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Previewing the Division: New York Yankees

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A look at Boston’s biggest rivals, and the AL favorites.

MLB: Toronto Blue Jays at New York Yankees Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

For the next four days, we will be looking at the competition that the Red Sox will be facing in the 2021 season in the division. We’ll take a look at their projected record by averaging projections from Baseball Prospectus and FanGraphs, and then we’ll look at their top players before diving into their overall offense, rotation and bullpen outlooks. We’ll be going in reverse order of last year’s standings, meaning today we look at the Yankees.

Broad Overview

The Yankees have not won a World Series, or even a pennant, since 2009, which is just a tremendous fact to throw around as a Red Sox fan, particularly as Boston is a bit down on the win curve right now. That fact is putting a lot of pressure on New York heading into this season. The bad news for us as Red Sox fans is they absolutely have the team to break that streak right now. There are other contenders in the American League, of course, but the Yankees will head into this coming season as the big favorite in the league, and deservedly so. They aren’t without their flaws, as we’ll get into, but they are loaded with talent and certainly have the upside to compete with any team in baseball, including the two NL powerhouses out west.

2020 Record

33-27

Projected Record

98-64

Best Position Player

Aaron Judge

It seems as though it should be impossible, but the best player on the Yankees is somehow underrated. That is not to say that people don’t think Judge is a good player, because they obviously do, but he seems to me to be thought of as a home run/strikeout guy, which is unfair. Judge is a fantastic all-around player. He has that monster power and does strike out a bunch, but he still manages to carry good batting averages thanks to an uncanny ability to turn batted balls into hits. Add to that tremendous plate discipline and you get an on-base machine with big power that also plays a better outfield than he gets credit for.

The issue for Judge is, and has been, the injury history. He is a very large human being, and these are the kinds of players that tend to get hurt more often. To that end, he missed half of last season, 60 games in 2019 and 50 games in 2018. That certainly limits the ceiling a bit and creates a need to have more outfield depth on the roster, but when he’s healthy there aren’t a whole lot of players in the American League who are better. He’s an easy four-to-five-win player, and those just don’t grow on trees.

Detroit Tigers v New York Yankees Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images

Honorable Mention: DJ LeMahieu

Gleyber Torres could probably make a case here based on upside, but I’ll go with the most consistent bat in this lineup. LeMaheiu was a great find by the Yankees front office a couple winters ago and decided to come back in free agency for this year as well. New York has a ton of power in their lineup, but it is LeMahieu at the top who makes everything go. He had a bananas 176 wRC+ in the shortened 2020 season, and in 2019 he put up a mark of 135. He is getting into his mid-30s, but to this point he has not shown any signs of slowing down.

Best Pitcher

Gerrit Cole

At this time last year, Cole had a very legitimate argument for being considered the best pitcher in all of baseball. I think Jacob deGrom has pretty safely taken that mantle for now, but all of the talent that put Cole in that position is still there. Even with 2020 seeming like a down season for the righty at certain points, he finished with a 2.84 ERA, although his FIP was a full run above that. Most of the issues with his FIP came as a result from home run troubles, and while that will always be an issue for someone who pitches roughly half his innings at Yankee Stadium, the deadened ball should help that effect.

All in all, as long as he’s healthy there’s little reason to think Cole is anything but one of the favorites for the AL Cy Young coming into the season. Since leaving Pittsburgh three years ago he has posted three consecutive campaigns with an ERA under 3.00 and a strikeout rate over 30 percent. The Yankees have some pitching issues after Cole, which we’ll get to in a bit, but they are as well set as anyone in the game at the top of their rotation.

Honorable Mention: Corey Kluber

This was a tough one, and there’s a good chance I could be horribly, horribly wrong here. But right now Kluber seems slotted for the two-spot in the rotation, and I’m willing to buy into the track record here to give him the edge over Aroldis Chapman. Kluber was obviously a Red Sox target as well this winter, so the upside was apparent to both teams. That upside is a Cy Young-caliber pitcher, and while that level of performance is likely out of reach the Yankees will certainly settle for something like 80% of that.

Lineup Overview

I mean, what is there to say about the Yankees lineup that hasn’t already been said? This group is consistently a nightmare to face and it doesn’t appear that will be much different in the coming year. We’ve already mentioned Judge and LeMahieu at the top of the lineup, but they go much deeper than that. Giancarlo Stanton is one of the scariest at bats in the game. Gary Sánchez has his flaws but can hit it a mile every time up, as we’ve already seen a couple times this spring. Gleyber Torres looked like the AL’s next big thing a couple years ago and still has the talent to make good on that. Aaron Hicks is an underrated and tough at bat. Gio Urshela and Luke Voit continue to be an unexpected force. Clint Frazier certainly has the talent to be special. There are no breaks in this lineup, and really the only discernible flaw is that there are legitimate health concerns with some of the biggest bats. And even in that case, few teams have been better at finding great depth pieces out of nowhere.

Rotation Overview

If the Yankees have an Achilles heel, it’s definitely here. As mentioned, they don’t have anything to worry about up top, as Cole is great and there is no reason to believe he will be anything but beyond pitchers just being weird sometimes. But after Cole, there are questions. Granted, there is also upside, but nobody is a sure thing. The next two spots will be occupied by Kluber and Jameson Taillon, both new faces to the Yankees rotation. They have both had success in the majors, but have both shown an inability to stay healthy in recent years. They also have Jordan Montgomery, who has shown flashes but is still a bit unproven, and Domingo Germán, who may or may not even be playing at any given moment. The two wildcards here are top prospect Deivi García, who could actually realistically end up as their second best pitcher by the end of the year, and Luis Severino, who like Chris Sale is hoping to come back around midseason after undergoing Tommy John surgery.

Bullpen Overview

One constant for the Yankees over the last handful of seasons has been a dynamic late-inning group that holds nearly every lead. They still have the anchor of that group in Aroldis Chapman, who is about as consistent as a late-inning reliever can be. They did, however, lose Zack Britton for at least a bit as he will be undergoing surgery to remove a bone chip in his elbow. That won’t keep him out all year, but he’ll likely miss at least the first six weeks or so, and probably a bit longer. They still have some good arms to put in the setup role, though, including Chad Green and Jonathan Loaisiga along with new acquisitions in Justin Wilson and Darren O’Day. Overall, this is still a good group, even if it feels a bit less intimidating than some previous iterations.

Sum it up in a sentence

The Yankees have more pressure than any team in baseball to win it all in 2021, and while there are questions, particularly in their rotation, they’re as well set as any team in the AL to do just that.