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MLB Team Roundup: New York Yankees

Gerrit Cole

Gerrit Cole

inslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

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NEW YORK YANKEES

2021 Record: 92-70

Second place (tied), AL East

Team ERA: 3.74 (6th in MLB)

Team OPS: .729 (13th in MLB)

WHAT WENT RIGHT

Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton managed to stay mostly healthy and were productive while doing so. Gerrit Cole had a season of ups-and-downs, but will still almost certainly be a finalist for the American League Cy Young Award. Jordan Montgomery was an unsung hero in the rotation, posting a 3.83 ERA across 30 starts. The quirky Nestor Cortes was a nice surprise, putting up a 2.90 ERA across 14 starts and eight relief appearances. Jonathan Loaisiga found a home in the bullpen with a 2.17 ERA over 70 2/3 innings. After a shaky first three months back from Tommy John surgery, Jameson Taillon posted a 3.25 ERA over his final 14 starts. Corey Kluber threw his first career no-hitter, though he didn’t do much of note after that. Clay Holmes proved to be a savvy addition at the trade deadline and Chad Green kept doing his thing in the Yankees’ bullpen. Aroldis Chapman righted himself after a midseason funk, compiling a dominant 1.95 ERA with 48 strikeouts in 27 2/3 innings over his final 29 appearances. The Yankees turned three triple plays this season, so that was pretty cool.

WHAT WENT WRONG

The Yankees entered the season as one of the favorites for the World Series and while they looked like that sort of team at times, it just didn’t happen often enough. The best way to sum up their inconsistent play was a 13-game winning streak in August followed by a 2-11 stretch. The Yankees made the AL Wild Card Game, but were sent packing by the Red Sox. The Yankees’ offense uncharacteristically pedestrian this season, with a handful of notable disappointments. DJ LeMahieu was the biggest among them, as his power completely disappeared, but Gleyber Torres struggled for the second straight season and Gary Sanchez failed to pick up the slack for the offense. Luke Voit was limited to just 68 games while slashing .239/.328/.437 in 241 plate appearances and could very well be a non-tender candidate or trade bait this offseason. After coming out of nowhere to stake his claim on the starting third base job, Gio Urshela posted a .720 OPS (96 OPS+) over 116 games. Aaron Hicks hit just .194 with a .627 OPS over 32 games before needing surgery for a torn tendon sheath in his wrist and Clint Frazier missed most of the year with lingering dizziness symptoms. Luis Severino’s return from Tommy John surgery was delayed due to injury and he only ended up throwing six (excellent) innings in relief. Corey Kluber only threw 29 2/3 innings for the Yankees after his no-hitter on May 19. Zach Britton had a 5.89 ERA in 22 appearances and required reconstructive surgery on his elbow in September.

FANTASY SLANTS

- Is Gerrit Cole the top fantasy starter going into next year? It’s far from a settled matter. Corbin Burnes has earned his standing and Jacob deGrom could have a say in the matter if he’s healthy in the spring. Still, it’s hard to think of a pitcher you’d rather bank on coming out of the American League than Cole. And the margins will get a bit slimmer if the National League adopts the universal designated hitter in 2022. Cole’s season ended on a sour note — and there were the questions about the sticky stuff around midseason — but he’s struck out more than one-third of the batter’s he’s faced over the past four seasons. With that comes good control and a big workload, if healthy. Cole dealt with a bout of COVID-19 and a hamstring injury down the stretch, so context needs to be taken into a account. He’s still one of the safest bets among starting pitchers.

- After appearing in just 28 games in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, Aaron Judge entered the spring with the reputation as injury-prone. However, he answered those critics by playing in 148 games this season while slashing .287/.373/.544 with 39 homers, 98 RBI, and 89 runs scored. Heck, he even went 6-for-7 in stolen bases. It isn’t very complicated; if Judge is healthy, he’s going to produce. The 29-year-old slugger is quite simply elite in terms of quality contact, ranking in the top-one percent of the league in hard-hit percentage and average exit velocity and in the top-four percent in barrel percentage. He remains in a great situation for hitters and the Yankees’ lineup should be better next year. It’s just a matter of how much you trust him to stay on the field in 2022.

