Baseball is one of the most individualized team sports out there. While someone like Alex Rodriguez or Mark Teixeira can carry a team for a short period of time and always have one on one battles at the plate, the Yankees’ success actually comes down to multiple people stepping up at the same time.
It’s a team sport made up of individual battles. And despite a roster of 25 players, it’s a season which will involve at least 30, 35, 40, or even sometimes more than 40 players’ contributions to make a successful year.
So sometimes winning isn’t so much about how a team of players help each other out, but how those players individually “step up to the plate”.
This winter a lot of Yankees have individual goals or something they feel they have to prove. What makes it a little different from past winters when critics generally have their own slew of questions about the roster is the players have come right out and stated their goals and concerns. Let’s review a few goals by specific players on the roster and see how it impacts the Yankees’ success in the 2016 season.
Aaron Judge needs to make those “adjustments”
Judge was hitting over .280 with an OPS over .800 in AA last season and was rightfully promoted to AAA. It was there his wonder season halted, and he hit .224 the rest of the way with an OPS well under .700. Judge said himself he didn’t make the adjustments from AA to AAA (which isn’t so much about adjusting to talent as it is adjusting to the style of pitching) as quickly as he wanted.
He’s still anywhere from the top to a top three Yankees’ prospect, he still has a cornerstone ceiling and he’s still a top 100 prospect in the game. This season, Judge needs to make those adjustments and be a viable option down the stretch for the major league roster in the event of injury to Brett Gardner, Jacoby Ellsbury or Carlos Beltran and in case a thin in power options lineup, needs a pick me up.
Michael Pineda needs to really challenge his goal of 200 innings
Saying it is one thing, pitching it is another. Pineda came out and stated his goal this season was to throw 200 innings. Is this as realistic as a prized prospect making adjustments after a full winter off? Probably not. Pineda has never thrown more than 171 innings and he last did that five seasons ago. But on the bright side, he is closer to 200 innings now than he was from 2012-2013 when he didn’t pitch at all. Pineda’s 160.2 innings at least have him approaching a full workhorse’s workload again, and there’s reason to believe if he finally stays healthy all season he can at least get into the 180-190 inning range, which would be perfectly fine for any Yankees’ fan.
CC Sabathia needs to prove he feels the best he has in years
Too often we hear the line “I feel the best I have in years” uttered in or around spring training. Players may have just lost a bunch of weight, recovered from major injury, bought a dog or had a kid and they would use that line almost interchangeably. It doesn’t ultimately mean much but in the case of Sabathia, it might actually be very telling. The once ace-like lefty had an intriguing season in 2015. He had his best ERA since 2012 last season and threw 167.1 innings which might have been more if two things didn’t happen. One, he was also battling alcohol addiction unbeknownst to most and two, he was much more effective once use he utilized a knee brace. In nine starts after July, Sabathia did not give up more than four earned runs in any performance and delivered four quality starts in the process.
With rehab behind him, his weight in check and the knee brace ready to go, it’s possible Sabathia can become a suitable fifth starter, pitching to a mid to high 4 ERA and throwing close to 200 innings. If he can do that, he really will be proving he’s the best he’s been in years.
Mark Teixeira, Ivan Nova and Carlos Beltran need to earn their next contract
They haven’t verbalized it yet, but the trio of would-be Free Agents are all in walk years and have a lot to prove this season. With Greg Bird out for the year with a torn labrum, 2016 would be an ideal time for Teixeira to stay healthy for a full season, something he hasn’t done since 2011 when he played in 156 games. In the four years since, the former All-Star has averaged just 93 games, albeit one year playing in only 15 games. Teixeira was set to play a full season in 2015, which is the encouraging part, but a foul ball ended his season in freaky fashion at the end of August. Without the fluky finish, Tex would have played in around 140 games.
Nova is pitching for a job and his next contract as well, trying to demonstrate he is fully back from surgery and can revert back to a solid contributor in a tough division. Coming into Spring Training trying to win a spot over Sabathia and acting as a possible alternative to Masahiro Tanaka, should he not be ready for the start of the season, Nova will try to recapture a 139.1 inning effort from 2013 when he posted a 3.10 ERA. Since then, the right hander has thrown just 114.2 innings and averaged to an ERA over 6.00.
It’s almost guaranteed Nova will find a workload this season, in a best case scenario as a long reliever, but more realistically filling in for whichever starter gets injured. Even if he can perform well in 100-150 innings without ever having a defined spot in the rotation, Nova will re-establish value and will not cost a draft pick to his next team as the Yankees will not make him a qualifying offer.
Beltran actually had a recovery season of sorts last season, trading in a .233/.301/.703 line in 2014 for a .276/.337/.808 performance in 2015. If Beltran can so much as repeat his season, he will get a deal somewhere else should he choose to continue playing and it will have been a win-win for the Yankees.