2020 Season Preview: New York Yankees

New York Yankees
By Ben Poon

2019 Record: 103-59, 1st in the AL East

2019 Payroll: $223,019,037 (2nd in MLB)

Projected April Opening Day Lineup (Lineup projections via Rotochamp, stat projections via Steamer)

  1. 2B DJ LeMahieu — .285 AVG/.781 OPS/3.4 WAR
  2. RF Aaron Judge — .254 AVG/.898 OPS/4.9 WAR
  3. SS Gleyber Torres — .272 AVG/.850 OPS/3.6 WAR
  4. C Gary Sanchez — .242 AVG/.841 OPS/2.6 WAR
  5. 1B Luke Voit — .250 AVG/.788 OPS/0.9 WAR
  6. CF Brett Gardner — .246 AVG/.749 OPS/1.8 WAR
  7. DH Miguel Andujar — .269 AVG/.787 OPS/0.7 WAR
  8. 3B Gio Urshela — .268 AVG/.741 OPS/1.4 WAR
  9. LF Mike Tauchman — .247 AVG/.720 OPS/0.6 WAR

Projected 2020 Rotation 

  1. RHP Gerrit Cole — 202 IP/3.25 ERA/1.04 WHIP/281 K
  2. RHP Masahiro Tanaka — 183 IP/4.55 ERA/1.29 WHIP/161 K
  3. LHP JA Happ — 137 IP/4.75 ERA/1.34 WHIP/127 K
  4. LHP Jordan Montgomery — 90 IP/4.68 ERA/1.34 WHIP/87 K
  5. Opener (likely RHP Jonathan Loaisiga or RHP Chad Green)

Injured: CF Aaron Hicks, LHP James Paxton, RHP Luis Severino

Currently Suspended: RHP Domingo German

2019 Season/Offseason Recap

Finally, another season of Yankees baseball. The Bronx Bombers are coming of a very successful 2019 campaign, ending the previous decade with an AL East title for the first time since 2012. After another playoff clobbering of the Minnesota Twins, the Yankees fell short in the ALCS to the recently shamed Houston Astros in the most painful way possible: a walk-off home run.

When it came to this offseason, general manager Brian Cashman made it clear to Yankee Nation that the main goal for the 2020 season to get Cole in pinstripes. A Yankee fan during his childhood, it seemed that the Yankees were the favorites to sign Cole at the start of the offseason. But the moment Cashman opened up the checkbook, it was all but over for the other teams in the sweepstakes. For $324,000,000 over 9 years, Gerrit Cole became the 4th (now 5th, thanks to LA for keeping Mookie from the Red Sox) highest paid player in MLB history and will headline the rotation for the near and distant future. 

Other than signing Cole, the Yankees had a relatively quiet offseason, as there were not a lot of holes that needed to be addressed. The only other notable additions to the team were the signings of Chris Ianetta, Erik Kratz, and Josh Thole to minor league contracts to compete with Kyle Higashioka for the backup catcher position. This spot is vacated by Austin Romine, who signed with the Tigers in the offseason. Personally, I’m happy for Ro. The man is a starting-caliber player and deserves to get more time than just the games when Sanchez is injured. It should be interesting to see which player gets the role, as it seems to the Yankee faithful that it’s Higashioka’s turn, but management might feel that the team needs another veteran in the clubhouse to help lead them throughout the season. Either way, I will be happy as long as they can give Gary a break every once and a while and somewhat produce at the plate. 

In terms of subtractions, there were two major pieces of the core that chose to go elsewhere this offseason. Mr. Clutch himself, Didi Gregorious, went back to the NL and signed with the Phillies for 1 year and $14 million, and long-time reliever Dellin Betances moved to Queens, as he signed with the Mets for 1 year and $10.5 million. Obviously, it hurts to see two key players that have contributed a lot to the Pinstripes in the past leave. However, after the initial disappointment, it’s easy to see why the Yankees did what they did. With Didi, the writing was on the wall last postseason. Gleyber hit, and Didi didn’t. The Yankees were more than comfortable letting Torres move back to his natural position if the two sides couldn’t come to an agreement. This doesn’t mean the Yankees won’t miss his knack for the big moment, locker room presence, and leadership, but there just wasn’t a spot for him for the amount of money he wanted. With Betances, there was less of a mourning period in my opinion. The Yankees bullpen is already stacked, and with him being on the wrong side of 30 and a very injury riddled 2019, management didn’t want to take the risk on him. 

