. Clint Frazier was knocking on the door when healthy and leads to a couple possibilities going forward.

The Yankees could pick up Gardner’s option while opting to keep Stanton as a full-time designated hitter. That leaves Frazier, Gardner, Hicks, and Judge to split the three outfield positions. The other option is to bet on Frazier staying healthy and not picking up Gardner’s option. The slight downside is that you now have three outfielders (Hicks, Frazier, and Stanton) who all had injury problems in the past.

This is all before you factor in bringing back McCutchen, who could still be a valuable outfielder now that he has escaped the cavernous space of AT&T Park in San Francisco. This is a good problem to have for the Yankees. Having many options to choose from is much preferable to being limited. Potentially having six outfielders, all of whom would start for any MLB team, for three positions hedges against the potential injuries.

Now, there is the free agent market. You may have heard that Bryce Harper will be on the market, whom the Yankees have been connected to since he entered the league. Any time you can potentially sign Bryce Harper, you probably should look at doing that. The pick up of Harper would probably lead to the exit Gardner and McCutchen and would again leave Frazier blocked at all three positions. I do not think anyone will feel bad for the Yankees in that case.

Despite all this, even if the Yankees stand pat, the outfield should continue to be a part of a strong core in the next few seasons. Stanton’s contract will get ugly in the later years, but for now, he’s producing. Judge will be under cheap control for another year or two and Clint Frazier continues to wait in the wings if there are any injuries.

Look at the teams that made the league championship series’, Milwaukee, Boston, Houston, and Los Angeles all feature outfields with strong offensive and defensive production. If the Yankees want to continue to compete for a World Series, their outfield will be a driving force, not dead weight.

Born and raised in New Jersey in a Yankee household, Matt works with computers by day but has always loved baseball. When he's not doing either of those things, he's probably thinking about Villanova basketball way too much. Follow him on Twitter @MattchewGregory.

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New York Yankees

Yankees year in review | The starting pitchers

Matt Gregory

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Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to Yankees Year in Review. This is the third of four parts looking at each position group for the Yankees. This week, it’s the starting rotation’s turn.

If you had to pick one weakness of the Yankees in 2018, it would have to be the starting rotation. Going into the season, it looked like this:

Luis Severino
Masahiro Tanaka
Sonny Gray
CC Sabathia
Jordan Montgomery

Much like the infield, this is not what the rotation looked like by year’s end. That is not surprising, starting rotations rarely survive a whole year without injuries or poor performance. There was some good and some bad, let’s start with the bad.

The fifth starter was a rotating door, as the Yankees lost Jordan Montgomery after six starts to an elbow strain. That would eventually lead to Tommy John surgery, ending his 2018 and potentially his 2019 season. His initial replacement was Luis Cessa who was also bitten by the injury bug with a hip issue.

Domingo Germán would then get his opportunity to lock down the fifth starter. While he stayed healthy, the results were mixed. Germán has a starter quality pitch mix, the issue was walks and home runs, which kept him from holding onto the spot.

CC Sabathia was a consistent bright spot for the rotation and statistically the third best starter in his age 37 season. It was announced on November 7th that Sabathia signed a one-year contract for 8 million dollars. He also stated that 2019 would be his last season. Sabathia raised his K/9 (strikeouts per nine innings) from 7.26 in 2017 to 8.24 in 2018.

Additionally, he cut down his HR/9 (home runs allowed per nine innings) to 1.12 from 1.27 in 2017.
Getting 2.5 WAR from a 37-year-old back-end starter is impressive and if Sabathia can give the Yankees another 150 innings as he did in 2018, then it would be an undeniable success. One milestone to watch: Sabathia needs 14 strikeouts to reach 3,000 in his career.

That brings us to Sonny Gray. The Yankees dealt James Kaprielian, Jorge Mateo and Dustin Fowler for the righty in 2017 and he performed fine in those 11 starts. His first full season with the Yankees was bad. Gray walked 3.94 batters per nine innings and had an ERA of 4.90. He was sent to the bullpen where he would be used in long relief and an occasional spot start to end the year.

