Yankees heading into 2016 with work to do
Indications from club point to potential trade rather than free-agent move
NEW YORK -- When the Yankees wrapped up their activity at the Winter Meetings, general manager Brian Cashman described his work as "incomplete," strongly hinting that there was more to come in remodeling his club's roster to prepare for the 2016 season. It wasn't just talk: the Yankees on Monday acquired left-handed reliever Aroldis Chapman from the Reds for four Minor League players.
With multiple teams inquiring about the availability of outfielder Brett Gardner and left-handed closer Andrew Miller, two of the team's most attractive trade chips, the question remains as to what the Yankees have left to do.
Thus far, Cashman has not found a match enticing enough to move either player, but there is still time on the clock between now and Opening Day. The starting rotation remains a legitimate area of concern, though the Yankees at least feel like they have accomplished an objective of getting younger and more athletic by acquiring position players Starlin Castro and Aaron Hicks.
In no particular order, here are five questions that will help dictate whether next season ends differently than the last:
1. Can they really bank on repeat performances?
The Yankees squeezed 64 home runs and 165 RBIs out of Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez in 2015, and it's safe to say that many would have bet the under if given those numbers in the spring. Teixeira's wrist seemed healthy and recovered, but Rodriguez was coming off an historic season-long suspension and entering his age-40 season.
Due to contractual commitments -- A-Rod has two years left, Teixeira is in his final season -- the Yankees will double down on that tandem and hope for similar production in 2016. Rodriguez adapted nicely to the full-time DH role and, though the Yankees sorely missed Teixeira against left-handed pitching, at least Greg Bird proved that he is a legitimate option to step in should there be a need due to injury.
Manager Joe Girardi said he wouldn't shortchange the possibility of Teixeira and Rodriguez repeating those performances, even though they'll both be a year older. Girardi will be mindful to rest both players more often, but he is hopeful that the club's improved depth will permit him to do that without much difficulty.
2. Is there another move to come?
As previously mentioned, Gardner and Miller seem to be available if the Yankees get a slam-dunk proposal that they can't turn down. But that hasn't happened yet. Rob Refsnyder looked good when he received an opportunity in September, but is now a trade chip.
3. Will the Yankees have enough starting pitching?
Masahiro Tanaka, Michael Pineda, Luis Severino, Nathan Eovaldi, CC Sabathia, Ivan Nova and Bryan Mitchell give a decent head start of starters to work with, plus Luis Cessa and Chad Green, the two depth options acquired from the Tigers in the Justin Wilson trade. No Yankee starter cracked 170 innings last season and there are injury concerns throughout the rotation, so it should come as no surprise the Yanks are seeking insurance in that department. One bonus: if there is an innings limit on Severino, who looked electric during his brief time in the big leagues last year, it won't be particularly low.
4. What roles will Castro and Hicks play?
Castro's stock fell near the end of his time in the Cubs' system, displaced from shortstop by the emergence of Addison Russell, but the Yankees were pleased to see how he handled a late-season move to second base. Castro will get a full spring to jell with Didi Gregorius up the middle and batted .339 (39-for-115) with a .941 OPS in 33 games as a second baseman, numbers that the Yankees would be thrilled to see replicated.
At the very least, Hicks will inherit the Chris Young role as a platoon player against left-handed pitching, a better fit for Cashman's objective to mold the team into a younger, more flexible roster. Should the Yankees deal Gardner or be forced to weather an injury to Jacoby Ellsbury or Carlos Beltran, Hicks' role could expand.
5. How strong will the bullpen be?
The deals for Castro, Cessa and Green subtracted from one of the Yankees' greatest strengths, their bullpen, where Wilson seemed to be a known quantity in the seventh inning and Adam Warren served as a valuable swingman from the rotation to a relief role -- then back again.
Now with Chapman in the mix, there's no telling what the potential trio of Chapman, Miller and Dellin Betances could do in the late innings. However, Chapman could serve a suspension in 2016 -- it is possible that Chapman could face discipline from Major League Baseball in connection with domestic violence allegations.
Cashman said he still thinks "it's more likely than not" that Miller and Betances will be on the Opening Day roster "because of the high tags I've put out there." James Pazos seems to be a candidate to make the Opening Day roster, as is Chasen Shreve.
"The intent is to have an exciting bullpen, as we did this past year," Cashman said. "It would be pretty exciting if it was even better than it was last year."