Coming up with fresh baseball content in January and February is difficult, but thankfully, there are those like Baseball Prospectus' Russell Carleton to supply ideas. This one is a fun exercise, selecting one player from each Yankees team from 1992-2016 to fill out, as he phrases it, a coherent entire 25-man roster without any repeats. Here we go:
1992: Melido Perez (Starting Pitcher)
That's right, Melido Perez! He was the bright spot on a 76-86 team. This was his first year in pinstripes after being acquired for Steve Sax, and boy did he shine. At 26 years of age, the righty delivered a 2.87 ERA and 3.05 FIP in just under 250 (!) innings, good for 6 WAR. The Yankees must have thought they had a long-term ace on their hands, but unfortunately, Perez was never the same and pitched his final big league season in 1995.
1993: Randy Velarde (Bench - Utility)
One of my ground rules is to not include a full-time regular on the bench. So, we'll start the bench with an ideal utility player: 1993 Randy Velarde. Despite missing nearly two months of the season due to injury, Velarde got into 85 games, 16 as a pinch-hitter. He amassed impressive numbers, recording 2.2 WAR thanks to a sturdy .301/.360/.469 (123 wRC+) batting line in 253 plate appearances. With the ability to play all over the infield and outfield, he might be this squad's best bench player. The '93 squad was a pretty solid team, winning 88 games while falling short of the playoffs. There certainly were some good options on the 1993 squad to choose from (I had Jimmy key in my first iteration), but this is a partly a strategic selection to make room for others.
1994: Paul O'Neill (Right Field)
I feel like we could say this about a lot of players in 1994, but I wish we could have seen what stats O'Neill would have wound up with had the strike not prematurely ended the season. And obviously, Yankees fans will never know the fate of its team that was 70-43, first place in the AL East, when the season was cut short. Oh well. At least we can enjoy O'Neill's ridiculous numbers. Take a gander at this: in 443 trips to the plate, O'Neill hit 20 home runs and slashed .359/.460/.603 (171 wRC+), all good for 4.3 WAR. This is an easy choice for my starting right fielder.
1995: Darryl Strawberry (Bench - Outfield)
This is my next thinking ahead/strategic choice. I could have gone Bernie Williams here (133 wRC+, 6.4 WAR), but took a different path. Darryl Strawberry is a bit of a wonky pick, because he only played in 32 games that season after debuting in early August. Nonetheless, his .276/.364/.448 (115 wRC+) line makes him a nice left-handed option off the bench.
1996: Mariano Rivera (Relief Pitcher)
Ironically, Mariano Rivera's best season was as a set-up man for John Wetteland on the World Champion 1996 Yankees. In 107.2 dominant innings, Rivera posted a 2.09 ERA and 1.88 FIP while setting a career high in WAR (4.3). He had plenty of similarly dominant years on a per-inning basis, but I'll take this version of Rivera for my club given the workload he bore.
1997: Andy Pettitte (Starting Pitcher)
Andy was dandy (apologies John Sterling) in 1997, posting a 2.88 ERA and 2.96 FIP in 240.1 innings pitched (7.2 WAR). He finished fifth in Cy Young voting. His 25 year-old campaign was easily the best of his career with the Yankees, though many more good ones followed.
1998: Bernie Williams (Center Field)
1998 was Bernie Williams' best offensive season with the Yankees. He hit .339/.422/.575 (158 wRC+), swatted 26 dingers, stole 15 bases, and won the batting title. It wasn't his top season per WAR (4.9), but it was still an excellent season during the Yankees 114-win regular year.
1999: Derek Jeter (Shortstop)
You knew he'd be on here eventually. Derek Jeter's 1999 season is the highlight of his career, when he set career-bests in the following categories: home runs, RBI, batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, wRC+, WAR...the list goes on. A 7.4 WAR player with a 156 wRC+ at shortstop? Easy call. He was the best player on that championship team.
