Our full picture of who Yankees are is far from complete
Nate Eovaldi began last season with the Rays on the disabled list recovering from Tommy John surgery and ended it as a Red Sox World Series hero. Zack Britton was an Oriole sidelined following an Achilles tendon tear who wound up a vital piece of the Yankees’ bullpen. Mike Fiers opened as a Tiger with a back injury and finished as perhaps the best starter for the surprising A’s.
Emphasis annually is placed on who makes a team and who is sidelined, ignoring just how malleable — more than ever — rosters are. The World Series-winning Red Sox used 44 players in 2018. Hanley Ramirez was the Opening Day first baseman, Dustin Pedroia hardly played, and Eovaldi wound up as invaluable.
The Blue Jays used an MLB-high 63 players last year, and the Braves won the NL East deploying 58. The Yankees used 49. At this time last year you could believe Gary Sanchez was the best hitter on the team, Tommy Kahnle a key piece of the bullpen, and Brandon Drury about to begin a run as the regular third baseman.
A lot is known about teams right now, but mainly we have a bunch of pixels. Not the full picture. Six weeks of spring training filled in dots.
For the Yankees, there was bad: Luis Severino and Aaron Hicks were given $110 million worth of extensions then quickly wound up hurt and will begin the season on the injured list, as will Dellin Betances and CC Sabathia.
The Yankees believe those players will return in April — perhaps early May for Severino. Be cautious. Hicks’ back injury, for example, was diagnosed as minor two cortisone shots ago. Severino is on the short list of most indispensable Yankees — he might be the short list. The Yankees can navigate a missed April from their ace against a weak schedule. Much longer than that would be an issue.
Still, injuries are part of the familiar obstacles faced by all clubs. The good ones overcome. The Yankees arrived in mid-February projected among the majors’ best teams. Nothing changed, even with the dings. The team that concluded its Grapefruit League schedule Sunday appeared deep, well-rounded and hungry from having been eliminated by the eventual World Series champs each of the past two years.
The injuries were what went wrong. As for right:
1. Troy Tulowitzki looked healthy. He has less range than in his prime but still has his effective, unorthodox, constantly moving style. He can still make all the routine plays. Will his bat handle big velocity? It is a question. But Tulowitzki needs, say, a .725 OPS and a solid glove to effectively bridge to Didi Gregerious, who the Yanks increasingly believe will return from Tommy John surgery by the second half.
2. Miguel Andujar and Sanchez appeared to have better fundamentals and results on defense. Neither is winning a Gold Glove soon. Both need to be adequate enough to remove shabby defense as a discussion point.
3. Andujar and Gleyber Torres did not give hints of a sophomore slump. Their bats were alive. Torres’ body was more streamlined and his overall game was more mature.
4. Greg Bird and Luke Voit provided hope that first base will not persist as a black hole for the Yankees. Both performed well and, given the absence of Hicks, both will make the team and play regularly early — one at first, the other at DH.
5. Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton flexed plenty of stop-what-you-are-doing power. If you wonder how a team might get to 300 homers, well, what if you start with 100 from two guys? The duo reached that mark in 2017. It is possible again.
6. Britton appeared more his pre-Achilles self. There are times Britton, Aroldis Chapman and Adam Ottavino lose the strike zone. Chapman did not flash his elite fastball in spring. Betances is on the IL. But the Yanks’ bullpen is so deep with such brilliant stuff that so much would have to go wrong for this area not to be a strength. There also is Chad Green and Jonathan Holder, plus Kahnle and Stephen Tarpley had strong springs.
7. James Paxton did not seem in the Gray zone. The stuff is good enough that Paxton could be a co-ace to Severino. If that occurs, the Yanks would be in a less desperate trade situation come July. Paxton finished with a 2.08 ERA in his first Yankees spring. Keep in mind, though, that Sonny Gray had a 1.98 ERA last spring. This time of year can be deceiving. So we need to see if Andujar and Sanchez carry the good defensive fundamentals into the season and Paxton is as comfortable at Yankee Stadium as Steinbrenner Field.
We have pixels. Not the whole picture.
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