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The Bad Guys: Getting To Know The 2017 New York ‘Spring Training Champs!’ Yankees

The American League East is loaded with question marks this season. It’s easily the most difficult division in baseball to predict, as each of the five teams, realistically, could make the playoffs. Right in the middle of the AL Beast’s puzzle is the sort-of-rebuilding-sort-of-not New York Yankees, who, despite having have more question marks than sure things on their roster, have a tremendous amount of upside. That upside was put on display during the team’s excellent spring training (lol) showing, and their fanbase made sure everybody noticed.

Starting rotation:

There isn’t a single sure thing in the Yankees starting rotation.

Masahiro Tanaka, who finished seventh in American League Cy Young voting last season, is an excellent pitcher, of course, but he’s coming off off-season surgery to repair bone spurs in his elbow, which creates some legitimate worry for the Yanks. Tanaka seems to always be walking the tight rope over the sea of disaster, as he’s pitched in the past with a partially-torn ligament in his throwing arm and has never actually pitched a full season in the Major Leagues before.

If Tanaka goes down, New York’s ace suddenly becomes CC Sabathia. And since it’s 2017 and not 2007, that isn’t a good thing. Sabathia had a nice rebound season last year in which he learned how to ‘pitch’ rather than ‘throw’ as his stuff has inevitably declined with age, but he’s 36 years old, and hasn’t had a full, strong season since 2012. Michael Pineda, their third starter, isn’t any less of an enigma, either. He’ll strike out ten guys with nasty stuff one game, then, five days later, get completely lit up.

A breakout season from Luis Severino would be huge for this team, because none of Luis Cessa, Bryan Mitchell, or Chad Green inspire a hell of a lot of confidence. But after what appeared to be a breakout campaign in 2015 that helped the Yankees reach the playoffs, Severino hasn’t been able to establish himself at the Major League level, posting a putrid 5.83 ERA in 22 appearances between the rotation and bullpen in 2016.

Bullpen:

The Yankees boasted arguably the American League’s most dominant bullpen last season with Aroldis Chapman, Dellin Betances, and Andrew Miller. Miller was sent to Cleveland and Chapman to the Cubs, but the latter is back in New York after signing a record-breaking five-year, $86 million deal over the winter.

Chapman will slide back into that closer role, pushing Betances back into the setup, eighth inning spot that he was so effective in. Miller isn’t back, obviously, but the Yankees acquired Tyler Clippard, who, while nowhere near as excellent as the game-changing Miller, is still reliable. The usual suspects Bryan Mitchell, Tommy Layne, Adam Warren, or whoever isn’t starting for them in the five hole will round out the rest of the ‘pen, which is solid, but certainly not world-beating.

It isn’t quite as dominant as it was last year, but still, the Yankees feature one of the most unbeatable back-ends of a bullpen out there. Getting to that eighth and ninth inning with a lead, though? A little more problematic.

Lineup:

The Yankees lineup isn’t anything to write home about — right now. But that could change in the middle of the summer if a few prospects come up and light the world on fire.

Jacoby Ellsbury, Brett Gardner, Chasey Headley, and newly added Matt Holliday are the veterans that form the core of the Yankees lineup around a handful of question marks, including 2016 American League Rookie of the Year runner-up Gary Sanchez, who hit everything for like a month last year but surely won’t be able to maintain that level of production for an extended period of time, Aaron Judge, who seems to close his eyes and either drill the ball 500 feet or swing himself into the dirt, and Greg Bird, who was Barry Bonds this spring after missing all of 2016 with an injury. If those aforementioned three don’t click and have big seasons in their first full years in the majors, the team will again, like last year, have a below-average lineup.

Sanchez, Bird, and Judge boast some potential upside in an otherwise underwhelming lineup, but reaching a little further into the well of hope and fortune, the Yankees could catch fire if top prospects Clint Frazier and Gleyber Torres dominate the minors so hard that they find their way onto the big league club this year. But the odds of that happening? Pretty low, considering the fact Sanchez used up all of the team’s luck for the next decade with his ridiculous streak last summer.

Why you should hate them:

You haven’t forgotten, have you? Just because they’ve been a shell of their former selves in the recent past, these are still the New York Yankees, you know. It may not seem like it, because they’ve been trotting out underwhelming slugs like Chase Headley and Starlin Castro and dragging the corpses of Jacoby Ellsbury and Mark Texiera through the dirt, but this is still the team that won World Series after World Series with its massive bank account while the Jays were completely irrelevant for two decades.

They aren’t going to be this limp for long. The Bronx Bombers are reloading, poising themselves for another set of dynasty years. They have a loaded core of prospects, a bunch of money coming off the shelf, and are going to go absolutely balls-to-the-wall in the offseason when Manny Machado, Bryce Harper, and Clayton Kershaw hit free agency.

And fuck, those guys are already pencilled into their hypothetical starting lineup, just because they’re the goddamn Yankees, and they’re sure as hell entitled to whatever damn good player they please, because that’s just how it is, and that’s how it’s always been, and that’s how it’ll always be. So don’t be fooled by this bullshit version of the Yankees that scrapes through the season and sort of competes for the Wild Card. They’ll be back soon. Very soon. And it’ll be awful.

It’s also very difficult to cheer for a team who employs Aroldis Chapman. Like I said earlier, this is a shell of the Yankees, and it’s kind of endearing watching them be so mediocre. But the Yankees went out a couple years ago and acquired Chapman from the Cincinnati Reds in the wake of him being suspended 30 games for domestic violence, sent him off to Chicago for a mega haul of prospects, and then brought him right back on board. Say he served his time all you’d like, but it’s difficult to cheer for a team who trots out somebody out there like that, essentially boasting about the idea that professional athletes are above the rest of us.

Sort of objective projection:

The Yankees aren’t bad, but they aren’t good either. Their starting pitching is thin, and an injury to Tanaka could make it go completely to hell. Their lineup is pretty vanilla, and doesn’t pose much of a threat. The only thing that could propel the Yankees out of the pits of mediocrity is weirdly-good seasons from a bunch of youngsters. Expect them to fumble around the middle of the pack, as their poor pitching makes it impossible for them to put together any kind of prolonged success.