Still holes for Yankees to fill before opening day

The New York Yankees had an uneven 2016 baseball season. They finished in fourth place in the American League East and fell out of playoff contention before the final weeks. Even still, they somewhat overachieved based on where they were expected to finish.

Because of the team performing better than expected and planning for regression, they entered the offseason with a number of holes to fill. One of the biggest was at the back end of the bullpen. New York traded closer Aroldis Chapman last summer to the Chicago Cubs. Once he became a free agent after the year, the Yankees signed him right back. That pushed Dellin Betances into his normal setup role and reset the depth of a bullpen that was a strength of the team.

Filling a hole in the bullpen still left plenty of questions in the team’s starting rotation, though. New York is heading into Spring Training with that issue remaining. The starting pitchers on the roster are a mix of past-their-prime veterans and underachieving talents.

The only exception is ace Masahiro Tanaka. After him, the Yankees are going to be leaning on CC Sabathia, Michael Pineda, and Luis Severino for what will hopefully be close to 600 innings this year. Sabathia has been adequate on the mound recently but nothing more. And both Pineda and Severino have struggled mightily to live up to their lofty expectations.

It is crazy to assume the trio will reach that workload, both in terms of health and production, but there is little reliable depth even beyond the questionable starters. Question marks like Chad Green and Luis Cessa are the only alternatives currently on roster.

New York would be wise to scour the free agent market for another veteran arm. Depending on asking price, players like Jason Hammel, Doug Fister, or Colby Lewis could be perfect stopgaps for this season and next.

On the offensive side, New York’s biggest hole was going to be at designated hitter with the trades of Carlos Beltran and Brian McCann. That was filled when the team signed Matt Holliday in December. However, there are still lots of questions in this everyday lineup. Is Greg Bird going to be able to play first base everyday? Can Aaron Judge make enough contact to warrant 550 at-bats? And then there is the question of depth. If Bird isn’t fully healthy, who else can play first base? McCann could have, but he is gone. Tyler Austin didn’t hit enough last year to stay up. The same goes for right field behind Judge. Aaron Hicks has never hit enough in his career to be anything more than a fourth outfielder. That is fine, unless Judge can’t hack it yet.

Much of New York’s season is hinging on 50-50 propositions falling in its favor. It is a risky way to enter a new year. Only the very best teams have elite depth, but the Yankees’ depth seems small even by average standards.

– Adam Clay for FingerLakes1.com

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