The New York Yankees have finalized their 2017 opening day roster. As usual, most of it was determined long before spring training started, but some interesting decisions had to be made.
After last year’s historic finish and the following trade of Brian McCann to the Houston Astros, it was obvious that Gary Sanchez has emerged as the Yankees’ everyday catcher. Sanchez has the potential to become a perennial all-star.
As expected, Austin Romine will be the backup catcher. Although during camp, Manager Joe Girardi mentioned that it was a competition with Kyle Higashioka. Higashioka had a strong spring, but Romine does not have any options left so would be lost if left off the roster. Higashioka could push for change by having a strong start in Scranton.
Before the onset of spring training, the Yankees signed free agent slugger Chris Carter as insurance in case Greg Bird had any lingering effects from the injury that sidelined him last year. Those concerns have been put to rest as Bird was an extra base hit machine all spring. The Yankees hope he continues his hot hitting as the regular season begins. Carter may have a difficult time finding at-bats and will need to produce when he does get the opportunity to play.
Starlin Castro is the incumbent veteran at second base. His defense has slipped some, but he should continue to be an offensive force if pitchers do not exploit his over-aggressiveness.
Chase Headley will once again man the hot corner. The Yankees hope he brings his production from the second half of last year with him when he contributed both on offense and defense.Shortstop
With the injury to Didi Gregorius, the Yankees had some decisions to make. Do they promote one of their top prospects and rush him to the majors or do they use one of their veteran minor-league free agents, that they signed for just such an occasion, as a stop gap? They chose the latter.
The plan is to use Pete Kozma and Ronald Torreyes as the shortstop and infield reserve, allowing Tyler Wade and Gleyber Torres time to mature in the minors. Much of the coaching staff voted Torres as their choice, but General Manager Brian Cashman made the unpopular decision to be patient with their blossoming superstar so he can further develop.
A roster move will need to coincide with Kozma being added to the 40-man roster. The Yankees run the risk with both players’ deficiencies at the plate being exposed while attempting to be everyday players.
Brett Gardner returns as the gold glove winning leadoff hitter. Throughout his career as a Yankee, he has been solid defensively and a catalyst on offense.
Jacoby Ellsbury opens the year as the center fielder of the Yankees. With four-year remaining on his contract, he is likely to be moved lower in the lineup in an attempt for him to drive in more runs.
The Yankees announced right field as an open competition during spring training between Aaron Hicks and Aaron Judge. Recent speculation was that Judge might start the season in Scranton and Rob Refsnyder would be the fourth outfielder/utility man. However, Judge had an unyielding spring and made adjustments which have helped him cut down on his strikeouts.
Judge will be the everyday right fielder. Hicks will back up all three outfield positions as the fourth outfielder, and Refsnyder will return to Scranton in an attempt to resurrect his career.
The Yankees, like all teams, will inevitably rely on at least eight starting pitchers making eight or more starts. Injuries, ineffectiveness, and innings limits result in the necessity of having several pitchers able to start.
Masahiro Tanaka is the ace, but he also can opt out of his contract after this season, so he is pitching for a free agent mega contract. If his arm holds up, expect him to compete for a Cy Young Award.
Michael Pineda also is a pending free agent. He has all the tools to be one of the league’s best pitchers, but to this point, has yet to prove that he can put it all together.
CC Sabathia is the staff veteran, in the final year of his contract. As he goes, so may the Yankees’ season. He may have a renaissance season where everything goes right, or he may battle inconsistencies and injuries and gets the same treatment as ARod did last year.
Luis Severino has the most upside of the pitchers that were competing for the final two rotation spots. That is why he has come away with the fourth spot in the rotation. It will be determined early if he is cut out for being a starter or if he is better suited in the bullpen.
The Yankees have extra off days at the beginning of the season, so a fifth starter will not be needed until April 16th. The Yankees will use this to their advantage by having Jordan Montgomery, Chad Green, and Luis Cessa start the season in the minors, keeping them stretched out as starters. Also, it allows the club to carry eight relievers, including Bryan Mitchell, another option for the rotation later this season.
The Yankees once again boasts a dominant tail end of the bullpen with three-time all-star Dellin Betances setting up for free agent Aroldis Chapman, as the closer. Covering the seventh inning will be a mix of Adam Warren and Tyler Clippard.
The rest of the bullpen will consist of two left-handers and two right-handers. The lefties are Chasen Shreve and Tommy Layne. The righties are Mitchell and Jonathon Holder. Ben Heller had a very impressive spring and will be a vital weapon for Joe Girardi, but he needs to cut down on his walks.