2000: Mike Stanton (Relief Pitcher)
Here's another strategic pick. Though the Yankees topped the Mets in the World Series in 2000, they weren't really that good of a club. At least, not up to standard with years prior. They won only 87 games after an ugly September freefall, but fortunately that was enough to win the division. This isn't to say there weren't good options to choose from on the 2000 team (Jorge Posada, 6.1 WAR or Bernie Williams, 4.9 WAR), but I'm saving Posada for later and I preferred Bernie's 1998 campaign. I'm taking a reliever. I was torn between Mike Stanton and Jeff Nelson, but ultimately went with the former. Stanton is going to be the second lefty in my pen (you'll see the primary one later). Though Nelson was better by ERA (2.45 vs. 4.10), Stanton had the advantage in FIP (3.03 vs. 3.49).
2001: Mike Mussina (Starting Pitcher)
In his first season in the Bronx, the Moose lived up to his billing from free agency. In 228.2 frames, Mike Mussina accumulated 6.9 WAR with a 3.15 ERA and 2.92 FIP. Though his teammate, Roger Clemens, took home the Cy Young award that year (pitcher wins are the best, guys), Mussina was the best pitcher on that year's American League champions.
2002: Jason Giambi (Designated Hitter)
Another year, another newly minted free agent signing as my selection. Jason Giambi split time between first base and designated hitter (a near 50/50 split), but I'm going to utilize him in the DH role. He was a beast in 2002, crushing 41 home runs on the heels of a .314/.435/.598 (175 wRC+) triple-slash. His 6.6 WAR made it his best season in pinstripes.
2003: Jorge Posada (Catcher)
I told you before that I was waiting to use Jorge Posada, and here he is. The switch-hitting backstop finished third in MVP voting that season thanks to a career-high 30 home runs and 6.0 WAR. My favorite memory of Jorge from 2003 was his bloop-hit off of Pedro Martinez in game 7 of the 2003 ALCS to tie the game in the 8th.
2004: Hideki Matsui (Left Field)
This isn't the best all-around season by a Yankees' left fielder in the last 25 years, but it's the best offensively. Hideki Matsui posted a 140 wRC+ behind a 31 homer season and a .298/.390/.552 batting line. It was his second year with the club and his best in his seven seasons with the Bombers.
2005: Tom Gordon (Relief Pitcher)
Another strategic choice. Alex Rodriguez won the MVP award this year, but I'm waiting to use him later. Other players with top seasons, like Jeter, Giambi, and Rivera have already been used. So I'm going with Flash here, who posted an excellent 2.57 ERA and solid 3.68 FIP in 80.2 innings. He was actually better in 2004, but still a good member of the bullpen in 2005.
2006: Scott Proctor (Relief Pitcher)
This pick makes me chuckle a tad, but Proctor was a valuable and durable piece of the bullpen this year. Of course, he wasn't the same after eclipsing 100 innings in 2006, but we'll always remember him as Joe Torre's go to guy that season. His 3.52 ERA and 1.2 WAR works for me, and allows me to bide my time to fill my roster with better players going forward.
2007: Alex Rodriguez (Third Base)
I wish that I could watch the 2007 team again. It was one of my favorites despite a disappointing end in the ALDS. A-Rod put together his second MVP season with the Yankees, this one being the best of the two. Rodriguez' 2007 is arguably the best season by a third baseman ever. Need I say more?
2008: Brett Gardner (Bench - Outfield)
Under new manager Joe Girardi, the 2008 Yankees missed the playoffs for the first time since 1993. It was a transitional year in a sense, though it's funny to say that when the team won 89 ballgames. It was a few key players final seasons with the team (Mussina, Giambi, and Bobby Abreu). There was some new blood that emerged that year, including Brett Gardner, my choice for 2008 in this exercise. He hit poorly (54 wRC+) in 42 games, but I like this version of Gardy as a defensive replacement and pinch runner for this fantasy squad. After all, he won't need many at-bats in the lineup I'm trotting out.
2009: Mark Teixeira (First Base)
For first base, I initially thought about 1997 Tino Martinez, who slugged 44 home runs. However, Pettitte was just too good that season to pass up. Giambi wasn't an option as I prefer him at DH, and Don Mattingly's 1992-1995 seasons were nothing to write home about. So, 2009 Mark Teixeira it is, who was essentially equivalent to '97 Tino. 39 home runs (to Tino's 44), 142 wRC+ (to Tino's 141), and 5.1 WAR (to Tino's 5.3) make them hardly any different. I think we sometimes underappreciate how important Teixeira was to that 2009 championship club because of his decline in the seasons thereafter.
