THE STRIKE ZONE
Sometimes Sports, Sometimes Sportsmanship
Before I hit the recap, let's go over my picks prior to this season.
Before Season:AL East:
AL Wild Cards:
Texas & Toronto
AL On The Bubble:
Boston, Detroit, Los Angeles
NL Wild Cards:
Arizona & Pittsburgh
NL On The Bubble:
Washington, St. Louis, Los Angeles
AL Wild Card:
Baltimore & Toronto
AL On The Bubble:
New York, Detroit, Seattle
NL Wild Card:
San Francisco & New York
NL On The Bubble:
Miami, St. Louis, Colorado
If you're scoring at home, I got one AL Wild Card right along with the NL Central. My other AL Wild Card team won the West. My other two NL Division Winners both won the NL Wild Card spots. Three out of my six "bubble" teams made the playoffs.
I also stated that the Yankees would need at least 88 wins to sniff the playoffs. They finished with 84, obviously missing the playoffs. Both AL Wild Card teams finished with 89 wins. Pretty darn close on that one, at least!
As for the Yankees, there are a multitude of questions and things to discuss. We can nitpick all off-season, but for now, to get the ball rolling, I'll start with what I think are the three biggest questions the Yankees MUST address before next season (in no particular order).
1. Who Is Your Outfield?
The Yankees have a serious problem in the outfield. Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury, both known for speed, have stopped running and are not hitting for power the way traditional power hitters would. They have essentially become worthless placeholders in desperate need of an upgrade.
The funny thing is that if they were to start stealing bases again, we wouldn't be having this conversation! We'd simply put Aaron Judge in right field and call it a day! But the Yankees seem to be telling their base runners to put on the brakes while waiting for the magical 3-run homer to save the day. And if that's not the case, then these guys just forgot how to run.
Gardner is the worse of the two. He only runs with two strikes, usually on 0-2 or 1-2 pitches, allowing teams to pitch out and catch him. He certainly gives you great defense in left field, but he does not match the same value offensively. We all understand that base stealing is not going to be successful 100% of the time. However, even if it's successful 60-70% of the time, the Yankees can begin to score a few more runs, especially if Gary Sanchez continues to hit. It's unfair to expect him to keep hitting the ball over the fence, so he will eventually just get singles and doubles, which is where having a runner in scoring position will pay off.
Gardner also looks like he is the one who will be traded. It looks impossible to trade Jacoby Ellsbury based on his contract and age. Gardner has a much more team-friendly deal at a reasonable rate, so with the gluttony of young outfield talent coming in next year, I would be shocked to see Gardner in pinstripes next year.
For whatever reason, the team still has a love affair with Aaron Hicks, which is like holding onto hope that your ex-girlfriend will change and come back. News flash: she's crazy and won't. Hicks may have a superior arm, but his defense is horrendous, and his bat never flourished, even if the argument was that he needed consistent playing time.
If the Yankees are smart and are thinking along the same lines as me, I'd wager that Ellsbury will be my starting center fielder again, but then a competition of Aaron Judge, Mason Williams, and Clint Frazier will battle for the two corner spots.
2. Who is Michael Pineda?
At the time, the trade for Michael Pineda made sense. The Yankees jettisoned the prospect bust of the no-miss Jesus Montero for a young pitcher coming off an All-Star year. Unfortunately, injuries kept Pineda off the field for the first two years of his tenure in the Bronx, and the resulting product was a mixture of pine tar and inconsistency.
The Yankees always seem to have a pitcher who is the equivalent of "the little girl with the curl." Just like A.J. Burnett before him, Pineda looks like he can throw a no-hitter one day, then can't get out of the 4th inning the next. It has more often been the latter. However, when you have the stuff Pineda has with a fastball that has incredible velocity and movement, it's tough to give up on the guy.
Normally, you might be able to make the argument that Pineda could be slotted as your fifth starter and could continue to be a work in progress. However, the rest of your rotation just doesn't look as solid right now with Masahiro Tanaka, CC Sabathia, Luis Cessa, Chad Green, Luis Severino, and Bryan Mitchell all trying to prove they should be mainstays. This might be the hardest decision the Yankees have all winter: is Michael Pineda a fixable project?
If the Yankees sign or trade for another dominant starter, I'd be they try one more time to fix him. But the Yankees also like this youth movement going. The trade for Cessa and Green is starting to pay dividends, as Justin Wilson could not replicate his success this year in Detroit. If the Yankees project two fifths of their starters to be rookies again, maybe Pineda is packaged with Brett Gardner for a pitcher?
3. How much for Aroldis Chapman?
When Aroldis Chapman was traded, he made it clear he would absolutely consider a return to the Bronx. And for most of the season following the departure of Chapman and Andrew Miller, it looked like Dellin Betances could hold things together. In September, that was proven wrong.
Betances is a great pitcher with filthy stuff. But a pitcher that tall has two problems no matter who it is: he can't hold runners on, and his mechanics can get screwed up easily. Both were huge issues for him as the season came winding down, and both prove that he is probably better suited in the 7th or 8th inning.
When Adam Warren and Tyler Clippard both came back this season, the Yankees proved that success in the bullpen was not always defined with dominance, but rather with knowledge and experience sprinkled with a bit of guile. In fact, some might argue that it was Betances' ineffectiveness down the stretch that ultimately cost the Yankees a shot at the Wild Card. The game he blew to start the Boston series was the turning point and the beginning of the end. So it's fair to ask whether or not a reunion with Chapman is in the cards.
Chapman is the kind of guy who will clearly go wherever the money takes him. Further, he has shown to like New York, especially since the Yankees took a chance on a guy with a domestic violence history. Could the Yankees decide to send a message and not re-sign a guy who was suspended for domestic violence? Sure, especially if they believe they can fix Betances. But the Yankees are already trying to decide if they can fix Pineda. How many guys can you successfully expect to fix?
Bottom line: youth served the Yankees well this year. Regarding these three issues, if I had to choose right now, I'd bet Gardner and Pineda are both traded and Chapman is wearing pinstripes again next year.