A year ago, the Yankees were in a much different place than they are now.
The Red Sox were considered the heavy favorites to win the AL East after adding Chris Sale, and the Baby Bombers were an unknown commodity, full of potential but facing several question marks. Still, Joe Girardi wasn’t about to concede in late December, telling reporters at the 2016 Pinstripe Bowl: “I think we’re going to be a club that is fighting for our division.”
As it turned out, Girardi was right. Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, Luis Severino and Greg Bird formed a homegrown foundation, leading the Yankees to an unlikely AL wild-card berth, and, ultimately, within a win of the World Series.
Since then, however, Girardi has been replaced by the much more affable Aaron Boone, and the young and likeable Yankees have turned into the Evil Empire once again with their acquisition of reigning NL MVP Giancarlo Stanton from Derek Jeter and the destitute Marlins, the rich becoming even richer.
The Bombers, though, aren’t done yet, which should send a chill through the American League.
“I know he’s upstairs working,” Randy Levine said Wednesday, referring to GM Brian Cashman before the 2017 Pinstripe Bowl. “He’s not finished. And we’re hopeful that there’s more to be done before spring training and Opening Day. … We’re the Yankees. We always want to get better. … What that is? I’ll leave that to the (front office).”
In this case, that means attempting to acquire a young, controllable starter to add to the rotation, along with potentially bringing in a veteran infielder as well. And, if they’re lucky, shedding Jacoby Ellsbury’s contract.
And it all led Levine to reference a famous line from Mike Royko: “Hating the Yankees is as American as pizza pie, (unwed mothers) and cheating on your income taxes.”
“As long as we’re relevant and people are thinking about us,” the team president added. “That’s the best part.”
Earlier Wednesday, Boone told John Sterling on WFAN that he had just been hitting the links with starting centerfielder/avid golfer Aaron Hicks. Boone faces the pressure of being a first-year manager in New York, but he also has the luxury of a powerful and productive lineup. He is still evaluating just how to position the likes of Judge, Stanton — whom Levine said, “I think he’s a huge addition. He’s the MVP of the National League, he’s a great player, and our fanbase is excited. We’re doing very well, selling a lot of tickets — Sanchez, Bird and Didi Gregorius in the batting order.
“I’ve been flirting around and having a lot of fun with that,” Boone said. “ … When an opposing pitcher looks at our lineup and thinks about having to work through it, it’s a team that you better make pitches against. Otherwise, this is a team that not only will make you pay with a base hit, but it will also make you pay with some damage.”
As for adding a starter like Gerrit Cole or the like to a rotation that already includes Masahiro Tanaka, Severino, CC Sabathia, Sonny Gray and Jordan Montgomery, Boone told Sterling: “Well, I think it just depends on getting the right matchup, and if it’s something that will ultimately make sense for us as an organization not only in the short-term but also the long-term. I know it’s something Brian is actively looking into, pursuing, kicking the tires, having conversations with other teams. We don’t feel like we’re in a situation where we are desperate to go out and have to get something, but it’s definitely something we would like to add.”
The Yankees are seemingly in a strong place. Their major-league team is ripe with talent, as is the farm system, with Gleyber Torres and Miguel Andujar perhaps in line to start at second and third. They have signed five of the top 20 international players, recently adding 16-year-old Venezuelan outfielder Raimfer Salinas and 17-year-old Venezuelan catcher Antonio Cabello to the mix. And they have plenty of money to play with for the Machado-Harper-Kershaw (who has an opt-out) free-agent class in 2019.
There are still questions about how Boone will fare, how Stanton will perform in a bigger market and how the team will respond as the hunted, rather than the hunter. But the Yankees are certainly in a much better place than they were at this exact time a year ago.
“I think this team has a lot of personality, has a lot of great, young players,” Levine said. “We really came together, we got a great manager and I think Giancarlo Stanton will fit in really well with everybody.”
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