Whether you’re a die-hard New York Yankees fan, or you’re just someone who believes baseball is more fun when the Yankees are World Series-contending villains, you’ll be happy to know that the team’s future is very bright. With a bevy of solid young players making the Opening Day roster, and a host of others waiting for their chance in the minors, the Yankees are once again going to be good for years to come.
But what kind of year will 2017 be for the Bronx Bombers? Will they inch forward as a team, or will take a leap into the playoffs? And where do they keep George Steinbrenner’s frozen head?
To answer most of these questions, we talked to Newsday’s Yankees beat writer Erik Boland:
Where would you peg the Yankees’ expectations for this season?
Internally, a lot higher than externally. They think, with health, competing for the division is a possibility. Most on the outside see .500, or a tick or two above, as a successful season. I’m somewhere in between. If they get decent starting pitching after Masahiro Tanaka, I think they can at least contend for one of the two wild cards.
When it comes to the Dellin Betances arbitration scuffle, have things essentially been smoothed out between him and Randy Levine?
Yes and no. To my knowledge the two haven’t spoken since they had their back-and-forth early in the spring but that in itself isn’t unusual. Randy Levine is the team president; his interaction with players is minimal at most. Big-picture wise, Betances is a professional. He’s been one of the top relievers in the sport the last three years for a reason. If he struggles this year, which I don’t expect, it will be because he’s pitched more innings than any reliever in baseball over the last three seasons and not because of the arbitration spat.
Staying with Betances and Aroldis Chapman, Terry Francona and Andrew Miller seemed to revolutionize the way relievers are used, at least in the playoffs. How do you foresee this shift potentially taking place down the road? Does that strategy – bringing in a reliever earlier than normal, not sticking to the typical innings of use – have a future in the regular season (especially considering the Yankees current rotation)?
I wouldn’t expect teams, Cleveland included, to use any of their relievers in the regular season the way the Indians used Miller last postseason. Because of the number of off days built into the playoffs, you can utilize a reliever that way. But during the everyday grind of the regular season, you’d burn out a reliever by June if you used him for multiple innings like that. However, the general concept behind what Francona did – that the most important outs of the game very well may occur before the eighth or ninth inning and therefore necessitate a top reliever – I do think maybe you’ll see a manager or two do it in the regular season.
Speaking of the Yankee’s hodge-podge starting rotation, Vegas has the over/under of starting pitchers used this season at something like 35. Where do you fall on that?
I think I saw a stat that last season each team used an average of eight starters during the season. Using that number, I think the Yankees will be about right in line with that. Seems to be the nature of the beast.
Is sneaking into the clubhouse to talk to players as easy as Kramer made it look in Seinfeld?
With security the way it is today around big-league ballparks, including outside clubhouses? That’d be a tough one. Though sometimes, given some of the questions at times asked of players, I wonder if it is an imposter of some kind.
Gary Sanchez was obviously a one-man wrecking crew last season in only 53 games, but is there any reason to fear a painful adjustment period to a full season in the bigs?
The expectations are probably a bit out of hand for Sanchez; he’s still just 24 and he plays a position that is incredibly taxing on the body. I suspect some fans would be disappointed if he hit 20-25 homers and drove in 80-90 runs but that kind of season, for an everyday catcher, would be terrific. He won’t hit homers at the pace he did last season – obviously – and there will be some growing pains, as there are with pretty much every young player, but there’s no reason to suspect a huge dropoff.
Rookie-wise, who is going to make the biggest impact for the Yankees this season? Given the older lineup, will Clint Frazier make an appearance before September?
Off the top, I’ll go with Aaron Judge (Sanchez exceeded rookie status last season and Bird did in 2015). Judge won the starting right fielder’s job with a solid spring, in the field and at the plate, and the Yankees are trying to mitigate the pressure on him at the start but hitting him way down in the batting order (he hit eighth Opening Day). I’d say no on Frazier. He hasn’t proven himself yet in Triple-A, where he’ll start the season. If he tears it up the first two or three months of the season with Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and a need arises in the Bronx for an outfielders? Maybe. If I was a betting man I’d say Tyler Wade gets a call to the Bronx before Frazier.
How raucous do you envision the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry to be this season?
It’s always pretty good, though it certainly has ebbed and flowed over the years. It’s been a few years since both teams were really good at the same time – meaning contending neck-and-neck for the division – so that’s taken a little steam from it, though not all that much. It still seems to mean as much as ever to the fans. It will be interesting how young players like Bird, Judge and Sanchez, who have only minimal exposure to the rivalry, embrace it.
There have been plenty of Red Sox-Yankees fights on the field over the years, but when it bleeds into the press box, which fellow Yankees writers do you want fighting with you?
Haven’t ever seen it in the press box but in the event it ever did, that’s easy. He’s no longer on the beat but I’d still call in Wallace Matthews, a former colleague at Newsday and most recently a co-beat Yankees writer (with Andrew Marchand) at ESPN.com. The man was (probably should still say “is“) a boxer. Enough said.