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Hype may be down, but Yankees still contenders in AL East

Chase Headley (12) and Mark Teixeira (right). (Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports)

Chase Headley (12) and Mark Teixeira (right). (Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports)

 

There was a time, not long ago, when the Yankees ruled our national pastime.  With unlimited finances, a fiercely competitive owner, and most importantly, a perennial ticket to October, the Bronx Bombers were the envy of all Major League Baseball.

How the times have changed.  Saddled by poor free agent signings, the present-day Yankees are stuck in baseball purgatory – unable to add significant payroll, yet unwilling to surrender and rebuild.  Historically, this is a slippery slope to navigate.  Just ask the Mets, who spent nearly a decade pinching pennies while simultaneously trying to contend.  While it all finally came together in 2015, Mets fans didn’t have much to cheer about in the years previous.

If anyone is up for the daunting task, it’s Yankees general manager, Brian Cashman.  Despite not making a single splash in the free agent market this offseason, Cashman traded for two All-Stars – Aroldis Chapman and Starlin Castro – without selling off the prized pieces of the farm system.  The acquisition of Chapman is especially significant, as it gives the Yankees a three-headed monster (Dellin Betances, Andrew Miller and Chapman) out of the bullpen, arguably the best 7th-8th-9th inning combination in all of baseball.

But how many leads will the offense hand over to the formidable trio?  The Yankees scored 764 runs last season, second in MLB to the Blue Jays, largely thanks to unexpected resurgences from Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira.  Can fans and the front office expect repeat performances from a 40-year-old and 36-year-old?  It’s a dubious proposition at best.

Let’s not forget the other offensive concerns.  Jacoby Ellsbury was a lost cause last season, batting .220 in the second half with a pathetic .593 OPS.  Brett Gardner also struggled mightily down the stretch, negating a fantastic first half that earned him an All-Star selection.  Chase Headley was equally frustrating, providing next to nothing with the bat while committing a career-high 23 errors at third base.  Youngster Greg Bird was essentially the only Yankee to finish 2015 on a high note, but now he’s out for all of next season with a serious shoulder injury.

The starting rotation is solid, assuming everyone stays healthy.  Masahiro Tanaka is flat-out nasty, and Luis Severino looks like the real deal.  Michael Pineda and Nathan Eovaldi are diamonds in the rough, while gritty veteran CC Sabathia rounds out the rotation after a strong September finish.  Even without a true ace like David Price or Zack Greinke, there is plenty of upside to the Yankees’ starting five.

There may be less hoopla in the Bronx this season, but that’s no reason to discount the Yankees.  Yes, a lot would have to go right to see this team reach 90 wins, but it’s certainly not out of the question.  With no favorite in the AL East, New York should be prepared for a five-way fight to the finish.

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