New York Yankees: Complete 2017 Season Preview, Predictions

Joel Reuter@JoelReuterBRFeatured ColumnistMarch 29, 2017

New York Yankees: Complete 2017 Season Preview, Predictions

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    Darren McCollester/Getty Images

    The 2017 MLB season will begin on Sunday with a tripleheader of games, and the New York Yankees are among the teams suiting up on that first day of the regular season.

    So what exactly can we expect from the 2017 version of the Yankees?

    The team finished 84-78 last season, leaving them in fourth place in the AL East and five games out of a wild-card spot.

    Along the way, they continued to build up what is now arguably the best farm system in all of baseball and saw one prospect arrive with a bang when Gary Sanchez became an instant star.

    The focus will continue to be on developing young talent and working toward a bright future, but a team like the Yankees is never truly in "rebuild" mode.

    With that in mind, ahead is a full preview of the upcoming season, complete with an offseason review, breakdowns of the starting lineup, bench, rotation and bullpen, a look at some potential impact prospects and breakout candidates, and a final prediction on how the 2017 season will play out.

Offseason Review

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    Matt Holliday
    Matt HollidayJohn Bazemore/Associated Press

    Key Additions

    NameTransaction2016 WAR
    RP Aroldis ChapmanSigned as free agent, 5/$86 million2.5
    DH Matt HollidaySigned as free agent, 1/$13 million0.3
    1B Chris CarterSigned as free agent, 1/$3.5 million0.9
    RP Ernesto FrieriSigned as minor league free agentDNP

     

    Just five months after trading him to the Chicago Cubs for a package of prospects built around shortstop Gleyber Torres, the New York Yankees re-signed closer Aroldis Chapman to a five-year, $86 million deal to once again anchor the relief corps.

    That was the only major expenditure of the offseason as the team continues to build toward the future with an eye on the vaunted 2018-19 free-agent class.

    Bringing in Matt Holliday on a one-year deal to serve as the primary designated hitter was a solid move to help provide some support for the young duo of Gary Sanchez and Greg Bird in the middle of the lineup.

    Bird was sidelined for all of 2016 following shoulder surgery, so the addition of slugger Chris Carter made sense as an insurance policy. He's as one-dimensional as they come, but he didn't hit 41 home runs last season by mistake.

    The team saw enough from Ernesto Frieri during the World Baseball Classic for Colombia to bring him aboard on a minor league deal after he sat out of the 2016 season. His fastball was back in the 95 mph range, and he looks to have a good shot at breaking camp with a roster spot.

    Key Losses

    NameTransaction2016 WAR
    C Brian McCannTraded to Houston Astros0.9
    1B Mark TeixeiraRetired-0.6
    SP Nathan EovaldiReleased1.2
    UT Dustin AckleyReleased-0.3
    RP Richard BleierTraded to Baltimore Orioles0.6
    RP Nick GoodyTraded to Cleveland Indians0.2
    RP Jacob LindgrenNon-Tendered0.0
    RP James PazosTraded to Seattle Mariners-0.2

     

    The only real notable loss here is Brian McCann, who became expendable with the emergence of Sanchez.

    The Yankees managed to unload $23 million of the $34 million left on his contract over the next two years, and they picked up a pair of solid pitching prospects in Albert Abreu (No. 11 prospect, per MLB.com) and Jorge Guzman (No. 28 prospect) in the process.

    The team needed room on the 40-man roster, so unloading those fringe relievers and releasing the injured Nathan Eovaldi and ineffective Dustin Ackley made sense.

