I have heard it said that the Yankees “don’t need” Manny Machado or Bryce Harper. That may, or may not be true. I find it hard to imagine that any team wouldn’t benefit from having generational talents like either, or both, of these players. Remember, both are only 26 years old. These are not superstars coming off their best seasons, these are superstars who should be coming into their best seasons and who should be having their best seasons for years to come.
The other night I was having a discussion with some baseball fans and we started looking at the Yankees position-by-position. As we did this, we started to realize that, while we hope things go well (as fans we always hope for the best) there are many more question marks on the team than we realized.
I figured it might be a worth exercise to take a quick critical look at the Yankees, position-by-position (as we did the other night) and see where the Yankees’ strengths lie (or not).
Catcher - We all want to believe in Gary Sanchez. He is a generational talent. It has been written that he is the best hitter on the team. All of that may be true, but the fact is that 2018 was a very bad season for Sanchez. Around injuries in 2018, Gary Sanchez played in only 89 games and batted just .186. His 18 home runs were good, especially considering the fact that he didn’t even play in 90 games. While we hope for a rebound season in 2019, it is fair to say that Sanchez is a player who is a question mark going into the season. No one knows which Gary Sanchez is going to show up in 2019. The best we can say right now is we hope the old Gary comes back.
Austin Romine is coming off his age-29 season, the best season of his career, but in this, he batted only .244. His 10 homers were good, but, I think it might be fair to say that those stats represent the very best the Yankees can expect out of Romine.
In sum, if Sanchez isn’t above average, catcher will not be a position of strength for the 2019 Yankees.
First Base - The Yankees seem to be putting their eggs into the Luke Voit basket. I think it’s fair to say that, while Voit exceeded all expectations at the tail end of last season, it is also not wise for any team to truly trust a player’s late August through September stats. Mirages are made in September when rosters expand and some teams play out the string. That is, though, what the Yankees will be doing with Voit. A career minor league prior to 2018, Voit batted .333/.405/.689 in 39 games for the Yankees. (Boy, oh boy, we talk a lot about small sample sizes… 39 games is a very small sample size on which to base the decision to award a position to any specific player.) In his minor league career, Voit’s total triple slash numbers are .288/.370/.459. These numbers are significantly below the totals Voit put up for the Yankees. It sometimes happens that players exceed their minor league numbers in the big leagues, that is true. Would it be great if this is true of Voit? Sure. It is likely? I don’t think so. I don’t believe Voit will be anything close to the offensive player he was at the end of 2018.
Greg Bird… what is there to say? The last time Greg Bird even hit .250 or better for any extended period was when he batted .258 in 48 games for Trenton (AA) in 2015.
Heading into 2019, first base is a huge question mark. A huge question mark. Greg Bird has not proven he can be a viable big leaguer… and Luke Voit is coming off a small sample size of unexpectedly positive production.
Second Base - Gleyber Torres probably slots here. He’s a superstar in the making who is coming off a great rookie year. This is a position of strength.
Shortstop - Didi Gregorius will spend at least the first half of the season recovering from Tommy John surgery. While Didi has been great, and is a fan favorite, no one knows what to expect from him in 2019. It is not known when he’ll be back, if he’ll be back at all. It is possible that Gregorius misses the entire season. The Yankees cannot plan for any production from him. Just like the Yankees hope Gary Sanchez returns to form, and that Luke Voit’s numbers last year were a true indication of his abilities, the Yankees have to hope Gregorius heals quickly, that his rehab is successful, and that he immediately returns to his pre-surgery form. (The Yankees are asking for a lot…)
To date, it seems that the Yankees have Tyler Wade as shortstop of this moment. In 66 games, Tyler Wade’s lifetime batting average is .161.
The Yankees have to do something at shortstop. If they move Gleyber Torres to shortstop, a huge gap opens at second base.
Right now this position doesn’t just look like a question, it’s a weakness. It’s a huge weakness. (In my plan for the 2019 Yankees, I suggested the Yankees trade for Scooter Gennett. A lot has to happen right to made a big trade like that. Manny Machado is available for just money. He would turn a position that is a huge weakness into a huge strength.)
Third Base - Miguel Andujar set the world on fire with his bat in 2018. A fun player, the guy can flat out hit. The big question here is his defense which was atrocious. The big question is if Andujar can field the position at a passable Major League level? On this, the jury is out. Still, even with his bad defense, Andujar was a bWAR 2.2 player. I have to assume that his defense improves, even a little. I think his bat is for real. I consider third base a strength, but again with a pretty big question mark at least defensively.