General Manager Brian Cashman has been rather open about his intent to deal Gray, telling Matt Ehalt of the Bergen Record that Gray “has got a good makeup, I just don’t think this is the right spot for him.” Unless he is packaged with some prospects, it seems hard to believe that Gray will bring much of a return in prospects, maybe some lottery ticket type players.

To replace Gray and strengthen the fifth spot, Cashman dealt from the surplus of players and prospects who were blocked for Lance Lynn and J.A. Happ. Both performed as good, if not better than what was expected of them coming over. Lynn was worth 1.8 fWAR in 9 starts while Happ was worth 1.1 fWAR in 11 starts. Both are free agents and potential targets for backend innings. Lynn can also provide extended innings out of the bullpen, something he did both in the regular season and playoffs for the Yankees.

Masahiro Tanaka was not healthy for the full year but still turned in one of his better seasons statistically. He sliced his ERA down by a full run to 3.75 and his HR/9 to 1.44. Still, he only pitched 156 innings. When healthy, he is arguably the second-best starter to Luis Severino in the rotation and will be with the Yankees for another two years since he did not opt-out of his contract.

Speaking of Severino, he started off the year with Cy Young caliber stuff. The problem was that his ERA in the second half was 5.57, which for reference was higher than Sonny Gray’s full-season ERA. Severino has the pure stuff: a high 90s fastball and a wipeout slider. He did not use the changeup much until the second half, but it showed flashes as a good pitch. There is also some evidence that Severino was tipping pitches, specifically in the playoffs. The hope would be that the team caught this, and it gets addressed going into next season.

Still, with Severino, Tanaka, and Sabathia there are two spots left in the rotation. There are three routes the Yankees could choose: internal promotion, free agency, and trades. Internally, the Yankees have Justus Sheffield, Chance Adams, and Jonathan Loaisiga. Adams and Loaisiga both made starts during 2017, while Sheffield made some relief appearances late in the year. Loaisiga performed better than Adams but he also dealt with shoulder issues. Expect all three to compete in Spring training 2019 for a spot.

This free agent class looked impressive for pitching a couple years ago and now, it merely looks okay? Clayton Kershaw was taken off the market by signing an extension with the Dodgers in early November. Hyun-Jin Ryu is rumored to most likely accept the Dodgers’ qualifying offer. So, those are two fewer options.

According to Keith Law (insider paywall), the best pitching options still left are Patrick Corbin, Dallas Keuchel, Charlie Morton and Nathan Eovaldi. Corbin would be an “ace” type acquisition, though he has been injured in the past. Keuchel also has missed some time in 2016 and 2017 but would be a great option as a mid-rotation starter. Morton is on the older side and the Yankees may be wary to sign Eovaldi again, especially with the workload he shouldered coming off Tommy John.

Finally, we come to the trade candidates. James Paxton, Carlos Carrasco, and Corey Kluber have all been rumored to be available so far this offseason as both the Mariners and Indians decide whether they want to shed payroll. Any one of the three would be welcome additions but come with hefty price tags, though it has not stopped Cashman from dealing before.
No matter what, the rotation will be the number one priority this offseason. Expect Cashman to get creative as he addresses the clear weakness of this Yankees team.

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Podcast

Gary Sanchez has shoulder surgery, will be ready Opening Day

Stacey Gotsulias

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Gary Sanchez
Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

In today’s episode of Locked On Yankees, Stacey discusses Gary Sanchez’s shoulder surgery (try saying that three times fast), Luke Voit’s insane offseason workouts, Brian Cashman’s comments about Chris Sale and she takes you around the league.

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CC Sabathia signs one-year deal to stay with the Yankees in 2019

Stacey Gotsulias

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Brad Penner-USA Today Sports

In today’s episode of Locked On Yankees, Stacey discusses CC Sabathia’s latest one-year deal with the Yankees and she discusses Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, Josh Donaldson and much more!

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