By Ernie Palladino
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They are but babies, these Yankees. Have been since the big down-sizing of August, when Brian Cashman traded and forced into retirement both realized talent and an underachieving big contract.
And yet, as the Yanks head into an offseason to watch their Queens neighbors play a home wild card game and possibly more, they can stop and realize that big things await.
There are a bunch of good things on that roster of Baby Bombers, and just as encouraging items in the lower levels. All of which means that Cashman may well have an offseason quite similar to last year’s.
Remember that? He didn’t sign a single free agent. Instead, he relied on his existing roster, added through trades for Starlin Castro and Aroldis Chapman, made more trades for minor league stars like shortstop Gleyber Torres and power-hitting outfielder Clint Frazier, and then brought up a bunch of kids.
The sum total of his efforts produced unlikely excitement and, considering how the veteran-based roster played before the kids took over, an incredible run at a playoff spot. In the end, youthful inexperience showed and the Yanks wound up four games out of a playoff spot.
And yet, they offered so much hope for the future that the roster may not need much tweaking at all. Sure, they could use another veteran for the rotation. Michael Pineda is just never going to be consistent enough and, let’s face it, CC Sabathia will be a year older. But the kids showed enough grit and determination to make one believe the Yanks will be just fine without an expensive influx of veteran talent.
The war chest is rich.
Gary Sanchez and the bat that tied an 86-year-old record for quickest path to 20 homers won’t have Brian McCann to get in the way of his starting catcher’s spot. Aaron Judge will be there. Greg Bird should come back from shoulder surgery as good as new to replace Mark Teixeira, who said farewell to baseball with Sunday’s finale.
Rob Refsnyder, Tyler Austin, Luis Severino, Bryan Mitchell, Luis Cessa, and Chad Green all showed signs that they could eventually become part of the restoration of Joe Girardi’s rep to playoff status.
Frazier and Judge could be the two hitting keys notwithstanding Sanchez’ remarkable power streak, only because it would be difficult to think the catcher could continue such a pace over a six-month season. Frazier, who did well enough to get promoted to Triple-A just before his trade, is working hard in the Florida Instructional League to make sure he gets that call at some point next season. Playing for three teams, he hit .263 with 16 homers, a .335 on-base percentage, and a .447 slugging percentage.
He has plenty of promise. But most likely, he’ll start the season at Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.
Judge, however, is a roster certainty. His offseason goal will involve cutting down on the strikeouts. In just 27 games before a strained oblique ended his season, he showed potential with four homers, though he hit just .179. Those numbers can come up. But his free-swinging ways that caused him to strike out 42 times in 84 at-bats are a concern.
Bird and Austin will battle in spring training for Teixeira’s spot at first. Mitchell could land in the rotation after going 1-2 with a 3.24 ERA in five starts after coming back from a toe injury. Severino, who struggled mightily as a starter, could ultimately find a real home in the bullpen.
In another era, 84-78 with no playoffs would have triggered a slew of beheadings following a major reconstruction job. Millions of dollars would have flown out the door.
But these Baby Bombers showed enough potential that only some minor revisions will be necessary for next season.
With young vets like Castro, Didi Gregorius, and Dellin Betances holding down key positions, the kids might just be able to carry the rest of the load.
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