All things live to die.
Some creatures in the animal kingdom live a short, tortured life—existing only to be eaten— like the Baltimore Orioles. Others complete their life cycle, filled with joy and love; there’s sorrow and pain as well, but these just emphasize the good times that much more. They die of natural causes at an old age. These
are were the 2019 New York Yankees. The ending was tragic, as almost all endings are, but what a life it was!
It was a season of pain, but the pain only led to greater joy. Miguel Andújar batted only 49 times, but his absence gave us Gio Urshela! Giancarlo Stanton was hobbled all season, but instead we got Mike Tauchman! Luis Severino made his season debut on September 17th, but look what Domingo Germán became! (As a pitcher, that is. As a domestic abuser, he’s despicable.) Dellin Betances faced fewer batters than Austin Romine, but that led to the reemergence of Tommy Kahnle!
No team suffered through more injuries than the Yankees. This Michael Baumann article at The Ringer about their unprecedented injury bad luck ran on April 23. It only got worse. They set the record for most injured players in a season on August 30th, then there were even more in September. Only four players qualifying for the batting title (with Luke Voit just barely clearing the 502 plate appearance bar).
This fractured, piecemeal roster of broken stars and former cast-offs somehow finished 103-59. That they won so many games isn’t the story— it’s the how that we’ll remember. They cleared the fences a mind-blowing 306 times. Fourteen players finished with double-digit home runs. (Giancarlo Stanton wasn’t even one of them!) Gleyber Torres hit 13 just against the Orioles. Brett Gardner smashed 28, setting a personal best at age-147. Gary Sánchez hit 10 against the Orioles. After averaging just seven dingers per season in Colorado— of all places— DJ LeMahieu blasted 26. Even Troy Tulowitzki hit a home run... against the Orioles!
It doesn’t matter that the Twins managed one more homer than the Yankees, and now hold a record that should last for a very long time (we hope). Nor does it matter that the rabbit-ball makes this season an outlier for extreme, prolific power (we hope). The homers made every game feel like anything could happen at any moment, and that they were never out of a game. This was special— context be damned— and that’s what we’ll remember about the 2019 Yankees.
Looking ahead to the offseason
Regardless of what happens this coming winter, the Yankees should be AL East favorites in 2020. There are undoubtedly questions to be answered, but most of the important players on the roster remain under contract. Besides, they get to play the Orioles 19 more times.
They’ll have some important decisions to make on a few outgoing free agents. Didi Gregorius is more of a luxury than a necessity, but he may receive a qualifying offer nonetheless. The same goes for Brett Gardner. Even though they have a full outfield of Giancarlo Stanton, Aaron Hicks, Aaron Judge, Mike Tauchman, Clint Frazier (for now), and uh, (don’t laugh) Jacoby Ellsbury, it’s just difficult to picture Gardy in a different uniform. They have a team option on Edwin Encarnación as well, but it’s unlikely he’ll be brought back for $20 million with Luke Voit, Mike Ford, Miguel Andújar, and something resembling Greg Bird hanging around. Austin Romine will look for a starting gig elsewhere, so they’ll need to replenish their depth at catcher.
On the pitching side, CC Sabathia departs the rotation. They will bring back a nominally complete starting five of Luis Severino, James Paxton, Masahiro Tanaka, Domingo Germán, and J.A. Happ, but this is an area where they could spend some serious cash. The rotation would look a whole lot better by replacing Happ with Gerrit Cole, for example, and we certainly learned to expect injuries.
While most of their elite bullpen remains intact, Aroldis Chapman has an opt-out looming. He’ll be 32-years-old next season, but he still tops 100 mph, and he’s quite possibly the greatest left-handed reliever ever. However, with two years and $34.4 million remaining, he could choose not to test the increasingly deadened free agent market. Dellin Betances’ 2019 pretty much never happened, but he was one of the best relievers in baseball from 2014 to 2018. He will probably move on from pinstripes, as he may be loathe to negotiate with their front office for good reason.
There will certainly be at least one major trade; there always is. Maybe it involves Clint Frazier for a starting pitcher, or maybe it’s something completely unexpected. Given that they are the richest, most valuable sports franchise in the hemisphere, they will hopefully spend some money.
Perhaps they win the World Series next year. Perhaps they lose another heartbreaking ALCS, or don’t even make the playoffs at all. They might even lose a few games to the Orioles (now we’re really getting ridiculous). However the 2020 Yankees meet their demise, it won’t negate what will surely be a life worth celebrating.
Daniel R. Epstein is an elementary special education teacher and president of the Somerset County Education Association. Tweets @depstein1983.