Starting Lineup and Bench Preview

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    Brett Gardner
    Brett GardnerAssociated Press

    Projected Starting Lineup

    Name2016 Stats (*MiLB stats)
    LF Brett Gardner.713 OPS, 143 H, 35 XBH (7 HR), 41 RBI, 80 R
    CF Jacoby Ellsbury.703 OPS, 145 H, 38 XBH (9 HR), 56 RBI, 71 R
    C Gary Sanchez1.032 OPS, 60 H, 32 XBH (20 HR), 42 RBI, 34 R
    DH Matt Holliday.782 OPS, 94 H, 41 XBH (20 HR), 62 RBI, 48 R
    1B Greg BirdInjured, did not play
    2B Starlin Castro.734 OPS, 156 H, 51 XBH (21 HR), 70 RBI, 63 R
    3B Chase Headley.716 OPS, 118 H, 33 XBH (14 HR), 51 RBI, 58 R
    RF Aaron Judge (R)*.854 OPS, 95 H, 38 XBH (19 HR), 65 RBI, 62 R
    SS Tyler Wade (R)*.701 OPS, 131 H, 28 XBH (5 HR), 27 RBI, 90 R 

    Projected DL: SS Didi Gregorius (shoulder)

    The Yankees ranked 22nd in the majors with 4.2 runs per game last season.

    That number should improve with a full season of Gary Sanchez and a healthy Greg Bird taking over at first base for Mark Teixeira (.654 OPS).

    Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury are steady contributors at the top of the lineup, and the middle infield duo of Starlin Castro and Didi Gregorius quietly combined for 41 home runs last season hitting near the bottom of the order.

    That said, the team will be without Gregorius to start the season as he recovers from a shoulder injury.

    Prospect Tyler Wade has had a strong spring and could see the bulk of the playing time at shortstop until he's recovered, though he still profiles more as a utility player long-term.

    Chase Headley is just keeping third base warm until the wave of infield prospects arrive, and he's a below-average contributor at the position with the bat but makes up for it with his stellar glove work.

    The addition of Matt Holliday on a one-year deal means the team won't be relying as heavily on rookie Aaron Judge to be a key run producer, though he's certainly capable of being just that.

    Projected Bench

    Name2016 Stats
    C Austin Romine.650 OPS, 40 H, 15 XBH (4 HR), 26 RBI, 17 R
    1B Chris Carter.821 OPS, 122 H, 69 XBH (41 HR), 94 RBI, 84 R
    IF Ronald Torreyes.680 OPS, 40 H, 12 XBH (1 HR), 12 RBI, 20 R
    OF Aaron Hicks .617 OPS, 71 H, 22 XBH (8 HR), 31 RBI, 32 R

    Projected DL: 1B/OF Tyler Austin (foot)

    The addition of Chris Carter proved to be a bit more important when Tyler Austin hit the disabled list with a fractured foot.

    Austin Romine is a capable backup catcher, and Aaron Hicks still has some intriguing upside as a 27-year-old former top prospect.

    The team will have an interesting decision to make once Gregorius returns, choosing between Ronald Torreyes and Wade to fill the utility infield role going forward.

Starting Rotation Preview

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    Masahiro Tanaka
    Masahiro TanakaAssociated Press

    Projected Starting Rotation

    Name2016 Stats
    RHP Masahiro Tanaka31 GS, 14-4, 3.07 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, 165 K, 199.2 IP
    LHP CC Sabathia30 GS, 9-12, 3.91 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, 152 K, 179.2 IP
    RHP Michael Pineda32 GS, 6-12, 4.82 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 207 K, 175.2 IP
    RHP Luis Severino22 G, 11 GS, 3-8, 5.83 ERA, 1.45 WHIP, 66 K, 71.0 IP
    RHP Chad Green12 G, 8 GS, 2-4, 4.73 ERA, 1.40 WHIP, 52 K, 45.2 IP 

    Other Rotation Candidates: RHP Bryan Mitchell, LHP Jordan Montgomery

    The battle for the final two spots in the starting rotation is the biggest story out of Yankees camp this spring.

    Masahiro Tanaka returns as the ace of the staff after finishing third in the AL in ERA (3.07) and working a career-high 199.2 innings, all while continuing to pitch with a partially torn ulnar collateral ligament.

