2017 Preview: New York Yankees

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Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2017 season. Next up: The New York Yankees.

It was a relatively quiet offseason for the Yankees. The big move was bringing back Aroldis Chapman on the largest ever deal for a closer. They picked up a couple of free agents — Matt Holliday and Chris Carter — whose markets weren’t sizzling but who can provide some pop and, in Holliday’s case, may have one more star season left in the tank. They traded Brian McCann to clear the way for Gary Sanchez, which is wise. Sanchez posted a 1.032 OPS with 20 home runs in only 53 games and featured one of the strongest throwing arms on a catcher in all of baseball. The guy is a beast and seeing him in the bigs for a full season is one of the things I’m anticipating most about 2017.

Obviously, however, this is a club still in the midst of a rebuild. Not a complete tear-down job, but certainly a transition. And with all transitions come some pain and some adversity. Possibly a lot of pain and adversity in the immediate future.

The top of the order is calcifying, with Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner coming off of horrendous seasons. They’re going to start the season in their customary defensive positions and, presumably, spots in the batting order, but the Yankees really need to find better options. Sanchez has batted second in a couple of spring training games of late, and that’s pretty smart, but it’s not clear at all if that will hold up once the season starts. Even if it does, it’s pretty easy to overstate the importance of batting order and, either way, Ellsbury and Gardner are going to be in there somewhere. Same goes for Chase Headley, who has strung two poor seasons together in New York and figures to be an offensive liability once again.

Elsewhere in the lineup: some solid pop up the middle with Starlin Castro and Didi Gregorius, but each are challenged in the OBP department. You can certainly win a championship if those are the two guys you have up the middle, but contending is pretty tough if your two best bats are 20-HR middle infielders who don’t get on base enough. They need some help. They’ll get a lot from Sanchez, presumably, but it’s hard to see where else they’ll get it. First baseman Greg Bird, who is coming off a lost season due to shoulder surgery, is an unknown quantity given the rust. Aaron Judge, who will likely start the year in right, is wet behind the ears. Chris Carter and Matt Holliday are going to have to step a lot at DH and first base when Bird gets a day off. All of these guys have the potential to help out, but all of them will have to exceed expectations to some degree in order for the Yankees offense to improve upon its below average status from 2016.

The rotation is fine at the very top, with Masahiro Tanaka coming off a fantastic season. The next couple of slots have familiar names in Michael Pineda and CC Sabathia, but familiarity doesn’t give you 200 innings. Sabathia had a decent rebound last year but it’s hard to say how much he has left in the tank and Pineda has been unpredictable basically forever. The back end of the rotation is going to be a cocktail of Chad Green, Luis Severino, Adam Warren, Luis Cessa and Bryan Mitchell, none of whom are necessarily sure bets to be reliable starters. As such, Joe Girardi is going to have to rely a lot on his bullpen. Luckily his bullpen, featuring Chapman, Dellin Betances and Tyler Clippard will be excellent. For the second season in a row, the pen is clearly the team’s biggest strength.

The question on everyone Yankees fan’s lips this year will be “when do we see the kids?” Brian Cashman has transformed the Yankees farm system over the past couple of years and it now stands as one of the strongest, if not the strongest, in baseball. It’s loaded with potential future Yankees starters, such as center fielder Clint Frazier and shortstop Gleyber Torres. There’s a chance we see each of those, at least for a spell, in 2017. There are a lot more prospects in the pipeline whose ETA is looking more like 2018 or 2019.

All of which will animate and color the 2017 season in the Bronx. If the veterans exceed expectations and the Yankees are in the playoff hunt in the middle of the season — which is plausible — there will be an incentive to make a deal with some of those prospects in order to fix holes on the big club. If the veterans falter, there will be clamoring to see the kids sooner. For years the Yankees could be counted on to trade prospects off in the name of current contention. They got away from that a few years back, but a lot of it had to do with them not having many great prospects to trade. Now that they have ’em it’ll be interesting to see how Cashman approaches all of this. I suspect he’s dedicated to the rebuild and won’t make deals for the short term, but anything can happen in New York.

I more strongly suspect, however, that Cashman won’t have to make that decision. While Sanchez will be fun to watch and while it’s not crazy to think 4-5 older guys on the roster could improve over last year, the lineup still looks weak to me and the entire rotation beyond Tanaka seems soft. Best case scenario in my mind is a mediocre product through the All-Star break followed by some exciting debuts of young talent that will pique fan interest heading into 2018.

Prediction: Fourth place, AL East.

