For many MLB franchises, reaching a Game 5 of the American League Division Series would be considered a successful season, but most franchises aren’t the New York Yankees. More was expected from a star-studded lineup and after the offseason addition of $324 million pitcher Gerrit Cole. Yet, the Yankees were bounced by the starless Tampa Bay Rays in the ALDS despite a payroll that was dwarfed by New York’s.
New York Yankees | 2020 MLB Expert Analysis
Owner Hal Steinbrenner said that he was “very disappointed” with the Yankees’ inconsistent play throughout the 2020 season, believing that his team was capable of achieving much more. The Yankees have not won the World Series since 2009, their only title in the past 19 seasons.
The Yankees finished the regular season with a 33-27 record and were shut out just twice in 60 games. It was the franchise’s 28th consecutive season with a winning record, the second-longest such stretch in Major League Baseball history behind only the franchise’s streak of 39 straight winning seasons from 1926-64. It was also the fourth-longest streak of consecutive winning seasons all-time in the four major sports (MLB/NFL/NBA/NHL).
DJ LaMahieu won the MLB batting title and Luke Voit the home-run title. They were the first pair of teammates to lead the Majors in batting average and home runs since Hank Aaron (.355 BA) and Eddie Mathews (46HR) for the 1959 Braves.
The Yankees twice previously had both the Majors’ home run and batting average leader, but never when it was not the same player (Lou Gehrig in his 1934 Triple Crown season, .363BA, 49HR and Mickey Mantle in his 1956 Triple Crown season, .353BA, 52HR).
New York clinched the 56th playoff appearance in franchise history (118 seasons, 47.5%) and qualified for the postseason for the 22nd time in 26 seasons since 1995 (missing only in 2008, ’13-14, ’16). The Bombers swept Cleveland in the Wild-Card Round and then lost that Game 5 of the ALDS to Tampa Bay 2-1.
The Yankees were hit hard by injuries in 2020 to be sure. They didn’t have projected No. 2 starter Luis Severino at all. The former All-Star had Tommy John elbow surgery in February and GM Brian Cashman said a return around June or July 2021 is a reasonable estimate.
The Yanks have seven players — Gerrit Cole, Giancarlo Stanton, Aroldis Chapman, Zack Britton, Aaron Hicks, Severino and Adam Ottavino — signed for next year at $117.5 million. They have 11 arbitration-eligible players.
New York’s biggest free agents are LaMahieu, outfielder Brett Gardner and starting pitchers Masahiro Tanaka, James Paxton and JA Happ. LeMahieu on his pending free agency: “I want to stay here and I’ve said that a few times. You never know how it goes.”
It could be that the Yankees let LeMahieu walk and shift Gleyber Torres to short. The Yankees will evaluate Torres’ defense at shortstop moving forward and that it’s hardly a guarantee he’ll remain there for the rest of his career. Torres has 25 errors in 138 career games at shortstop. He looked much better as a second baseman.
Despite rough stretches during the regular season, Gardner again showed his value by being one of the Yankees’ most reliable bats during the playoffs, and it helps that he’s one of the only left-handed hitters on the roster.
Tanaka had a good season and seems a good bet to return. The big-picture worry is the partial UCL tear in his throwing elbow, but that has been a known issue since mid-2014 and hasn’t made him miss significant time. Paxton struggled all year with injuries and probably won’t be back. Happ was rather up and down and will not be back.
The Yankees likely won’t be active buyers in the free-agent market. Most of the positions are spoken for. They do have to figure out what to do with former All-Star catcher Gary Sanchez.
Cashman recently said that it’s “certainly a fair question” whether Sanchez will be the Yankees’ starting catcher in 2021. Sanchez improved as a defensive catcher in 2020 but struggled mightily at the plate, issues that have persisted since 2018. By the end of the Yanks’ ALDS against the Rays, Kyle Higashioka had supplanted Sanchez as Aaron Boone’s trusted backstop. The 27-year-old Sanchez is under team control through 2022. The Yanks can non-tender or trade Sanchez, which would save about $5 million.
Manager Aaron Boone will return but his job status is somewhat tenuous after another disappointing postseason and the fact he was outmaneuvered by Tampa Bay’s Kevin Cash in the ALDS.
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