Can the Yankees win it all in 2016?
Just imagine everything goes right for the Yankees this year.
Mark Teixeira avoids the disabled list and empties the tank in one last shot at glory. Masahiro Tanaka allays all the fears by morphing into a dominant ace. Alex Rodriguez hits thirty home runs, passing Babe Ruth in the process. CC Sabathia enjoys a renaissance. Jacoby Ellsbury justifies his price tag. There are games in October and a parade down the Canyon of Heroes.
Now, imagine everything goes totally wrong.
Teixeira breaks down like so many times before. Tanaka succumbs to injury or remains a mid-rotation arm at best. Rodriguez has nothing left to give. Sabathia sucks. Ellsbury disappoints. There’s anarchy in the Bronx, a losing record for the first time since cell phones had enormous aerials and George H W Bush occupied the White House.
Why the New York Yankees had to change their approach
This is where we are. This is baseball in 2016. This is life for the New York Yankees, elite opportunists caught in a universe of fresh equality. The age of money guaranteeing contention has passed. Increased revenue-sharing and market regulation has seen to that. Similarly, the actual game has changed just as much. More stringent steroid testing and an improved understanding of defence has stifled the offensive environment and flattened the playing field.
On the whole, teams have to be much more inventive to succeed nowadays. They must develop homegrown talent and pay attention to the runaway world of advanced analytics. In short, the mighty Steinbrenner dollar is no longer omnipotent. Parity reigns supreme.
And so, the Yankees have changed. They had no choice. Owner Hal wants to get with the times and get below the luxury tax threshold one day. Brian Cashman has executed that plan, shying away from the free agent market and instead pruning around the edges, attempting to improve his current team with imaginative trades that do not jeopardise the future.
Reviewing the Yankees’ offseason transactions
This winter, the Yankees did not spend a single dollar in free agency, which would have been totally unthinkable perhaps even two or three years ago, let alone a decade in the distance. Yet they seemingly got better, which speaks to Cashman’s sensational balancing act.
In Aroldis Chapman, the Yankees acquired the greatest closer in baseball today, for relatively little outlay. Of course, allegations of domestic violence cloud that picture, but in terms of pure ability, this was a steal. Chapman will join Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller in a monster bullpen that will shorten games and shatter hearts. The trio ranked first, second and third in strikeouts-per-nine-innings among relievers last season, making this a dream team for Joe Girardi and Yankees fans.
Furthermore, the addition of Starlin Castro is very intriguing. He is a guy with incredible ability and a strong track record. If he can transition to New York and receive guidance from the Yankees’ veteran core, Castro could be a genuine star in the Bronx. I get the feeling Theo Epstein may come to regret this trade in the future.
How the Yankees’ veteran core fell apart
However, when it comes to the modern Yankees, every positive nugget is usually balanced by a looming question mark and a bubbling uncertainty. Sooner or later, the old axis of power, centred around Rodriguez, Sabathia and Teixeira, is going to collapse. Age is an inexorable demon. The question for 2016, though, is whether that tattered core can last one more year without totally unravelling? Girardi must do a better job of rotating the lineup to keep these guys fresh down the stretch, if the Yankees are to have any hope at all.
Right now, the American League East is more perplexing than at any stage in recent memory, which offers a crumb of comfort to the Yankees and their fans. Toronto changed management and lost David Price. Boston acquired Price but did not exactly surround him with an overwhelming rotation. Meanwhile, Baltimore has oscillated between strategies and put together an unpredictable roster, and Tampa Bay continues to search for the right blend of rough diamonds to succeed.
Ultimately, we have very little idea of what to expect. That is pretty much the case for twenty or so teams in baseball right now. If the myriad questions are answered in the affirmative, the Yankees have a formidable team that will contend for a pennant. But if the mounting concerns hold true, and if pieces begin to fall off this team like an old battered car, a long summer may lie ahead.
Can the Yankees win it all in 2016? Your guess is as good as mine.
- Yankees reach historic crossroads at trade deadline
- Hal Steinbrenner and the age of Yankee austerity
- Yankees acquire Aroldis Chapman from Reds
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Ryan Ferguson is the author of Conflict: The Yankees, the Red Sox and the War for My Heart, available now in paperback and Kindle formats through Amazon. Click the link below to get your copy now!