    The 28-year-old has an opt-out in his contract after this season, and if his good health continues, he'll likely leave the final three years and $67 million of his current deal on the table next winter.

    Michael Pineda and CC Sabathia are locked into the No. 2 and No. 3 starter spots behind him, but both come with their fair share of question marks.

    Pineda pitched to a 4.82 ERA last season, but it was accompanied by a 3.79 FIP, and his 207 strikeouts in 175.2 innings were good for an AL-best 10.6 K/9.

    Sabathia is entering his age-36 season and he's a shell of the pitcher he was in the prime of his career. He was a passable middle-of-the-rotation starter last year, but how much is left in the tank?

    Luis Severino, Chad Green, Bryan Mitchell and Luis Cessa entered camp in a four-way battle to round out the staff.

    Cessa has since been optioned to the minors after a shaky spring, but left-hander Jordan Montgomery has emerged as a legitimate contender in his place after turning in a standout season in the upper levels of the minors last year.

    Severino still has the highest ceiling of that group and he might be the single biggest X-factor on the roster.

    Expect all five of those guys to see time in the majors at some point during the upcoming season, but it's looking more and more like Severino and Green will be the guys to start the year.

Bullpen Preview

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    Aroldis Chapman
    Aroldis ChapmanAssociated Press

    Projected Bullpen

    Name2016 Stats
    RHP Bryan Mitchell5 G, 1-2, 0 HLD, 3.24 ERA, 1.52 WHIP, 4.0 K/9
    RHP Adam Warren58 G, 7-4, 12 HLD, 4.68 ERA, 1.34 WHIP, 7.2 K/9
    RHP Ernesto FrieriDid not play
    LHP Tommy Layne63 G, 2-1, 12 HLD, 3.63 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 7.7 K/9
    RHP Tyler Clippard69 G, 4-6, 25 HLD, 3.57 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, 10.3 K/9
    RHP Dellin Betances73 G, 3-6, 28 HLD, 3.08 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, 15.5 K/9
    LHP Aroldis Chapman59 G, 4-1, 36/39 SV, 1.55 ERA, 0.86 WHIP, 14.0 K/9 

    Other Bullpen Candidates: RHP J.R. Graham (non-roster invitee), RHP Ben Heller, RHP Jonathan Holder, LHP Chasen Shreve

    The Yankees cashed in their bullpen trade chips last summer, flipping Andrew Miller (Indians) and Aroldis Chapman (Cubs) for a wealth of prospect talent.

    However, they quickly built a new Big Three at the back of the pen.

    Tyler Clippard was acquired from the Arizona Diamondbacks in a separate deadline deal, and Chapman returned in free agency on a five-year, $86 million deal that represents a record contract for a reliever.

    Those two will join incumbent Dellin Betances, who struggled in the closer's role down the stretch but remains one of the league's best setup men. He's pitched to a 1.93 ERA and 0.96 WHIP with 392 strikeouts in 247 innings the past three years.

    Tommy Layne is a decent lefty middle relief option, and Adam Warren will return to the swingman role, where he's excelled in recent years.

    Ernesto Frieri joined the team late after being signed to a minor league deal following a strong showing in the World Baseball Classic. He didn't pitch last season, but he's not all that far removed from being a standout late-inning option.

    Assuming Luis Severino gets one rotation spot, the final slot in the bullpen will likely go to whoever misses out on the No. 5 starter gig between Bryan Mitchell and Chad Green. The team values having multiple relievers capable of throwing multiple innings.

Potential Impact Prospects

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    Aaron Judge
    Aaron JudgeAssociated Press

    RF Aaron Judge (No. 4 prospect)

    There were legitimate questions whether Judge was ready to step into the starting right field job this season after he struck out a dizzying 42 times in 95 plate appearances last year.

    However, he's put together a strong spring (.321 BA, .899 OPS, 5 XBH), and all signs point to him breaking camp as the everyday guy.

    His raw power is obvious, and while he may not be a 30-homer guy out of the gates, he has that type of upside and should provide his share of fireworks.

