The scary thing about the 2020 Yankees is we actually don’t know how good they can be. Remember, the 2019 squad won 103 games with the following players getting the following amount of playing time:
- Giancarlo Stanton: 18 games
- Didi Gregorius: 82 games
- Aaron Judge: 102 games
- Luis Severino: 3 games
That’s pretty remarkable all things considered, and their success was largely indebted to their unreal depth and major league scouting: players like Mike Tauchman, Luke Voit, DJ LeMahieu, and Gio Urshela combined for 39% of the team’s position player WAR.
That’s also not good, right? For the team to be consistently good, they need Judge and Stanton to be healthy on a consistent basis, and Severino needs to be the star he has flashed.
To do this, the Yankees made their second-most important acquisition of the offseason... Eric Cressey, as the new director of player health and performance. Cressey is well-known in the sports health industry, and according to The Athletic, he has an “approach to player performance [that] reflects a rapidly changing philosophy throughout the sport that emphasizes kinesiology and biomechanics.” If that’s important move number-one, then 1a along with that is the firing of Larry Rothschild and the subsequent hiring of Matt Blake, who is widely considered to be “ahead of his time” in the pitching field.
That’s all theory, of course. Teams fire and hire coaching staff all the time, and there’s really no way, as an outside observer, to know if an addition or subtraction actually, substantively changes the nature of a club and their performance. I mean, it obviously does, but I can’t say that it’s more than mere speculation when I’m the one reporting on it.
What we do know is that the Yankees’ most important acquisition was a player whose value is in fact quantifiable, and that is Gerrit Cole. Cole may have helped defeat the Yankees (though in questionable fashion) in the ALCS last year, but he noticeably wore a Scott Boras cap after losing the World Series, a signal that he was finished in Houston.
That hunch was correct, and the Yankees inked him to a nine-year, $324 million contract. It was the biggest deal the Bombers have signed in over a half-decade, and basically the revenue-adjusted equivalent of the CC Sabathia deal in 2008. We all know how that worked out.
Cole in the immediate adds 5.5 wins to the team according to ZiPS, with a comp of Greg Maddux—no big deal about that. Despite the losses the team will take, and there are a couple in Didi Gregorius and Dellin Betances, it’s more than made up for with Cole. He makes the team an immediate front-runner for both the division and the pennant, and it makes their already great group even more primed for a postseason series, exactly what I assume the Steinbrenners had in mind when they pulled the trigger.
What also helps this team has nothing to do with them, and that’s the Red Sox and John Henry’s penny-pinching. As we now officially know, Boston shipped out both David Price and Mookie Betts in what was really a glorified salary dump and retooling, essentially punting 2020 in favor of the future. That positions the Rays as the Yankees’ only real competitor for the title, and they still find themselves about seven wins behind the Bombers according to FanGraphs’ depth charts.
That doesn’t eliminate the unknown, obviously. James Paxton, for one, is already going to miss 3-4 months with a surgery to remove a lumbar cyst, though some reports are more optimistic. Severino, as I mentioned, had just three regular season starts in 2019. Miguel Andujar is returning and is a total unknown, while Urshela is good but is still a relatively unknown quantity as well. First base remains in flux as Luke Voit is recovering from a hernia, though he of course says he’s in the best shape of his life. Stanton, as I mentioned, is another question mark as well.
All of those collective question marks could be a swing of ten wins or so depending on the best to worst case scenario, but the optimistic view is that median mark of let’s say 98 wins is an excellent place to be in. While the farm system has less to resupply like it did four or so years ago, it seems they have made excellent use of the waiver wire to find diamonds in the rough. And while the team can rightfully win the division without any of these players, they could very well be one of the best teams of the decade if it all rounds into form.
This is an offseason that I think a lot of Yankees fans were looking forward to, because it was finally the time to put the core that came up in 2016 together with a bona fide star free agent to put them over the top. Now they just have to hope there isn’t a buzzsaw—or a buzzer—on the other end of the season.