2020 Season Preview

For the Yankees, it was an injury-riddled 2019, and it seems that the bug has hit the Yankees once again. Early in the offseason, it was announced that Aaron Hicks would need Tommy John surgery on the cannon he has for an arm. Personally, I wouldn’t be surprised if he comes back throwing 110 MPH from the outfield. Also during the offseason, it was announced that James Paxton had to have emergency back surgery and would be out for a couple of months at least. This is a crushing blow to the rotation, as the Big Maple really started to hit his stride during the second half of the year and the postseason. 

Now that Spring Training has rolled around, been postponed, and finally resumed as Summer Camp, there are a few major injuries have appeared on the surface. First, it was announced stud starter Luis Severino had some arm tightness. After some tests, it was determined that Sevy would need Tommy John as well and will miss the entire 2020 season. Not even two days later, Giancarlo Stanton was diagnosed with a pretty serious calf strain, and while he’s better now for Opening Day, I wouldn’t hold my breath based on his recent injury history. Speaking of freakishly massive outfielders, Aaron Judge had some shoulder problems that prevented him from swinging a bat. After about 10 examinations, it was revealed that he has a broken rib. While the delayed start to the season has helped him heal some, rib injuries are the exact sort of nagging injuries that can last. Case in point: this injury supposedly dates back to last September. Gary Sanchez was also reported to have some back tightness and might have had to miss time, but he released a statement saying the pain isn’t serious and that Spring Training is the time to take care of discomfort. Sanchez was also tested for coronavirus, but the results came back negative. Yay, I guess.

When looking at players that will be actually on the field, it is almost identical to last season in terms of the cast of characters. Manning the outfield will be some combination of the aforementioned, made-of-glass Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Judge, as well as Brett Gardner, Mike Tauchman, and Clint Frazier. A fully healthy Stanton and Judge, alongside center fielder Hicks, will be the key contributors, but each has dealt with injuries throughout the spring. That means the entire starting outfield has serious question marks leading into Opening Day. Waiting in the wings if and when injuries do occur are Tauchman and Frazier. If you could combine Tauchman’s defense and Frazier’s offense into one player, that player would be an All-Star. Coming from Colorado last season, Tauchman was an elite defender (top 10 in MLB in defensive runs saved) and had a solid season at the dish, but based on his career numbers, it would seem like he is due for some negative regression. Frazier, on the other hand, is often touted as the “fastest bat in the organization” and his fantastic minor league hitting numbers have translated to the majors. However, his defense, highlighted by an awful multi-error game against the Red Sox last season, eventually got him sent back to the minors. If Tauchman can keep up his offensive numbers and Frazier can reasonably defend at the major league level, those two will be vital to the team’s success when the big boppers are injured. 

Rounding out the outfield understudies is the wily veteran Brett Gardner. Last year, he had his best offensive season, posting a career high 28 HRs and .829 OPS. After re-signing to a one-year deal, Gardy knows how to perform in the fourth outfielder role, as it was what he was penciled in last year. He is always healthy, catches everything, and swings a reliable stick. I expect him to do his thing, as he has for basically his whole career. Obviously, a healthy Judge and Stanton will dominate the starting lineup, as both of them are superstars that have a chance to change the game every they step in the box. But this injury thing is becoming a trend with these two, and it’s very sad to see elite players lose prime years due to injury. Hopefully this year they can overcome these initial setbacks and mash homers into Monument Park consistently.

Holding down the left infield will be brand-new everyday shortstop Gleyber Torres and third baseman Gio Urshela. When not DHing, Miguel Andujar will look to get some innings at third as well.  This allows DJ LeMahieu to move back to his position of old in second base, while Luke Voit and Mike Ford will compete for the first base job. Rounding out the defense will be Gary Sanchez behind the plate once again (hopefully). When looking at the projections, it seems that both Urshela and LeMahieu are both expected to have some negative regression at the plate, which is understandable, as during this time last year, neither was expected to be an everyday starter. Now that they have expectations attached to them, I’m excited to see if they have cracked the code on major league pitching and continue to wreak havoc from the right side. I’m happy to say so far, so good in Spring Training. Sanchez sadly falls in the same category as Judge and Stanton: elite when healthy. His defense has improved leaps and bounds from the start of his career and the power numbers have always been there. His consistency has wavered a bit recently, but I feel that there are always some lingering injuries with him. If the Yankees can get Sanchez 100% healthy, I think he’ll be the best catcher in baseball. 