    SS Tyler Wade (No. 12 prospect)

    The Yankees have been grooming Wade to fill a super-utility role this spring, but an injury to Didi Gregorius has given him an opportunity to potentially serve as the starting shortstop for the first month or so.

    "We're looking at everyone who's here. It wasn't a decision we expected us to make but we've got to. He's a young man who played pretty well in Double-A last year. He's got versatility to him, left-handed bat, he's got speed. He's getting a good look," manager Joe Girardi told Brendan Kuty of NJ.com.

    He's hitting .341 with four doubles this spring, but he's also not on the 40-man roster.

    SP Jordan Montgomery (No. 13 prospect)

    Montgomery wasn't a highly regarded prospect at the start of last season, but he put himself on the map by going 14-5 with a 2.13 ERA, 1.20 WHIP and 134 strikeouts in 139.1 innings between Double-A and Triple-A.

    The 24-year-old has pitched to a 3.68 ERA and 0.82 WHIP in 14.2 innings so far this spring. Even if he doesn't win a rotation spot out of camp, he figures to be one of the first guys called upon when the rotation needs reinforcements.

    RP Jonathan Holder (No. 26 prospect)

    The Yankees still have a few 40-man relievers in camp who are on the roster bubble, and Holder is one of them.

    The 23-year-old posted a ridiculous 101-to-7 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 65.1 innings over three minor league levels last season, finishing out the season with eight appearances at the MLB level.

    His stuff has played up since moving to the bullpen, and he could emerge as a key middle relief arm at some point in 2017.

    Prospect rankings courtesy of MLB.com.

Breakout Candidates

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    Greg Bird
    Greg BirdJohn Raoux/Associated Press

    1B Greg Bird

    Bird burst onto the scene in 2015 with an .871 OPS, 11 home runs and 31 RBI in 178 plate appearances after being called on to replace an injured Mark Teixeira.

    However, his rapid rise to stardom was abruptly halted when he underwent season-ending shoulder surgery last spring.

    Now he's looking to pick up where he left off as a rookie and so far so good as he leads the Yankees in doubles (seven), home runs (seven) and total bases (51) this spring.

    "He's been really good," manager Joe Girardi told Bryan Hoch of MLB.com after naming Bird the starting first baseman last week. "Maybe better than what I expected, knowing that he sat out a year and you worry about guys' timing. It hasn't seemed to affect him."

    An .800 OPS with 25 home runs and 75 RBI seems well within reach as long as he stays healthy, and there's potential for more.

    SP Luis Severino

    It's been a rocky road for Luis Severino as he tries to make the transition from minor league standout to MLB rotation fixture.

    However, the 23-year-old still has the electric stuff that made him the team's top prospect and one of the top pitching prospects in all of baseball just a few years ago.

    He worked three perfect innings in his latest spring appearance on Friday, striking out five.

    It's certainly a good time for him to be building some confidence with Opening Day rapidly approaching, and that could prove to be a springboard into a breakout regular season.

Season Prediction

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    Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

    The Yankees have their work cut out for them if they hope to keep pace with the rival Boston Red Sox in the AL East race.

    The Toronto Blue Jays also look strong once again on the strength of their deep starting rotation and an offense that should still score plenty of runseven without Edwin Encarnacion.

    The lack of quality starting pitching behind ace Masahiro Tanaka simply looks like too big a hurdle for the Yankees to overcome, leaving them better positioned for a run at a winning record than a run at a postseason berth.

    If things break right, they could edge out the Baltimore Orioles for third place in the division, but at this point, it's clear this is a Yankees team focused on the not-too-distant future.

    The arrival of a number of top prospects should add plenty of excitement to the second half of the season, even if they're not in the thick of things for a division title or a wild-card berth. 

    Final Prediction: 82-80, third in AL East, missed playoffs

    All regular-season stats courtesy of Baseball Reference and FanGraphs, while spring stats come via MLB.com.