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AL East Preview: New York Yankees

Where do the Sox’ biggest rivals stand?

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New York Yankees v Boston Red Sox Photo By Winslow Townson/Getty Images

We are now less than three weeks away from Opening Day, and for the most part the transaction flurry has settled. While some teams may change in some ways before the start of the season, rosters are largely set and so we’re going to take this opportunity to look at what the division looks like right now. For the next four days we’ll look at the roster composition for all of Boston’s AL East rivals, looking today at the New York Yankees.

2022 outlook in a sentence

The Yankees still have much of their core which has helped lead to plenty of regular season success over the last half decade, but they also have enough questions that it’ll be a grind for them to finish atop this loaded division.

Position Player Outlook

Broad Look: The Yankees actually finished in the bottom half of baseball last season in terms of total runs scored, which is even more surprising considering the park in which they play. Of course, they went through a truly horrific stretch in the middle of the 2021 season that may skew some of those numbers. They aren’t as fearsome one through nine as they’ve been in the past, but make no mistake. There are still some killer bats in the middle of this order and they will be able to put up runs in bunches. They’ve made some changes, though, most notably bringing back Anthony Rizzo after he joined them at the deadline last summer, and turning to Isiah Kiner-Falefa at shortstop while moving on from Gary Sánchez behind the plate. That last move will help them defensively, but offensively is likely to be a hit even with Sánchez not always living up to his potential with the bat.

Best Player: This is clearly Aaron Judge, and the only reason to potentially go in another direction in this space was if the city of New York kept their vaccine mandate for athletes. If they had, Judge would have been absent for more than half of the season between that mandate and the one for crossing the border into Canada. But now that it looks like he’ll be in the lineup for the majority of the season (assuming health, which is never a foregone conclusion with him). Judge is simply one of the better all-around players in the game, getting on base at a strong clip despite the strikeouts combined with some of the best raw power in baseball and also an underrated glove in right field.

X-Factor: It’s the same as last year, I think, which is Gleyber Torres. When he was first acquired from the Cubs he was one of the best prospects in the game, and his first impressions in the majors painted the picture of a future star. However, he has struggled to make counter-adjustments after pitchers started to figure out holes in his swing. He’s still only 25 so another breakout is far from impossible, but he needs to hit more because his defense up the middle is below-average. I’d wager he has one of the widest ranges of outcomes in the entire division.

Rotation Outlook

Broad Look: While the Yankees were in the bottom half of the league in runs scored last season, they were in the top 10 in rotation ERA, which is all the more impressive given that home park tendency towards hitters we mentioned above. They have a bona fide ace at the top of their rotation who is in the discussion for best pitchers on Earth, and a solid group of upside behind him, although it’s also a group fraught with risk. I’d say they’ll probably take a bit of a step back compared to last year, but they’re still a better than average group.

Best Player: Obviously this is Gerrit Cole, who just missed out on the Cy Young award last season. The righty has been every bit the ace New York signed him to be (except in the Wild Card Game last season, which obviously I had to mention), pitching to a 3.23 ERA last season with even better peripherals. He’s prone to some hard contact and home run issues from time to time, but that’s heavily outweighed by elite strikeout stuff and pinpoint control. Sure, the back end of his contract may be less than ideal for New York, but what he’s doing right now in his prime is well worth that cost.

X-Factor: Right now the Yankees don’t really have a true number two behind Cole. Jordan Montgomery is, I think, an underrated pitcher, but I also don’t see that ceiling for him. He’s more of a number three. Instead, the X-Factor here is Luis Severino, who very well can be the sort of 1B to Cole’s 1A. Severino has been fighting injury issues for the last few years, but when we last saw him for full seasons back in 2017 and 2018 he very much looked like a capital-A Ace. Of course, that was also three seasons ago at this point and he’s thrown just 18 innings since then. Whether this rotation is just fine as opposed to very good likely comes down to what version of Severino they get.

MLB: SEP 28 Yankees at Blue Jays
Luis Severino
Photo by Julian Avram/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Bullpen Outlook

Broad Look: The Yankees don’t really have the monstrous bullpen that was a big part of their MO back in the middle of last decade when they typically had a trio of high-impact, and high-priced, relievers in their bullpen. That doesn’t mean it’s not a good group, though. They still have firepower in the late innings, and they have a nice mix of veteran experience and young upside in the bottom half of the group that can make this a deep and effective group. They finished fourth in bullpen ERA a year ago, which gives you an idea of how good this group can be when it’s on.

Best Player: I think I still have to go with Aroldis Chapman here, though it’s not a foregone conclusion that he’ll end the season as the best arm. I think Chad Green is a very underrated arm, and Jonathan Loáisiga emerged as a legitimately elite reliever last year. That said, Chapman is still Chapman. There are command issues that cause him to go on cold streaks at times, but when he’s on there aren’t many relievers in the entire sport who can compete with what he can do.

X-Factor: That trio of Chapman, Loáisiga and Green is a wicked three-headed monster, and Clay Holmes could be a quiet candidate to join that group and make it a foursome. Acquired somewhat quietly from the Pirates at the deadline last season, the righty showed some nasty stuff and became a key arm on the Yankees staff in the second half. In 25 outings after the trade he pitched to a 1.61 ERA with a 2.10 FIP, and while that sample is too small to buy it as a definite true talent, we have to at least acknowledge the possibility the Yankees unlocked something special here.