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American League East Preview: New York Yankees

A look at how the rivals are shaping up for 2019.

Divisional Round - Boston Red Sox v New York Yankees - Game Four Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images

With only a little more than a week left until Opening Day for most teams (and only a couple days away from Opening Day for the Mariners and A’s) it’s time to really start looking forward to the coming season. With that in mind, we’ll spend this week looking at the rest of the competition in the division, going in reverse order of last year’s standings. Then, on Friday we’ll take a broader look at the rest of the American League. Today, we discuss the Yankees.

The Projections

Fangraphs: 97-65

Baseball Prospectus: 96-66

The Lineup

I don’t know if you’ve heard, but the Yankees have quite a bit of power in their lineup. Giancarlo Stanton had some rough stretches last year and serious strikeout issues that kind of overshadowed his positives, but he obviously can still mash. The 2017 NL MVP is a threat for 50+ homers every year. Aaron Judge is still the best player in New York, and weirdly enough I think he’s a little underrated outside of the Northeast. It seems like he only gets credit for his absurd power, but Judge is a very good defensive outfielder and great on-base guy on top of that. The Judge/Stanton one-two punch is terrifying every time they come up, even with both having very high strikeout rates.

The rest of the lineup doesn’t provide many breaks, either. Gary Sanchez had a really rough 2018, but I’d be surprised if that’s not his worst year for a long time. Aaron Hicks is one of the most underrated players in the game, providing really good defense in center field, good pop and one of the best walk rates in the game year after year. Miguel Andújar had a big rookie year, and while I certainly see at least a little regression his issue is more defensively than it is at the plate. Didi Gregorius is going to miss the first half of the year, but he’s one of the better shortstops in the game when healthy. Troy Tulowtizki will take his spot for the first half of the year. Gleyber Torres isn’t too far removed from being an elite prospect and showed big flashes last year. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if he has a big breakout at second base in 2018. I have literally no idea what to expect from the Luke Voit/Greg Bird combination at first base. That could be a great platoon but they could also combine to be a disaster.

Divisional Round - Boston Red Sox v New York Yankees - Game Four Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

Overall, the Yankees are projected to be one of the best offenses in the game and there’s little reason to disagree with that. They will once again challenge for a home run record and get on base a ton. There are some wildcards that will determine just how high they can rise, like Tulowitzki, Torres, the first base platoon and what Gregorius will be like when he gets back. Still, the floor is extremely high (assuming health) and it’s just a scary group overall.

The Rotation

This is by far the most interesting part of the Yankees roster, and probably where I disagree with the projections the most. Don’t get me wrong, because New York has plenty of talent in this group. I just don’t see it being clearly better than Boston’s like the projections seem to. (Both Fangraphs and BP project Boston to finish second to New York; Fangraphs by a game, BP by six.) The key for this group reaching their full potential comes down to health, and they aren’t getting off to a good start.

The best pitcher here is definitely Luis Severino who, despite his rough second half, still has every possibility of being among the best pitchers in all of baseball. The righty has shown Cy Young production for extended stretches before, and for much of the first half last year he was right there with Chris Sale as a Cy Young frontrunner. He’s going to miss at least the first month of this season, though. James Paxton was New York’s big acquisition this winter, and he has front-line talent. I’m more down on him than most, though, because of both his injury history (he’s never pitched more than 160 innings in a season) and his fly ball tendencies. That will be a lot more difficult to hide in the AL East and its small parks than it was in the West. I won’t be surprised at all if he pitches like a true number two, but I’m expecting a slight step below that.

After those two, I am probably higher on Masahiro Tanaka than most, though his ceiling isn’t massive. He’ll have some rough outings here and there due to home runs, but by the end of the year he’ll be more than acceptable as a midrotation arm. CC Sabathia is retiring at the end of the year, but has shown no signs of slowing down. J.A. Happ is a similar type of solid, unspectacular arm, though I wouldn’t be totally shocked if the bottom fell out there at some point.

Divisional Round - Boston Red Sox v New York Yankees - Game Four Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

All in all, there are a wide range of outcomes for this rotation, and it really depends on the health of their top three for me. If Severino only misses that month while Paxton and Tanaka stay healthy pretty much all year, this group is going to be great. I’m just not super confident in that happening.

The Bullpen

If you’re a Yankees fan, the good news is that any pessimism for the rotation can be cancelled out by another super bullpen being built in the Bronx. They still have Aroldis Chapman, Zach Britton and Dellin Betances in the back (Betances is going to start the year on the IL, though) as well as Chad Green. They lost David Robertson but replaced him with Adam Ottavino. Now, I think Ottavino might be a little overrated and I’d probably rather have Robertson, but both are fantastic and with as many as four other elite arms there’s not a ton of pressure there. The Yankees also have guys like Tommy Kahnle and Jonathan Holder who could very well take a step forward. We’ve seen the Red Sox have a weird amount of success against this group, but it’s going to win a lot of games for New York this year.

Overall

I don’t know that I agree with the projections that the Yankees are the favorites in the division. Obviously I come from a position of extreme bias. Still, I think the offenses are just about even and I’d give a slight edge to the Red Sox rotation, though that could go either way. The Yankees clearly have a better bullpen, but I’m not sure that’s enough to put them over the top. I certainly think the division race is going to be closer than it was in 2018, and while I’d probably pick the Red Sox right now it should go right down to the wire.