As the 2019 season nears and the White Sox get ready to take on the rest of the American League, we’re taking a team-by-team look at all 14 of their opponents.
This is a team that won 100 games a season ago, only to get dispatched of by the eventual champions in the ALDS. But they’re pretty loaded, too, and did a lot of work this winter to make the roster even better – and better able to compete with the rival Red Sox.
In all seriousness, this is a group set up for a new Yankee dynasty. Aaron Judge missed 50 games last season and so was only able to add 27 homers to the jaw-dropping 52 he hit during his Rookie of the Year season in 2017. He still finished 12th in AL MVP voting in 2018 thanks to a .392 on-base percentage and a .919 OPS. Giancarlo Stanton‘s first year in The Bronx wasn’t a duplicate of his 59-homer, 132-RBI season of 2017. But, hey, 38 homers and 100 RBIs ain’t bad.
But it’s the guys around those two middle-of-the-lineup menaces that blossomed in 2018 to really make this Yankee team look so dangerous in the present and future. The Bombers boasted the two best rookie position players in the AL in Miguel Andujar and Gleyber Torres, who finished second and third, respectively, in the AL Rookie of the Year vote (if only they could also pitch like Shohei Ohtani). Andujar slashed .297/.328/.537 with 27 homers and 92 RBIs, while Torres slashed .271/.340/.480 with 24 homers and 77 RBIs, not to mention an All-Star appearance. And how about Aaron Hicks? The center fielder extraordinaire busted out his bat in 2018 and smacked 27 home runs to go along with a .366 on-base percentage. Gary Sanchez only played in 89 games but still managed 18 homers in an otherwise woeful offensive season.
The common thread through all of this is youth. The average age of all the guys mentioned so far (Judge, Stanton, Andujar, Torres, Hicks and Sanchez) is 25. Those six players are all under team control through the 2022 season, when Judge and Sanchez become the first to hit free agency.
The Yankees will also get Didi Gregorius back at some point this summer once his recovery from Tommy John surgery is complete. He also hit, you guessed it, 27 home runs last season.
And that’s without mentioning anything the Yankees did this offseason, which included bringing in an All-Star caliber starting pitcher in James Paxton, one of the best relievers on the market in Adam Ottavino, a potential steal at shortstop in Troy Tulowitzki and a Swiss Army Knife infielder in DJ LeMahieu, who’s fresh off back-to-back Gold Glove seasons with the Colorado Rockies.
There are pitching questions, sure, though not in the bullpen, where the Yankees might boast the game’s most fearsome relief corps: Aroldis Chapman, Dellin Betances, Zack Britton, Ottavino and Chad Green. You don’t realize how impressive that group is until you see all those names written out in a row. The Yankees could watch every one of their starters last just four innings a game and still be in good shape.
But let’s talk about that rotation, which doesn’t have the initial impression of a dominant group, like the Red Sox might have. But Paxton is an incredible addition for the Yankees. He was blossoming into an ace with the Seattle Mariners, with a 3.52 ERA over the last three seasons. In 2018, he struck out a career-best 208 batters in a career-high 160.1 innings and finished the year with an 11.7 K/9. He’ll team with the solid Masahiro Tanaka and the veteran J.A. Happ, who had a terrific 2.69 ERA after a midseason trade to The Bronx last year.
Of course, the two biggest names in this rotation are both unlikely to be on the roster on Opening Day. Luis Severino has made back-to-back All-Star teams and finished in the top 10 in AL Cy Young voting in each of the last two seasons. He put up a 3.18 ERA with 450 strikeouts in 2017 and 2018. He’s the ace of this staff, but he’ll miss more than a month recovering from a rotator cuff injury. Meanwhile, CC Sabathia has been solid the last two years, too, with a 3.67 ERA, but he’s likely to miss Opening Day after having an angioplasty this offseason.
Even with some starting-pitching questions, though, that’s a very long list of reasons why the Yankees are very good. The biggest thing standing in their way, of course, is the Red Sox and to a lesser extent the Houston Astros, the AL’s other uber team that has championship expectations. But it’s possible the Yankees could be better than all of them. A lineup that’s being talked about as the most powerful ever. A bullpen that might be baseball’s best. And a host of offseason additions that have bolstered a team that already was in the 100-win category.
A lot of folks grew up hating the Yankees for their perennial dominance, but believe it or not they’ve won just one championship in the last 18 years. And if they don’t reach the Fall Classic this year, it will be an entire decade, the 2010s, without a Yankees pennant. The last time that happened was the 1910s. This is a group that could change all that.
2018 record: 100-62, second place in AL East
Offseason additions: James Paxton, Troy Tulowitzki, Adam Ottavino, DJ LeMahieu
Offseason departures: David Robertson, Andrew McCutchen, Lance Lynn, Neil Walker
X-factor: While Tulowitzki drew the headlines for his accomplished career, the large amount of money the Toronto Blue Jays gave him to leave Canada and pair of spring home runs he hit, the more meaningful infield addition for the Yankees might end up being LeMahieu. He won three of the last five Gold Gloves handed out to National League second basemen. He’s just three years removed from an NL batting crown. He’s fresh off a career-high 15 home runs. And he’s just one of a host of middle infielders who will contribute to this squad, alongside Tulowitzki, Torres and Gregorius.
1. Aaron Hicks, CF
2. Aaron Judge, RF
3. Giancarlo Stanton, DH
4. Gary Sanchez, C
5. Miguel Andujar, 3B
6. Gleyber Torres, 2B
7. Luke Voit, 1B
8. Troy Tulowitzki, SS
9. Brett Gardner, LF
1. Masahiro Tanaka
2. James Paxton
3. J.A. Happ
4. Domingo German
5. Luis Cessa
*pitchers might not be in Opening Day rotation but are expected back after the season begins
Prediction: First place in AL East, wild card