By ANDREW DONCHAK
With pitchers and catchers reporting to Spring Training later this month, both of New York’s baseball teams are beginning to finalize their rosters for the upcoming season after coming up short last season. The Mets (87–75) had their 2016 end in a crushing wild-card loss to the San Francisco Giants. The Yankees (84–78) missed the playoffs altogether, yet finished with a winning record for an unfathomable 24th straight season. Both teams are looking to start 2017 stronger and better prepared for the future.
In the Bronx, the Yankees are looking to bounce back strong after their first rebuilding year in what has seemed like an eternity, trading away star lefty relievers Aroldis Chapman, Andrew Miller and aging power bat Carlos Beltran at the deadline. That said, it seems like there never is a Yankees team these days that isn’t competing in some fashion, and that’s exactly what they intend to do in 2017.
At first glance, the biggest reason for optimism would have to be the slugging young catcher Gary Sanchez, whose .299 batting average and 20 home runs after his August call-up to the big leagues put him in the American League Rookie of the Year conversation. He eventually ended up second in voting even though he played a little less than two months of baseball. Sanchez will look to take the everyday catching spot in the wake of the recent trade sending incumbent backstop Brian McCann to the Houston Astros.
Elsewhere in the lineup a one-year, $13 million deal for right-handed batter Matt Holliday seems to help without costing the Yankees much right now or anything down the road. The retirements of longtime mainstays Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira don’t hurt the team in any measurable way, and opens up an interesting competition for first base between Greg Bird and Tyler Austin, two talented young prospects.
Maintaining all other prominent position players from the past year means the team could easily score more runs this year, improving on what was only the 22nd best lineup in the majors last year, when they scored 680 runs.
The starting pitching as it has been for years with this team, may be the shakiest part of this roster. Ace Masahiro Tanaka is unlikely to disappoint. Behind him, only Michael Pineda and CC Sabathia have enjoyed definitive success in a rotation before, the latter of which coming with a handful of his own personal question marks involving injury and struggles with addiction. That leaves some combination of Chad Green, Luis Severino, Luis Cessa, Bryan Mitchell and Adam Warren to start nearly 40% of all Yankees games next year, which is certain to give manager Joe Girardi his fair share of headaches.
The bullpen once again figures to be the Yankees’ strong point, thanks to the five year, $86 million signing of Chapman. He had spent only a couple months away from New York, winning a World Series with the Cubs this past season. He teams up with Dellin Betances and midseason acquisition Tyler Clippard to make a new big three closing out games.
Ultimately, the Yankees have slightly improved. But, unless the rotation finds a way to put itself together, they don’t seem to be a playoff team that can compete with division rivals like Boston, Baltimore and Toronto in the American League East.
In another corner of the city, the Mets look to bring back to Citi Field what sparked their 2015 run to the World Series: Yoenis Cespedes and outstanding starting pitching. The Cuban outfielder has been the heart of this offense for over a year now, and with a new four-year, $110 million contract, Cespedes will be sticking around.
Outside of the Cespedes signing, however, the Mets have been quiet this winter. The only other major move was second baseman Neil Walker re-signing for one year and $17.2 million.
Most spectators thought the outfield would be addressed heading into the season, with Curtis Granderson and Juan Lagares in center and Cespedes, Jay Bruce and Michael Conforto. This gives the Mets five capable hitters competing for only three starting jobs. There still is speculation that Bruce or perhaps even Granderson may be moved before the year begins.
The infield remains fully unchanged, while captain David Wright nears the twilight of what has been a very strong career in Queens.
But what will drive the Mets forward this year, if anything does, is one of the best pitching staffs in all of baseball, which last year allowed only 617 runs, which ranked the team 3rd in baseball. Noah Syndergaard is a Cy Young Award candidate once again, which is bound to overshadow the stellar seasons Jacob DeGrom, Matt Harvey and Steven Matz are likely to have. One would also be wise to look for 23-year-old Robert Gsellman to really make a mark in his first full year in the MLB himself.
The bullpen also remains largely unchanged, Jeurys Familia and Addison Reed return to anchor a pitching staff that will give teams a lot of trouble as long as they all manage to stay healthy, something that has eluded this team in the past.
As long as none of the big pitchers go down, and the offense at the very least avoids being anemic, there’s no reason the Mets can’t compete for a wild card and maybe even take a run at Washington for the National League East crown.
Overall, this should be an exciting summer for baseball in New York, hopefully one of the two clubs can bring home the city’s first world series since 2009.