Welcome to 2016. I hope it’s treated you well thus far. It’s a fresh calendar, minus six days, one unmarred by green checks or red x’s on game days. There’s no win-loss record, no injuries but the ones carried over from last year’s carnage. There is only what lies ahead, a destiny that has yet to be written beyond what lies on the 25-man roster and the scores upon scores of minor leaguers down on the farm.
Once again, the Yankees find themselves in a nebulous space before the inception of the regular season. The AL East is not as wide open as it seemed to be at the beginning of the 2015 season. The Rays are decidedly dead for the time being, and the Orioles currently have a pitching staff held together with scotch tape and Ubaldo Jimenez. The Blue Jays will still have their wrecking crew lineup, and the Red Sox have a revamped bullpen to go along with their shiny new David Price.
The Yankees are somewhere in the middle. They’ve added an elite reliever, a good young outfielder, and a young second baseman. Yet they’re still very old, and still own the most fragile starting rotation in the division. Many of the things that went wrong for the 2015 Yankees can once again go wrong for the 2016 Yankees, and in dramatic fashion. However, what we’ve witnessed thus far has been the continuation of a slow but steady youth movement that’s been long overdue for New York. The Yankees could win the division as easily as they could self-immolate in a fantastic display of Murphy’s Law operating on a $200 million budget.
The 2016 season will operate as a crossroads of sorts. It will be the final year of Mark Teixeira and Carlos Beltran, and only the baseball gods know whether or not Alex Rodriguez will be able to survive a second season back unscathed. More and more products of a suddenly bountiful farm system will graduate, and the very essence of the team will begin to change. What follows are things to watch for on this year’s version of the Bronx Bombers.
- Young Messers Severino and Bird: Luis Severino will be undertaking his first full season of big-league ball. After holding opposing hitters to a 2.89 ERA (3.82 DRA) in just over 60 innings of work, how he handles a second swing through the league will be incredibly important. Severino was arguably the Yankees’ best starter down the stretch, and they’ll need him to be excellent once more if they truly have designs on contending. Meanwhile, Greg Bird won’t even begin the season in the Bronx, but instead down at Scranton. There’s simply no room for him to get regular plate appearances with both Teixeira and A-Rod healthy, so he’ll wait until one of them is injured to come up. Bird is almost certainly the Yankees’ first baseman of the future, and a second strong run at big-league pitching will show whether or not his strikeout concerns will hold him back from being an offensive cornerstone.
- The Labors of Alex Rodriguez: The most fascinating man in New York had a year for the ages in terms of pure story. While I could wax poetic about A-Rod for eons, and probably will, what’s important here is that the Yankees are gambling on their resident Methuselah to supply the dingers once again. Being restricted to a DH role is good for A-Rod’s sustainability, but he can only cheat death for so long. Even just last year, he faded in the late months of the season. He will require more days off, and will likely find himself on the business end of the disabled list at some point. But it’s A-Rod that will need to do much of the heavy lifting for the Yankees this year, and that’s a little scary.
- The Other Four Guys: We know that the monstrous Aroldis Chapman/Andrew Miller/Dellin Betances trio is unfair and likely part of a video game that seeped into the real world in a strange reversal of Tron. There’s no debate to be had there. However, there are still four other jobs open in that bullpen. Two of them likely belong to Chasen Shreve and Jacob Lindgren, meaning that the Yankees will roll out with four lefty relievers. One more spot is likely Bryan Mitchell’s, as he’ll be doing the Adam Warren super-swingman job. The seventh spot probably once again belongs to the Scranton Wilkes-Barre Frequent Flyer Club again, meaning it’ll be filled by the various up-and-down Triple-A relief arms. Is that good enough? Are the Yankees too left-handed? We know that Chapman and Miller make short work of any who dare face them, and Shreve was good at getting guys out regardless of which box they stood in (until he couldn’t get anybody out). Lindgren is supposedly in that same mold. Only time will tell, but the middle relievers could be just as good as the menacing figures lurking in the late innings.
- The Trade Deadline: Brian Cashman could be in two very different positions once that most magical part of the summer comes to town. The Yankees could either need a few more pieces to put them over the top, or they could be the New York Post’s favorite punching bag every single morning. Should the first scenario come to pass, it will be quite fascinating to see just how crazy he’s willing to get. If the Bronx is burning, players such as Chase Headley, Brett Gardner (if he hasn’t already been traded), and Andrew Miller could become quite tantalizing targets for the shrewd shopper. Neither scenario would be particularly surprising, of course, which makes the coming season all the more anticipated.
I could go on and on about what to look for. However, we here at BP Bronx need topics to write about, and there’s only so much I can say before your eyes glaze over and you drift into a dream of reaching over Zack Hample’s shoulder to catch a home run ball. I can’t say I blame you.
The Yankees are not the Blue Jays, with their mortar-launching offense. They aren’t the Cubs and their unyielding supply of prospects, nor are they the Red Sox with their Mookie Betts. But for the first time in what feels like a lifetime, the Yankees may very well be genuinely interesting. That counts for something, and nobody really wants to be the Red Sox anyway. We’re going to take you all the way to Opening Day here at BP Bronx, and then we’ll take you through the end of the season. There’s a lot to write about, and a lot to dream about. There’s a lot of baseball to watch. Soon enough, we’ll have just that back in our lives.
Lead photo courtesy of Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports