Monday, October 12, 2015

A Bad Feeling About 2016

I want to be optimistic about next season. I really do. This is especially true after the team got my hopes up in the 1st half of the season, only to stumble into the Wild Card game. It also doesn't help that I'm not a patient person. But, alas, I don't have a good feeling about 2016.

"I've been looking through this thing for hours, and I still don't see anything good."

While there are teams that were good, and could very well get better next year, the Yankees are not one of them. Let's face it... the team is unlikely to change.

Let's start by taking a look at players that are either under contract or team control, and will probably be regulars in the starting lineup....

Catcher  - Brian McCann
1st Base - Mark Teixeira
3rd Base - Chase Headley
Shortstop - Didi Gregorius
Left Field - Brett Gardner
Center Field - Jacoby Ellsbury
Right Field - Carlos Beltran
Designated Hitter - Alex Rodriguez

The only position that's not set right now is 2nd base, and while anybody would be better than giving Stephen Drew another 428 plate appearances, chances are it won't make much difference.

Drew's bWAR this past season was 0.3, while Ben Zobrist had the highest bWAR among upcoming free agent 2nd basemen at 2.9. For argument's sake, let's say Zobrist would be worth 3 more wins thanks to the upgrade. That would give the Yankees 90 wins, which would probably not be good enough to win the division, leading to another winner-take-all Wild Card game.

No thanks.

Speaking of improving at one position, and the team getting better, you have to assume the other eight hitters produce like they did this past season. That's no certainty.

Carlos Beltran's poor 2014 season for the Yankees was easily his worst since 2005, which could simply mean it was an aberration. But the guy will turn 39 in April. I don't think his best case scenario next year is to be better. No, his best case scenario is to simply not be to be any worse.

Then we have Alex Rodriguez, who may be healthier now than he's been in years. Along with that he might not be as dumb as he once was, either. But you know what would be more surprising than his 2015 season was? Him having a better 2016 season. Again, like Beltran, his best case scenario for next year is probably that he doesn't get worse.

Next we have Mark Teixeira. Sure, Mark is not exactly old, as he'll turn 36 in April. Then again, he's far from being part of the Yankees' youth movement. So I can't really buy into that 146 OPS+ continuing for another season. Mark's slugging percentage was over .500 for the first time since 2009, and that's easily where the largest chunk of his value comes from. If that power goes back to the 2010-2012 levels (average SLG of .484), then we're going to hear much more about his defense next year than his offense.

When it comes to players that are unlikely to improve next year, you can add Brian McCann, Brett Gardner, and Didi Gregorius.

McCann's OPS+ of 107, while better than the 93 he put up last year, was still pretty darn low for him considering the fact that it was 118 the year before joining the Yankees. That might make you think he could be better, but it's hard for me to believe somebody on the wrong side of 30 is going to get better. It's possible, but hard to count on.

Gardner's OPS+ of 105 was lower than the 110 he put up in each of the previous two seasons, but he's actually older than McCann is. Brett's game relies on his legs, and in case you aren't aware, a person's legs tend to get worse as they get older... not better.

I'm a fan of Didi Gregorius, but that doesn't mean I'm fooling myself into thinking he's a future All Star. Despite Yankees fans generally being pleased with their new shortstop, Didi's OPS+ was still only 90. His batting average of .265 was well above the .226 he had in 2014, while his slugging percentage was about the same (.370 vs. .373). So the only place I can see him getting better is in the on-base percentage department, which won't do a whole lot of good when he's hitting at the bottom of the lineup.

But it's not all bad. I believe Chase Headley and Jacoby Ellsbury can hit better.

"I knew he couldn't stay negative for long."
"Hold on, buddy."

The days of Headley finishing in the top 5 of MVP voting are long over with. So while he could improve upon that 92 OPS+ he had this season, it likely won't get much higher than the 101 he put up in 2014. At the same time, there's a good chance Ellsbury's OPS+ is better than the 84 he put up this year, but will probably not get any higher than the 110 he put up the previous season.

So you can take that smug look of yours and... use your imagination.

I think that about covers the offensive side of things. So how about the starting rotation?

The good news is that the starting rotation for next season already has plenty of options... Masahiro Tanaka, Michael Pineda, CC Sabathia, Nathan Eovaldi, Luis Severino, Ivan Nova, Adam Warren, Bryan Mitchell. Yeah, I said it has plenty of options. I didn't say those options make for a strong rotation.

I will admit to feeling pretty good about Masahiro Tanaka and Luis Severino. However, those guys are not a strong 1-2 at the top of the rotation. Don't get me wrong, they aren't bad up there, but you have to wonder what will happen with Severino after the league sees him a little more. Plus, Tanaka's strikeout rate went down quite a bit (9.3 K/9 in 2014 to 8.1 K/9 in 2015).

Despite having an ERA of 5.80 in the second half, I think Michael Pineda should be a solid starter next season. Will he be a #2 like some of us thought going into this season? I'm not holding out a ton of hope. But I believe he'd make a really good #4.

Those three guys would make me comfortable in the 2-4 spots in the rotation, but as of now we're looking at 1-3. Which leaves the last two spots for Sabathia (2015: 4.73 ERA), Nova (2015: 5.07 ERA), Mitchell (5.13 ERA in his MLB career, and only 3 starts), Eovaldi (has given up 10 or more hits per 9 innings in his past two seasons), and Warren.

I'm going to give Adam Warren his own paragraph, because he may very well be the only player on the 2016 Yankees that actually helps make the team better. Adam's got a 3.98 ERA in 20 MLB starts. Now, his strikeout rate is a tad low as a starter (6.4 K/9), but I think it may be time to see what the guy can do. Heck, he's already 28 years old, so it's time to put up or shut up with him.

Oh, and speaking of pitcher, I loved reading about Jeff Samardzija. Not because I think he's awesome, but because the Division Series has just started. Let's at least wait until the World Series is over before we start spreading rumors around.

The fact of the matter is that unless Brian Cashman is able to trade away an outfielder to open up a spot for somebody like Jason Heyward, along with making room for even a Jeff Samardzija or... oh would this be nice... David Price, then you're unlikely to see me be very optimistic before Opening Day.

I'm sure to try, as the Yankees may only add another reliever or two, but a stronger bullpen is not going to turn this team from one that barely makes the postseason to one that is a true World Series contender.

"So, Mr. Cashman... are you up to the challenge?"

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