MLB: Will the Yankees’ Small-Market Approach Work in 2016?

New York Yankees v Boston Red Sox
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The New York Yankees don’t rebuild. With a financial juggernaut of this nature, ownership does not accept seasons at the bottom of the division during roster overhauls. Yankees fans don’t seem to want it, either. Yet the club has pushed a small-market approach and “walked the tightrope” the last few seasons with trades for younger players and short-term deals for free agents. In 2016, the Yankees will struggle to make the playoffs under this system in an improved AL East.

While Boston upgraded its pitching staff and Toronto prepares for a full season with its lethal offense, the Yankees have upgraded at second base and downgraded in the bullpen, the team’s biggest strength in 2015. The trade for Starlin Castro guarantees a solid double-play combination in the coming years as well as another right-handed bat to help against lefties.

However, the subtractions of Justin Wilson and Adam Warren leave the bullpen and starting rotation exposed. Warren was solid in both roles, covering for injuries to Masahiro Tanaka and Michael Pineda early in the season before shifting into a middle-inning role. Wilson, the lefty who threw an effective 61 innings, distinguished himself as the most reliable option outside of Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances.

So far, the Yankees appear content to replace the holes internally. Many middle relievers have already come off the market. (Darren O’Day, who resigned with Baltimore, was the best of the bunch.) As for the Yankees’ right-handed power issues, the only obvious solution is dealing Brett Gardner and filling the void with a slugging left fielder. The Yankees let Chris Young, the player who served that function in 2015, sign with Boston. In the past decade, that move would have been the prelude to signing Justin Upton or Yoenis Cespedes. The current Yankees regime appears unwilling to make such a move.

Division Series - St Louis Cardinals v Chicago Cubs - Game Three
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Rumors surrounding Cespedes and Upton have not included any mention of the Bronx Bombers, which suggests that the Yankees are following the same path the club took last offseason. The system worked then because Mark Teixeira and A-Rod returned to form as middle-of-the-order weapons. When they fell off late in the year, Carlos Beltran and rookie Greg Bird picked up the slack while Luis Severino stepped into the rotation. It was a complicated formula that worked well enough for a Wild Card.

Nonetheless, the Yankees ended the year exposed in the lineup and in the rotation. Fixes to either problem are not expected to come, not even from the so-called second tier of free agents. Maybe the Yankees are counting on the trio of aged sluggers to return for one last hurrah. Both Teixeira (35 years old) and Beltran (38 years old) enter the last year of their contracts in 2016, while A-Rod (40 years old) has two seasons left. If all three stayed healthy with Castro and a productive Chase Headley behind them, the Yankees would not get picked on by southpaws.

Yet assuming the health of the veteran Yankee sluggers is as tricky as expecting the rotation to stay on the field. Every starter spent time on the disabled list in 2015. Questions about the health of Tanaka, Pineda, and Nathan Eovaldi will remain until they put together campaigns of 30 starts or more wearing pinstripes. The tabloid saga of C.C. Sabathia is another area for concern.

If the season started today, the Yankees would not be a title contender. Small-market approaches may be good for the payroll, but an improved AL East makes New York’s return to the postseason a long shot in 2016. GM Brian Cashman and his team may need every week between now and Opening Day to turn it around.

Statistics courtesy of Baseball Reference.

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