Hope Springs Eternal in the Arizona Fall League

The Yankees 2016 season started off with a lamentable thud in more ways than one. Greg Bird's season ended before it really began, as the team announced that a torn labrum would keep him out for the entirety of 2016 on February 1st. Bryan Mitchell injured his toe about six weeks later, and would not return until August. James Kaprielian was placed on the disabled list with an elbow injury in April, and would not pitch for the remainder of the season. In short order their first baseman of the present and future, their sixth starter, and their top pitching prospect went down with serious injuries. And what seems like a dozen minor leaguers and shuttle relievers suffered some sort of season-ending injury during Spring Training.

The teams left in the playoffs have had less injury woes than the Yankees, so their odds on making it through to the playoffs didn’t come as a complete shock. Some of the best sites were predicting that the Yankees wouldn’t make the playoffs earlier in the season, but it’s still somewhat tough to take.

So it goes.

Six months later, though, things are looking up. The Yankees have top prospects throughout the minor leagues, and are slated to shed upwards of $40 MM as compared to Opening Day 2016 (I'm factoring in potential arbitration raises, and my back of the napkin math could be off). And, most importantly, Bird and Kaprielian are back.

The Arizona Fall League began just last week, yet it is difficult to curtail the excitement therein. Bird is batting .308/.357/.615, with 4 2B in 13 at-bats. Trade deadline acquisition (and top-50ish prospect) Gleyber Torres is batting .250/.308/.583, with 1 2B and 1 HR in 12 at-bats. And the oft-overlooked Miguel Andujar my well be the best of all, batting .400/.455/.600, with 1 3B in 10 at-bats. The sample sizes are small, to be sure - but there are some glowing reports out there already.

Most important, however, is the fact that Kaprielian is back. He made his AzFL debut on Wednesday, October 12, and he was nothing short of brilliant. Kaprielian struck out 6 in 3.0 IP, throwing 40 pitches and allowing just one hit. And, as per BA's Josh Norris, his stuff is right where it left off this Spring - "his fastball sat comfortably between 94-96 mph and he worked in all three of his offspeed pitches: a slider and changeup in the high-80s, and a curveball in the low-80s."

These stats will change quite a bit (all are current as of noon on Monday), but these four players provide some insight as to what the next great Yankees team could look like - a slugging first baseman, a two-way shortstop, a solid third baseman, and a top of the rotation starter is a hell of a foundation to build upon.


Calling All Questions

Happy Monday, ladies and gentlemen!

At some point this week, some combination of Scott, E.J., and I will be recording Episode 57 of the It's About the Yankees (Stupid) Podcast. We'll have a discussion about the merits of the different incarnations of Wins Above Replacement, and continue our overview of the team's organization depth. However, we would also like to field some questions from you - the readers and listeners.

If you would like to become internet famous and have your question read and answered, feel free to:

  1. Post it just below this, in the comments.
  2. Send it to me on Twitter, @DomenicLanza.
  3. E-mail it to us at stupidyankeespodcast@gmail.com.

We look forward to hearing from you.

It Could Be Worse: A Season Post-Mortem 1980s Flashback

1. The stunning-for-NY boredom of consistent mediocrity. I think of the 2010s Yankees as a high-drama team: repeated wild card runs; Jeter’s and Rivera’s final years; A-Rod’s everything; and the occasional brilliance-before-flameout of so many young starters (Nova, Hughes, Pineda, Eovaldi, Severino). But their 2013-16 results – win totals of 85, 84, 87, and 84 – have been just so stagnant. And those teams weren’t even that good: their average annual run differential has been just +9, so they’ve really been, on average, only an 82-win team. That’s not only boring; it’s also stunningly disappointing for a team that spent the prior 17 years so consistently on top.

2. My 80s/early-90s PTSD. I vaguely remember the Yankees’ great 1978 and 1981 teams, but it wasn’t until the mid-80s that I was old enough to follow baseball more seriously than with “yay!”/“boo!” That was a sad time to start following the Yankees. Between their 1981 World Series and the 1994 team that was great but lacked a post-season due to a strike, the 1982-1993 Yankees averaged 82.8 wins, earning no post-season play. Steinbrenner built those teams by acquiring already-high-performers in their late-20s to mid-30s; a few were long-term successes (Winfield, Henderson, Boggs), but more had just 1-2 good years left (Jesse Barfield, Danny Tartabull, Don Baylor, Scott Sanderson, Rick Rhoden…), or – all too often ­­– had zero left in the tank (Cecil Fielder, Omar Moreno, Mike Witt, Steve Trout, Andy Hawkins, Dave LaPoint…). With so many newly acquired stars so quickly declining, the Yankees kept needing to scrounge up more aging stars, and then those guys would decline too. The team finally stopped keeping up with that treadmill, suffering sub-.500 records from 1989 to 1992. So when I see a 2013-16 team averaging 85 wins with a true quality of probably 82 wins, a mild PTSD flares up, and I hope we’re not in for years of 80something-win mediocrity followed by dropping below .500.

3. Little hope for 2017, but more long-run hope. I’m trying to remind and convince myself to get over my '80s PTSD and be more optimistic about the team the Yankees transformed into in late 2016. They beefed up the farm system by dumping several of their stars; they released (A-Rod) or substantially benched (McCann) aging stars to make room for ripe prospects; and Cashman’s post-season post-mortem declared an unwillingness to fill the team’s (many) holes by trading prospects. The 80s vintage move would be multi-year deals for “home run champ Mark Trumbo” (age 31) and “proven vet C.J. Wilson” (age 35) -- or, worse, a trade of several top prospects for some starter just a tick better than Wilson. I feel odd cheering for the 2017 to be left weak and hole-riddled. But thanks to Cashman’s unwillingness to sell off future stars and future budget for a few more wins in 2017, I’m heartened that we’re not in for a repeat of the 80s. The 2017 team won’t be a winner, but it could be tons of fun to watch -- because it’ll be the team that sorts out which youngsters really have the chops to be a part of the next winning Yankee team in 2018 or 2019.