New York Yankees
2016 Record - 84-78
Fourth Place, AL East
Team ERA: 4.16 (15th)
Team OPS: .720 (24th)
What Went Right
Gary Sanchez supplanted Brian McCann behind the plate in August and looked like a superstar in the making. Masahiro Tanaka stayed healthy again and was one of the AL’s very best starters, going 14-4 with a 3.07 ERA in 199 2/3 innings. The midseason trades of Andrew Miller, Aroldis Chapman and Carlos Beltran brought seemingly excellent returns, setting the team up much better for 2018 and beyond.
What Went Wrong
The offense was flat-out bad; Beltran and Sanchez were the team’s only two players to better a 100 OPS+. Of the eight players to appear in at least 100 games, Didi Gregorius had the best OPS at .751. The rotation beyond Tanaka and CC Sabathia was also a huge letdown. Luis Severino regressed badly after looking like the next big thing in 2015, Michael Pineda somehow managed to be dreadful while striking out 10.6 batters per nine innings and Nathan Eovaldi’s arm imploded.
** The Yankees have cleared the way to break in Greg Bird at first base and Aaron Judge in right field, though Judge will have to compete for his spot after hitting just .179 and striking out 42 times in 95 plate appearances down the stretch. Bird, who made a nice impression in 2015, missed the entire year with a torn labrum in his right shoulder. He seems like a safe enough bet for 20-25 homers and a solid OBP next year. Judge has 35-homer power, but he’ll have to compete with Tyler Austin, Aaron Hicks, Rob Refsnyder and anyone else the Yankees might add to the outfield mix.
** Sanchez enters 2017 as the AL's top fantasy catcher and maybe the No. 1 option overall ahead of Buster Posey after hitting 20 homers in 201 at-bats as a rookie. Still, he's not quite a sure thing. After starting off with a .405 average and 11 homers in his first 22 career games, he came in at .222/.311/.487 with nine homers and 40 strikeouts in his last 31 games. That's not bad, given the standards of the position, but it's not dominant. He'll need to cut down on the missed swings some in order to maintain a healthy average.
** Pineda set a Yankees record with his strikeout rate, but went 6-12 with a 4.82 ERA anyway. Homers were a problem, but even with that factored in, he still had a 3.80 FIP. Where he’s really struggled these last two years is pitching from the stretch, and if the Yankees can’t fix that, he’ll continue to perform far worse than his peripherals.
** Dellin Betances finally showed some signs of fatigue in September in his second month of closing after Chapman and Miller were traded. It probably wasn’t as much the pressure of the ninth catching up to him as it was the three years of extremely heavy workloads. Still, while Betances’s late slump took his ERA all of the way up to 3.08, his peripherals remained incredible (he struck out 126 in 73 innings and finished with a 1.78 FIP). He’s expected to remain a closer, which should serve to limit his workload going forward.
** Jacoby Ellsbury wasn’t a bad player for the Yankees; his .330 OBP was his highest mark since 2013, his last year in Boston, and he posted with his best defensive numbers since… well, his last year in Boston. However, from a fantasy perspective, it seems he no longer has much to offer. He finished with a mere nine homers and 20 steals despite avoiding the disabled list and playing in 148 games. He hasn’t hit better than .271 or scored more than 71 runs in any season since… yeah, you guessed it.
** Severino was far, far more impressive as a reliever (0.39 ERA in 23 1/3 IP) than as a starter (0-8, 8.50 ERA in 47 2/3 IP), and the Yankees made obvious their discontent with some of his decisions on the mound. That said, there’s no way they’ll be giving up on him as a starter anytime soon. Severino is just turning 23 in February, and he’s averaged 8.2 K/9 IP and 3.2 BB/9 IP to date in his major league career. He could be a dynamite reliever from day one in 2017, but he’ll compete for a rotation spot and likely will start in the minors if he doesn’t get one. He should be a factor in mixed leagues by year’s end.
Key Free Agents: All traded or retired
Team Needs: A starting pitcher and a veteran setup man figure to be the two biggest priorities. The Yankees cleared Mark Teixeira’s $23 million salary, but they still have another year to go before Alex Rodriguez and Sabathia are off the books, giving them much more room to play with in what should be a better free-agent class. That doesn’t mean they need to give away 2017, but it makes more sense to tread water and hope for a wild-card run than it does to splurge on the limited talent available now. If things go according to plan, next year’s club will be the worst one the team fields for at least the next five years.