Quick Summary So Far - As presently constructed, the Yankees on the infield have two positions of strength (2b, 3b), one position that is a huge weakness (SS), one position where they are hoping (desperately) for a player to return to form (C), and one position where they hope (also desperately) where a player’s remarkable debut wasn’t a mirage (1b). Overall, this collection doesn’t inspire a great deal of confidence if the goal of the team is to pennant bound. For this to work out well in 2019, a lot, a whole lot, has to fall into place or the Yankees have to make some tremendous trades or free agent signings.
Maybe the outfield and DH will inspire more confidence...
Left Field - Right now, the Yankees have Brett Gardner penciled in as the every day left fielder. Brett Gardner is 35 years-old. He’ll turn 36 in August. It is fair to say that his best days are behind him. He still is a plus defender, but his bat is a huge question. Gardner slashed .236/.322/.368 in 2018. Absent of his rookie season, the batting average was the lowest of his career. Absent of his rookie season, his on-base percentage was the…lowest of his career. His slugging percentage (absent of his rookie year) was his second worst ever (behind 2016). He is trending in the wrong direction. In the second half of 2018, Gardner batted just .209 with just three homers. But, there is a bigger sample size concern in this, Brett Gardner typically fades as the season goes on. For his career, Gardner bats .274/.356/.415 in a season’s first half. In the season’s second half, Brett Gardner has been a career .243/.329/.356 batter. In his career, Gardner has hit 67 first half homers, but just 29 in the second half of the season. There is no reason to suspect that Gardner will produce at a positive level offensively over a full season as he turns 36. Asking for him to play a full season in 2019 with positive results is asking for him to do something he hasn’t been able to do - even as a young player. Expecting a full solid season from him is a fool’s errand.
If Gardner doesn’t perform, the Yankees have Jacoby Ellsbury (did not play in 2018) and Clint Frazier (who only played in 69 professional games in 2018) in reserve. No one has any idea what either player will be able to produce in 2019. Asking anything of Ellsbury at this point is silly. The best they can expect from Frazier is hope. They have to hope he is healthy, and then they have to hope his great skills translate to the Major Leagues.
Heading into 2019, this does not look to be a position of strength. In fact, it seems weak, at best. (I can’t imagine how Bryce Harper doesn’t fit here. He would make this an immediate position of strength.)
Center Field - Aaron Hicks is an excellent excellent player. He’s really really good. Really good. He is excellent. In 2018 Hicks was a 4.7 bWAR player. The problem with Hicks is that he’s never been healthy for a full season. Last year he played in 137 games. That was the most games he has ever played in a season. Only twice (2016 and 2018) has he played in more than 100 games. If the Yankees can pencil Hicks in for 140+ games, they’ll be in great shape, but if Hicks gets hurt and is out for an extended period, who do they have to turn to? Brett Gardner? If so, then who plays left? Giancarlo Stanton? If so, then who’s the DH? The position is one of strength only as long as Hicks is healthy. And staying healthy over a full season is not something Aaron Hicks has ever done.
For this exercise, I’ll consider this a position of strength, but I am concerned over Hicks’ ability to stay in the lineup consistently.
Right Field - Aaron Judge is, in so many ways, the Yankees of today. For the team to be great in 2019, the Yankees will need Aaron Judge to be AARON JUDGE. This exercise shows that the Yankees will need a monster season from Judge in 2019. I believe that Judge should be healthy and great in 2019, but in this, they are also counting on a player with one Major League season where he played in over 112 games. Nonetheless, this is, absolutely, and positively, a position of strength. (If it is not, the 2019 Yankees are in huge trouble.)
Designated Hitter - Giancarlo Stanton is a young superstar just entering his prime. He should be better in 2019 than he was in 2018. This is also a position of strength. Again, it has to be. Stanton is going to have to be a rock all year.
The Outfield/DH Summary - The outfield seems to be pretty good, at least with the starters. Behind the starters, there is no depth to speak of. None. Brett Gardner can contribute with his glove and, for the first half at least, should hit well enough. If Hicks stays healthy, he’s excellent. Judge and Stanton are, and have to be, superstars.
Overall - I think it is fair to say that overall, though, this collection of players is one that looks to be a powerhouse only if everything falls right at this point. I see two positions (ss, lf) as weak overall. I think at least two (C, 1b) have very real questions offensively. One position (3b) has a player that might not be passable defensively.
As the roster stands at the very end of 2018, it looks like one that absolutely needs an infusion of talent to become championship caliber. They need a middle infielder, badly. They can definitely use a great talent in the outfield. Bryce Harper and Manny Machado, two superstars just entering their primes are available. It’s not like the Yankees don’t have needs where those two players could slot in.
It will be interesting to see what the Yankees do as we head into the New Year. Right now, this collection of players has promise, but along with that promise comes a ton of questions. The 2019 Yankees, as constructed, do not inspire a great deal of hope or confidence.
If the goal is for the Yankees to compete for a championship, right now there is just too much riding on too many hopes…