- What the heck happened to DJ LeMahieu? We recently learned that he was suffering through a sports hernia which recently required surgery, but it’s unclear if that can fully explain his underwhelming .268/.349/.362 batting line. He lost 300 points in OPS (1.011 to .711) compared to the truncated 2020 season, as his production basically looked a lot like what it did before he came to New York. It’s certainly fair to wonder how much the “slightly-dejuiced” baseball had to do with it. LeMahieu is usually near the bottom of the league in average home run distance, so his fantasy success was always living on a razor’s edge. It should be noted that LeMahieu didn’t hit the ball to the opposite field as often this year, so there’s a path to a rebound here, especially if he continues to hit leadoff. It’s just difficult to bank on it.

- Giancarlo Stanton appeared in just 41 games between 2019-2020, so it was anybody’s guess what to expect from him going into this year. That reflected in his draft position, as he was selected at 91.6 on average in Yahoo leagues. While Stanton had a brief stint on the injured list in May due to a quad strain, he ended up playing in 139 games while putting up a .273/.354/.516 batting line with 35 homers and 97 RBI. Sort of like Judge, if healthy, Stanton is going to produce. He still has the best raw power in the game. An improved supporting cast could mean more counting stats, but it’s still hard to forget 2019-2020 as he goes into his age-32 season.

- Gleyber Torres holds a .255/.337/.366 batting line with 12 home runs over his last 169 games dating back to the start of the 2020 season. The 24-year-old at least finished this season strong, but it’s still been a shocking regression after his 38-homer season in 2019. His average exit velocity has sagged from 89.1 mph to 87.1 mph during that time. Torres has also struggled defensively at shortstop, which led to the Yankees moving him back to second base down the stretch. Maybe the full-time switch will help his confidence, but it’s very much “prove it” time for Torres, especially with prospects like Anthony Volpe and Oswald Peraza on the way.

- Gary Sanchez’s future is more murky than Torres, as he’s failed to progress behind the plate and hasn’t been nearly as potent offensively compared to the early part of his career. He’s slashed .187/.291/.406 over 166 games dating back to the start of the 2020 season. The mediocre production makes it more difficult to live with his deficiencies as a catcher. That being said, the power hasn’t really gone anywhere. He socked 23 homers in 440 plate appearances this season. That’s always going to keep him on the fantasy radar. The question is whether the Yankees are finally ready to move on, potentially putting Sanchez in a situation where he can settle into a DH role and mash. It’s something to watch as he goes into his final year of club control.

- The Yankees were hopeful that Joey Gallo would provide a lift to their struggling offense at the trade deadline, but the opposite happened. He struggled to the tune of a .160/.303/.404 batting line over 58 games while striking out in an alarming 38.6 percent of his plate appearances. He led the majors with 213 strikeouts on the whole, 11 more than Athletics third baseman Matt Chapman. Strikeouts are always going to be a part of Gallo’s game, as he’s hit higher than .209 just once in a full season in his career. This will continue to make him a subject of derision on sports talk radio and a balancing act on fantasy rosters, but there’s no doubt that he’s an impact lefty bat and a strong defender. He’s a better real life player than a fantasy one.

Key Free Agents: Anthony Rizzo, Corey Kluber, Brett Gardner, Joely Rodriguez ($3 million club option for 2022 or a $500K buyout)

Team Needs: With Aaron Boone back in the fold as manager, the top priority for the Yankees is landing a true shortstop. Odds are one of the top free agent shortstops (Corey Seager? Carlos Correa? Trevor Story?) will find their way to the Bronx. The Yankees also need to decide what to do about Gary Sanchez and whether they want to move forward with Luke Voit or try to bring back Anthony Rizzo. More broadly, there seems to be an emphasis on improving contact rate, defense, and baserunning.