2010: Francisco Cervelli (Bench - Catcher)
My roster needs a backup catcher, and 2010 Francisco Cervelli is a good fit. He had a passable bat in 317 trips to the dish that season (92 wRC+, .279/.359/.335) and offered solid defense. Not the most exciting pick, I know, but a necessary one.
2011: CC Sabathia (Starting Pitcher)
I could have gone with a handful of different seasons with CC Sabathia, but this one was the best. His 6.4 WAR in 237.1 innings with a 3.00 ERA and 2.88 FIP was sheer brilliance. I had also considered Curtis Granderson for this season, the year he broke out for 41 home runs and 6.8 WAR. However, with Bernie in tow in center field and 2011 being Sabathia's best season, I went with the big left-hander.
2012: Robinson Cano (Second Base)
Robbie's penultimate season with the Yankees was his best. After flirting with 30 home runs in the two seasons prior, Cano blasted a career high 33 dingers in 2012. His 149 wRC+ was also a lifetime best, a result of a fantastic .313/.379/.550 slash-line. In the last 25 years, Cano has no competition for the position. An easy call. This serves as a reminder of how much I miss watching him everyday.
2013: David Robertson (Relief Pitcher)
D-Rob's best season in New York was actually 2011, but 2013 was a stellar one too. He boasted a 2.04 ERA in 66.1 innings as a bridge to Mariano. Robertson posted a gaudy 87.5% strand rate, living up to his Houdini nickname.
2014: Dellin Betances (Relief Pitcher)
Another year, another reliever. The Yankees have had plenty of great relievers in the past 25 years, and many of them have been concentrated in this decade. Dellin Betances is yet another pitcher fitting that category. His first full season in the bullpen was Betances' best, though it's not like he's declined ever since. In 2014, he threw 90 innings and finished with 3.2 WAR on a 1.40 ERA and an absurd 39.6% strikeout rate.
2015: Andrew Miller (Relief Pitcher)
The bullpen trend continues. As I alluded to earlier, I had another southpaw reliever in mind, and Andrew Miller is that guy. Despite missing nearly a month of the season, Miller was nails in 2015. With a 40.7% strikeout-rate, 2.04 ERA, and 2.0 WAR along with no platoon split, there isn't anything wrong with the lanky left-hander.
2016: Masahiro Tanaka (Starting Pitcher)
Last but not least, 2016. On an 84-win team that sold at the deadline, there aren't many great options. Obviously, Gary Sanchez stands out on a per at-bat basis, but Posada is still the clear cut choice for starting catcher. And, under my ground rules, Sanchez can't be the backup catcher. Thus, I'm going with the best overall player, Masahiro Tanaka. There were other better starting pitching seasons that I left off this list, but I did it purposefully because Tanaka was the best value from 2016. Besides, a 3.07 ERA and 4.6 WAR in just under 200 innings is pretty, pretty good for a fifth starter.
C: 2003 Jorge Posada, 2010 Francisco Cervelli
1B: 2009 Mark Teixeira
2B: 2012 Robinson Cano
3B: 2007 Alex Rodriguez
SS: 1999 Derek Jeter
LF: 2004 Hideki Matsui, 2008 Brett Gardner
CF: 1998 Bernie Williams, 2008 Brett Gardner
RF: 1994 Paul O'Neill, 1995 Darryl Strawberry
DH: 2002 Jason Giambi
IF/OF: 1993 Randy Velarde
SP: 1997 Andy Pettitte, 2001 Mike Mussina, 2011 CC Sabathia, 1992 Melido Perez, 2016 Masahiro Tanaka
RP: 1995 Mariano Rivera, 2014 Dellin Betances, 2015 Andrew Miller, 2013 David Robertson, 2005 Tom Gordon, 2006 Scott Proctor, 2000 Mike Stanton