With Spring Training fast approaching, MLB.com will take a look at a different aspect of this year's Yankees squad each day this week. Today's topic: The perfect season.NEW YORK -- As the baseball world was trying to absorb the blockbuster trade that installed Chris Sale atop Boston's rotation, Yankees general
With Spring Training fast approaching, MLB.com will take a look at a different aspect of this year's Yankees squad each day this week. Today's topic: The perfect season.
NEW YORK -- As the baseball world was trying to absorb the blockbuster trade that installed Chris Sale atop Boston's rotation, Yankees general manager Brian Cashman took the opportunity to deliver one of the best quotes of the offseason.
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"Boston's like the Golden State Warriors now in baseball; they've got their Durant, their Green, Thompson and Curry," Cashman said, later adding, "If we're the NBA, we're in the pack of contenders looking to take Golden State down."
Hard-court analogies aside, what would a dream season look like for the 2017 Yankees? New York's last postseason victory came in 2012, and though the Yanks have played just nine postseason innings in the last four years, manager Joe Girardi said that the "championship or bust" expectations should remain the same.
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"I think you should always set your goals high," Girardi said. "I don't think in life that you can be satisfied with just making the playoffs, because I'll tell you what -- If we make the playoffs and lose, I'm going to be really disappointed."
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So how can they get there? They'll need their veterans to stay healthy while playing up to or beyond expectations, catching some lucky breaks while seeing a developing young core announce its presence. Here's one scenario:
Cashman always says that "pitching is the key to the kingdom," and so that's a good place to start. Let's say Masahiro Tanaka remains healthy and produces a sharp followup to last year's 14-4, 3.07 ERA performance, as does Carsten Sabathia, who induces soft contact and keeps his knee in check as he enjoys a late-career renaissance.
Pitching coach Larry Rothschild straightens out both Michael Pineda and Luis Severino, who notch 15 victories apiece, helping Pineda cash in as a free agent. Severino finds his changeup, crediting his new flexibility program. James Kaprielian makes his debut around the All-Star break and is dominant, showcasing future ace potential.
The rotation pitches well enough that the late-game trio of Tyler Clippard, Dellin Betances and Albertin Chapman can be deployed effectively; maybe they're not as intimidating as last year's "No Runs DMC," but with Chapman approaching the 40-save plateau, the Yanks have no regrets about giving him that record-setting deal.
The lineup sees an immediate boost over a 2016 club that managed just 680 runs, as Gary Sanchez, Matthew Holliday and Greg Bird easily outproduce Alexander Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira and Brian McCann. Sanchez proves that last season was no fluke, and even though teams make adjustments, having a healthy Holliday protecting him with all-fields power proves invaluable.
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Bird shares playing time at first base with Chris Carter, who is a force against left-handed pitching (.875 OPS vs. lefties in 2016) and appears on the highlight reels with some of the longest home runs Yankee Stadium has seen to date.
Those big boppers have plenty to knock in thanks in large part to Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner at the top of the lineup. Hitting coach Alan Cockrell corrects a flaw in Ellsbury's swing, helping him get closer to what he produced in his 2011 career year. The power isn't there, but Ellsbury gets on base and steals with regularity.
As for Gardner, the Yankees are thankful they didn't move him in an offseason trade; he continues to provide Gold Glove-caliber defense in left field while getting back to his All-Star form from 2015. Up the middle, Starlin Castro and Didi Gregorius slightly exceed their production from '16, when they combined for 41 homers and 140 RBIs.
At third base, Chase Headley gets off to a hot start and keeps it going consistently through the schedule, keeping up his pace from last May while playing solid defense. The tweaks to Aaron Judge's stance emphasize his lower half and help cut down on his strikeouts, allowing him to crack 25 homers while hitting for better average.
Aaron Hicks picks up at-bats at all three outfield positions and delivers some big hits while making not one but two 105.5-mph throws to cut down runners at home plate. Top prospect Clint Frazier helps win a key September game with a three-run homer, and it all culminates -- of course -- with a parade down the Canyon of Heroes. Sanchez is named World Series MVP.
Long shot? No doubt. But hey, how many people were picking the Indians to play in a World Series Game 7 at this time last year?
"I know there's only one happy team at the end of the year, but that's what we want to be," Girardi said.
Bryan Hoch has covered the Yankees for MLB.com since 2007. Follow him on Twitter @bryanhoch and on Facebook. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.