TAMPA, Fla. -- When the Yankees trudged off the diamond at the conclusion of Game 7 of the American League Championship Series, attempting to ignore the Astros' celebration in the center of Houston's Minute Maid Park, a case could be made that the building blocks of a contender were already in place.
Had only minor tweaks been made to prepare the 2018 roster for another 162-game grind, the Yankees might still be viewed as strong challengers for the crown. Instead, a change at the managerial post was followed by the arrival of reigning National League MVP Award winner Giancarlo Stanton, and more recently the additions of infielders Brandon Drury and Neil Walker.
"It's about winning the World Series," Carsten Sabathia said. "Going out and playing well every night. Obviously, our first goal is to win a division; Boston did that last year. We don't want to try to play in that Wild Card Game. We want to get that home-field advantage. That's our first goal."
They will attempt to fulfill that objective under rookie manager Aaron Boone, who has taken over the reins of the sport's most storied franchise despite no prior managing or coaching experience at any level.
With general manager Brian Cashman emphasizing "communication and connectivity," the Yankees believed that the affable Boone represented the right choice to replace Joe Girardi after his successful decade at the helm. Given the roster Boone is inheriting, he recognizes that anything short of October will be a disappointment.
"We understand the expectations," Boone said. "Last year was great. A lot of these guys came of age and I think viewed it as a very successful season. But I think what stands out being in the room right now is each guy I've spoken to, the hunger is there. There's no satisfaction with what they've been able to accomplish."
What's the goal?
As Sabathia said, the objective is to raise the franchise's 28th championship banner, a feat that appears more likely now than it has in some time. The Yankees will lean heavily on their core of up and coming "Baby Bombers," hoping for repeat seasons from Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez and Luis Severino, all of whom experienced postseason intensity for the first time and have spoken about their desire to return to that stage.
What's the plan?
Scoring runs should not be an issue for the loaded lineup, which promises to give pitchers fits all summer. Stanton led the Majors with 59 homers, while Judge hit 52 on his way to being named the American League's unanimous Rookie of the Year and the runner-up in the AL MVP race. Despite a right foot injury that will keep Greg Bird out of the lineup for at least six to eight weeks, the Yankees can bank on continued contributions from Brett Gardner, Didi Gregorius and Aaron Hicks.
On the pitching side, the Yankees boast a lockdown bullpen that ranks among the game's finest, working backward from closer Albertin Chapman. Dellin Betances, Chad Green, Tommy Kahnle and Player Page for David Robertson are among Boone's options, easing the envisioned workload on Severino, Masahiro Tanaka, Sonny Gray, Sabathia and Jordan Montgomery.
What could go wrong?
Health is an obvious concern for every team. In the Yanks' case, Stanton could not surpass 500 at-bats in five of his eight seasons with the Marlins. It remains to be seen how Stanton and Judge will co-exist in the outfield, or if Stanton will have any issues handling New York. Judge is coming back from left shoulder surgery and is continuing to adjust to his new role as one of the faces of baseball, while Bird has yet to play a full big league season.
Cashman tried without success to upgrade the rotation this past winter, and he has spoken about a possible "hangover" after Severino worked 193 1/3 innings, plus 16 more in the playoffs. Tanaka is coming off a year in which he served up a career-high 35 homers, while Sabathia turns 38 in July and is pitching on knees that will eventually require surgery. In the 'pen, Chapman lost his closer's job for a period last year and Betances' mojo was absent in October.
Who might surprise?
Adding Drury and Walker reduced the urgency to take Miguel Andujar and Gleyber Torres north, but both prospects could still play impact roles. Boone and Cashman have raved about Tyler Wade, who will share reps at second base with Walker. Chance Adams posted a 2.89 ERA in 21 starts at Triple-A last year and will be among the first starters to be called up if necessary.