Bonds, Clemens left out of Hall again; McGriff elected

John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports
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SAN DIEGO — Moments after Fred McGriff was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame, almost two decades after his final game, he got the question.

Asked if Barry Bonds belonged in Cooperstown, a smiling McGriff responded: “Honestly, right now, I’m going to just enjoy this evening.”

A Hall of Fame committee delivered its answer Sunday, passing over Bonds, Roger Clemens and Curt Schilling while handing McGriff the biggest honor of his impressive big league career.

The lanky first baseman, nicknamed the “Crime Dog,” hit .284 with 493 homers and 1,550 RBIs over 19 seasons with six major league teams. The five-time All-Star helped Atlanta win the 1995 World Series.

McGriff got 169 votes (39.8%) in his final year on the Baseball Writers’ Association of America ballot in 2019. Now, he will be inducted into Cooperstown on July 23, along with anyone chosen in the writers’ vote, announced Jan. 24.

“It’s all good. It’s been well worth the wait,” said McGriff, who played his last big league game in 2004.

It was the first time that Bonds, Clemens and Schilling had faced a Hall committee since their 10th and final appearances on the Baseball Writers’ Association of America ballot. Bonds and Clemens have been accused of using performance-enhancing drugs, and support for Schilling dropped after he made hateful remarks toward Muslims, transgender people, reporters and others.

While the 59-year-old McGriff received unanimous support from the 16 members of the contemporary baseball era committee – comprised of Hall members, executives and writers – Schilling got seven votes, and Bonds and Clemens each received fewer than four.

The makeup of the committee likely will change over the years, but the vote was another indication that Bonds and Clemens might never make it to the Hall.

This year’s contemporary era panel included Greg Maddux, who played with McGriff on the Braves, along with Paul Beeston, who was an executive with Toronto when McGriff made his big league debut with the Blue Jays in 1986.

Another ex-Brave, Chipper Jones, was expected to be part of the committee, but he tested positive for COVID-19 and was replaced by Arizona Diamondbacks President Derrick Hall.

The contemporary era committee considers candidates whose careers were primarily from 1980 on. A player needs 75% to be elected.

“It’s tough deciding on who to vote for and who not to vote for and so forth,” McGriff said. “So it’s a great honor to be unanimously voted in.”

In addition to all his big hits and memorable plays, one of McGriff’s enduring legacies is his connection to a baseball skills video from youth coach Tom Emanski. The slugger appeared in a commercial for the product that aired regularly during the late 1990s and early 2000s – wearing a blue Baseball World shirt and hat.

McGriff said he has never seen the video.

“Come Cooperstown, I’ve got to wear my blue hat,” a grinning McGriff said. “My Tom Emanski hat in Cooperstown. See that video is going to make a revival now, it’s going to come back.”

Hall of Famers Jack Morris, Ryne Sandberg, Lee Smith, Frank Thomas and Alan Trammell also served on this year’s committee, which met in San Diego at baseball’s winter meetings.

Rafael Palmeiro, Albert Belle, Don Mattingly and Dale Murphy rounded out the eight-man ballot. Mattingly was next closest to election, with eight votes of 12 required. Murphy had six.

Bonds, Clemens and Schilling fell short in January in their final chances with the BBWAA. Bonds received 260 of 394 votes (66%), Clemens 257 (65.2%) and Schilling 231 (58.6%).

Palmeiro was dropped from the BBWAA ballot after receiving 25 votes (4.4%) in his fourth appearance in 2014, falling below the 5% minimum needed to stay on. His high was 72 votes (12.6%) in 2012.

Bonds has denied knowingly using performance-enhancing drugs, and Clemens maintains he never used PEDs. Palmeiro was suspended for 10 days in August 2005 following a positive test under the major league drug program.

A seven-time NL MVP, Bonds set the career home run record with 762 and the season record with 73 in 2001. A seven-time Cy Young Award winner, Clemens went 354-184 with a 3.12 ERA and 4,672 strikeouts, third behind Nolan Ryan (5,714) and Randy Johnson (4,875). Palmeiro had 3,020 hits and 568 homers.

Schilling fell 16 votes shy with 285 (71.1%) on the 2021 BBWAA ballot. The right-hander went 216-146 with a 3.46 ERA in 20 seasons, winning the World Series with Arizona in 2001 and Boston in 2004 and 2007.

Theo Epstein, who also served on the contemporary era committee, was the GM in Boston when the Red Sox acquired Schilling in a trade with the Diamondbacks in November 2003.

Players on Major League Baseball’s ineligible list cannot be considered, a rule that excludes Pete Rose.