Spring training is just days away. Pitchers and catchers show up no later than February 17, only two days out for the New York Yankees, yet there are still issues to face as the season opener approaches on April first. After a long wait to resign batting champ DJ LeMahieu, the Yankees have been super busy improving the team since then. Yet issues still exist.
After losing three pitchers to free agency after the season, the Yankees finally addressed the issue by signing Corey Kluber, a two-time Cy Young award winner, and trading for starter Jameson Taillon from the Pittsburgh Pirates. With the pitching rotation pretty well patched together, there are still areas of concern. Who will follow ace Gerrit Cole, Corey Kluber, and Jameson Taillon? Right now, it appears to be Jordan Montgomery, leaving the fifth spot open to whoever pitches the best in spring training. Domingo German, Deivi Garcia, and Clarke Schmidt seem to be the leading candidates for that job. However, don’t leave Jonathan Loaisiga out of that mix.
There are plenty of players with subpar and even miserable 2020 seasons, but few a bad as catcher Gary Sanchez. Sanchez was near useless behind the plate and at the plate. His batting average for the season was just .147, and his catching skill lacked. He was so bad that as the season progressed, he was often benched in place of backup catcher Kyle Higashioka who both caught and hit better than Sanchez. Higashioka became ace Gerrit Cole’s personal catcher and replaced him in four of the six postseason games. General manager Brian Cashman made it clear that Sanchez will be the starting catcher in 2021 when they tendered him a $6.35 million contract, yet questions remain.
Speaking of poor seasons caused by the entire 2020 shortened season’s strangeness, Gleyber Torres did not escape having a forgettable season as the New York Yankees shortstop. Cashman called into question his conditioning following the restart of summer camp. But the Yankees are still relying on him at shortstop and are counting on the fact he played much better in the latter part of last season (.873 OPS in his final 25 games, compared to a .509 OPS in his first 17) and even better in the playoffs when he went 10-for-23 with a pair of homers in seven games. The Yankees are hoping he can return to his 2019 form when he led the Yankees with 38 home runs.
Although somewhat addressed, the bullpen still needs another quality arm after losing Tommy Kahnle to the Dodgers and trading the declining Adam Ottavino to the Red Sox. In a brilliant move, the New York Yankees did hire one of the best relievers over the past two seasons in Darren O’Day. He pitched masterfully in 2020 with a tiny ERA of just 1.10. They also had a reunion with Adam Warren and Nestor Cortes Jr., yet it seems they still have one hole to fill to get up to steam.
As of this writing, Brett Gardner remains unsigned, and if the outfielder, who made his Yankees debut in 2008, ends up not re-signing with the team, his absence in the clubhouse would be greatly felt. And it would open a giant door for Clint Frazier to finally play a full season in the majors after he emerged as a force when given the opportunity last season and coming in second in the Gold Glove competition. The Yankees .did sign outfielder Jay Bruce for outfield depth, but he is not the veteran presence that Brett Gardner was with the Yankees. The Yankees could still have a reunion with the fan-favorite, but time is running short.
Then there is the case of Miguel Andujar, remember him? Yes, he hasn’t been traded as many thought he would be and is still around. If third baseman Gio Urshela recovers from offseason elbow surgery in time to be ready for Opening Day, itâ€™s hard to see where Andujar would fit on the roster. The Yankeesâ€™ attempted to make him somewhat of a utility player last season, moving him from third base to first to left field, but it didnâ€™t go well, and he split time between the Bronx and the alternate site. Andujar turns 26 in March and still has time to prove his 27-homer season when he finished second to Shohei Ohtani (and ahead of Torres) in the AL Rookie of the Year voting, wasnâ€™t a fluke. But where will he play?
Lastly and maybe most importantly is was Giancarlo Stanton’s rebirth as the player he was in 2017 a reality or a fluke. After an injury-plagued season, he came on strong playing like the player every Yankee fan thought he could be at the end of that season. And in the postseason, he was the Yankee’s best player hitting six home runs in just seven postseason games and hitting .302 in the two series. If Stanton and Aaron Judge can have injury-free seasons, the Yankees will be the team to be contended with.
At this point, everything considered, it seems the entire New York Yankees 2020 season will rest on if the team can stay mostly healthy. Kluber and Taillon, after not pitching last season, must show that the low-risk high reward factor depended upon by Cashman can be a reality. And if Judge and Stanton can remain mostly healthy, the Yankees could indeed find their way to another long-awaited championship.