Anyone who watched the New York Yankees limp into the postseason knew the problem. The club that was second in runs scored for the 2015 season ranked 27th in Major League Baseball in OPS and 17th in runs in the month of September. That late-season slide put the Yankees in the company of San Diego and Oakland as far as offense is concerned, and it’s how the team lost the AL East to Toronto.
Still, stuffing a few big bats in the Yankees lineup will not solve the problems of a club that ranked 17th in ERA for the season. The injuries and ineffectiveness of the rotation eventually led to an overworked bullpen late in the year. So even if ownership wanted to splurge on free agents, most of the team’s positions are tied up in long-term contracts. That leaves the front office with the task of finding trades of the sort that brought Didi Gregorius to the Bronx.
Either way, the Yankees have several holes that need to be plugged. Here are five upgrades the team will have to make the team a contender in 2016.
1. Middle relief arms
There’s nothing sexy about middle relief until you can’t get three outs in the middle of a blowout. The Yankees found themselves in these situations on multiple occasions in 2015, which led Joe Girardi to use trusted bullpen arms when they ought to be resting. Short outings by Nathan Eovaldi and other starters exacerbated the issue of a taxed relief corps. To keep Justin Wilson, Dellin Betances, and Andrew Miller fresh, the front office needs to deliver reliable middle relief arms, including a long man.
2. Right-handed power bats
When Mark Teixeira went down late in the season, it left the lineup with minimal power options from the right side. Versus right-handed pitching, the Yankees often had eight left-handers in the lineup along with A-Rod in the DH slot. If a lefty starter like Dallas Keuchel or David Price toed the rubber, there was a glaring weakness that only right-handed thump might neutralize. Free agents Yoenis Cespedes and Justin Upton could be options if the Yankees wanted to add on, but there is still the problem of where to place them. Trading Brett Gardner may be a necessity in this scenario.
3. A frontline starter
Masahiro Tanaka, Michael Pineda. C.C. Sabathia, and Nathan Eovaldi all spent extended periods on the disabled list in 2015, and the Yankees struggled to find an arm to fill the void before Luis Severino was promoted. To contend in 2016, the front office needs to add a reliable rotation arm to slot in behind (or ahead of) Tanaka. Without a starter capable of going deep into games effectively, the bullpen will risk being taxed by the end of the season. David Price, Jordan Zimmermann, and Johnny Cueto are three frontline options coming on the market.
4. An everyday second baseman
New York has been unable to find an answer at second base since Robinson Cano signed with Seattle before the 2014 season. With Stephen Drew gone, the Yankees could decide to platoon Dustin Ackley and Rob Refsnyder or acquire a better option via trade. On the free agent market, Daniel Murphy and Howie Kendrick are names that could interest management, but trusting the farm system may be wiser in the long term. Refsnyder has shown the potential to hit for average if he can improve his defense.
The Yankees saw a dramatic improvement in defense at shortstop as Didi Gregorius grew comfortable in his role, but severe lapses from Chase Headley (23 errors) at third hurt the team throughout the year. In any upgrades to the offense, the front office has to be careful not to weaken the team defense, which has been a liability. With so many question marks surrounding the pitching staff, this Yankees club cannot afford to give the opposing team extra outs and runs.