With pitchers and catchers set to report to spring camps in two weeks, it's time to start our baseball previews here at Doc's. And what better place to start than the most popular team in the game, the New York Yankees.
If I'm putting my cards on the table, I didn't see the Yankees winning 87 games last season, much less making the playoffs as a wild-card team. The Bombers led the AL East for a large chunk of the first half of the season before the Toronto Blue Jays caught fire after trading for David Price and Troy Tulowitzki. The Yankees finished six games behind the Jays but were the AL's top wild-card team. New York hosted Houston in that one-game playoff, but the Yanks couldn't solve Dallas Keuchel and lost 3-0. Hey, at least the Yankees made the playoffs for the first time since 2012. But MLB's most successful franchise hasn't won a pennant since 2009. George Steinbrenner is spinning in his grave.
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Speaking of the late Boss, he surely would have spent a fortune this offseason on a very good free-agent class. But the new Yankees run by son Hal Steinbrenner simply don't operate that way. Believe it or not, the team hasn't signed a single free agent to a major-league contract as of this writing. The Yankees have never not signed at least one since free agency began after the 1976 season. There's not much left out there, so I don't expect anything major. The team did make a few interesting trades, however. I'll address those below.
New York opens the season on April 4 at home against those Astros. It's a tough first stretch to open the year as trips to Detroit, which will be much better this season, and Toronto follow.
Yankees 2016 Projected Lineup
The lineup should look the same as it did last season -- when every projected starter was healthy -- other than at second base. That's because the Yankees acquired three-time All-Star shortstop Starlin Castro from the Cubs for pitcher Adam Warren. Castro, however, will play second. I think that's a good move for the Bombers. Castro is overpaid, but then all MLB players are. He is owed $38 million over the next four seasons and has a team option for $16 million in 2020. Castro was really struggling last season in Chicago until he was moved from shortstop to second and then hit better than .300 the rest of the way. Second base was a black hole for New York in 2015, so this is an upgrade no matter what. Overall, Castro batted .265 with 52 runs, 23 doubles, 11 home runs and 69 RBIs in 151 games last year. Castro likely will hit eighth, one spot ahead of double-play partner Didi Gregorius, who was a great pickup last offseason from Arizona. He hit .265 with nine homers and 56 RBIs while playing good defense.
At leadoff again is center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury, and as always with him it's about staying healthy. Frankly, that's the case for several veteran members of this lineup. Ellsbury was limited to 111 games last year and hit just .257 with an on-base percentage of .318. That's not good enough. He wasn't even in the starting lineup in the wild-card game. Supposedly Ellsbury is in terrific shape right now for what that's worth. He's still owed $105 million.
Fellow outfielder Brett Gardner will bat second; originally the Cubs wanted him for Castro but the Yankees said no. Then comes the heart of the order: DH Alex Rodriguez, first baseman Mark Teixeira, outfielder Carlos Beltran, catcher Brian McCann and third baseman Chase Headley. All but Headley have injury worries. A-Rod hit 33 homers and knocked in 86 last season in a huge bounce-back year, but he wore down big-time over the final two months during which he hit .191 with nine home runs and 25 RBIs. The guy will be 41 in July, so it's unrealistic to see him playing 151 games again, much less hitting 33 dingers. He is 13 away from 700.
Teixiera was limited to 111 games due to injury but did hit 31 homers and knock in 79. He's soon to be 36 and hasn't played more than 123 games since 2011. Beltran is soon to be 39 and he can't be hidden at DH with A-Rod there. Neither can McCann. Headley is just OK.
The Yankees got some bad news recently when one of the team's top hitting prospects, first baseman Greg Bird, was lost for the season to shoulder surgery. He was probably going to start the year in the minors but was projected as the top backup to Teixeira and A-Rod eventually this season -- plus Tex's full-time replacement in 2017. Now that's up in the air. Bird hit .261 with 11 homers and 31 RBIs in just 46 last-season games in 2015.
Yankees 2016 Projected Rotation & Closer
Injury worries are prevalent here as well. The Yankees were eighth in the AL last season with a 4.05 ERA. The ace remains Masahiro Tanaka (12-7, 3.51), but he hasn't been able to avoid a long DL stint in his two big-league seasons and still is a ticking time bomb for Tommy John surgery with ligament damage already in his pitching arm. No. 2 Michael Pineda (12-10, 4.37) is good, but he's all but guaranteed several weeks on the DL as well considering his history.
The rest of the rotation will be sorted out between top pitching prospect Luis Severino (5-3, 2.70 last season; he's a lock for a spot), big lefty and way-past-his-prime CC Sabathia (6-10, 4.73), who is also coming out of alcohol rehab, Nathan Eovaldi (14-3, 4.20) and Ivan Nova (6-11, 4.82). Nova likely heads to the bullpen to begin things if everyone stays healthy.
Speaking of the bullpen, it shapes up to be perhaps the most dominating in big-league history with the trade for Reds fire-balling All-Star lefty Aroldis Chapman. He will move into a closer role with fellow lefty and last year's closer, Andrew Miller, and All-Star right Dellin Betances setting him up. Assuming the Yanks keep all three (Miller has been rumored in trades), they would be the first team in MLB history to feature three pitchers who had at least 100 strikeouts in relief the season before. Chapman threw the 62 hardest pitches in the majors last year. He is likely to be suspended to start the season for a domestic issue, however. How long is anyone's guess. So some nights, manager Joe Girardi simply needs his starters to go six innings most nights.
The loss of Warren will hurt some as he was one of the best swingmen in the majors, happy to start or relieve. He was 7-7 with a 3.29 ERA in 43 games (17 starts) in 2015.
Yankees Futures Odds & 2015 Trends
At BetOnline , New York is +1800 to win the World Series and +700 to take the American League pennant. More futures odds will be out in a few weeks. Teixeira is +5000 to lead the majors in homers and A-Rod is +10000. The Yankees were 80-82 against the spread last season and 77-81-4 O/U. On the moneyline, they were -339 for the season.
New York Yankees 2016 Predictions
FanGraphs projects New York to finish second in the AL East with an 85-77 record, six behind the Red Sox. Generally the sportsbooks' win totals are pretty close to what FanGraphs projects. I would go 'under' that total. If you could guarantee me all the key guys could stay healthy, then New York could win 90-plus and the AL East. I don't see that as realistic. Yankees finish around .500 and miss the playoffs.
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Read more articles by Alan Matthews
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