One thing I’m very curious about this season is what the Yankees plan to do at first base. At the end of last season, Luke Voit struggled mightily and minor league lefty Mike Ford seemed to fit right in the lineup. For the playoffs however, it was LeMahieu who primarily manned first. And while he made some incredible picks over there, his skills are needed at second this year. I would imagine Voit will have the first crack at the job, but by June, I really don’t know what will happen. If Voit’s struggles continue from the end of last year, it could be Ford that takes over the everyday job. He would add a lefty bat to a lineup dominated by right-handed hitters, and potentially could get a couple extra short porch homers they wouldn’t get otherwise. Neither’s defense there is outstanding, so It will likely come down to who swings the better bat this season. To me, it’s Voit’s job to lose.

Pitching wise, this team is as deep as any in the American League. The Yankees will look to make each game a “5-inning game” with the Four Horsemen. The quartet of Adam Ottavino, Tommy Kahnle, Zack Britton, and Aroldis Chapman was fantastic last season, as the Yankees were practically unbeatable when all four of them pitched in the same game. I expect similar excellence from all four of them this year. To round out the bullpen, Chad Green is one of the most versatile pitchers in all of baseball, as he can either open games or come out of the pen in any situation. 

Although Domingo German is still suspended for domestic abuse, the rotation has a lot of familiar faces besides Cole that can help shorten the game and contribute to the team’s success.  Masahiro Tanaka can be counted on for 150+ solid innings, but his true value is his ability in the postseason. Veteran JA Happ was a little shaky last season, but as long as he can piece together quality innings, the bullpen will do the rest. One pitcher I’m personally excited about is Jordan Montgomery, as he returns from Tommy John. Gumby led AL rookies in strikeouts in 2017, so he has punch out stuff, and hopes are high for him to be a hidden gem in this year’s rotation.

This is without a doubt the best Yankees team in a long time. New York fans are used to excellence and the past decade did not reflect that mentality. The hopes are that a championship is coming to the Bronx in 2020, that is, if the season doesn’t get cancelled by October. 

2020 Record Prediction: 37-23, 1st in the AL East 

Player to Watch #1: Gerrit Cole, RHP

Our prized possession. The Golden Goose. Last year, it could be argued that Gerrit Cole had one of the greatest seasons a starting pitcher has ever had, posting a 20-5 record last season for the Astros with 212.2 IP, 326 Ks, 2.50 ERA, 0.895 WHIP, and an ERA+ of 185. While it’s unfair to expect those numbers this season, I do expect him to headline the rotation and have plentiful dominant outings. It will be especially vital that he can perform up to his capabilities early on, as it’ll help the psyche of the team through the weirdness of a 60-game season. When looking at his stuff, it’s just plain nasty. His fastball sits in the high 90s and can ratchet it up to triple digits when he needs a little extra on it. He also had a plus slider and breaking ball, which equally stymies opposing hitters. New York is the right environment for only some players, and I think Cole is going to thrive in pinstripes. 

Player to Watch #2: Gleyber Torres, SS

Without a doubt, Gleyber has been one of the fastest developing players in all of baseball. After getting called up in 2018, all the kid has done is be a vital part of the Yankees cog. At second base, he was an All-Star in 2018 and had a breakout 2019 campaign, smashing 38 homers in the process. Now after Didi Gregorius’s departure, Torres is able to move to his natural position at shortstop, where he has been dazzling in his small sample there. Offensively, I feel this is the year he really comes into his own as an elite hitter, as he is expected to hit in the 3 hole. This is where he hit during the 2019 postseason and he absolutely thrived there. The guy loves to swing, and I feel his aggression fits the 3-spot nicely. Too many times last year did I watch Aaron Hicks hit 3rd looking to walk. I want a guy who’s looking to swing and drive the baseball for extra base hits, and Torres is the most capable to fit this role in my opinion. 

Player to Watch #3: Miguel Andujar, 3B/DH

Coming off a partially torn labrum, Miguel Andujar is the player with the most question marks this season for the Yankees. Miggy broke out in 2018, hitting .297 with an .845 OPS and coming in 2nd place in the AL Rookie of the Year voting. Hopes were high for the then 24-year-old in the 2019 season, but a tweaked shoulder forced him to start the season on the IL. After coming back and going 3 for his first 34, it was decided that he needed surgery on the shoulder and didn’t return for the rest of the season. Now looking at this year, there are concerns about whether Andujar can keep up his exceptional numbers at the plate after the injury, or if 2018 was just a fluke. The Yankees will need him with both Hicks and Stanton out for a substantial amount of time. The only question is where will he play? The knock on Andujar has always been his defense. At the hot corner, his fielding ability is widely renowned across the league as way below average. To counter this, the Yankees have tried Andujar in the outfield during Spring Training, so I wouldn’t be shocked to see him get some innings out there while Judge and Stanton get healthy. Look out for Miggy this year, as he has something to prove.

Enjoyed this article? Why not read our 2020 Nationals Season Preview?

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