Tom Bogert, CBS Local Sports
After missing the playoffs just once in 18 years from 1995-2012, expectations were always irrationally high for the New York Yankees. For the team that consistently had the most bloated payroll, merely a playoff appearance wasn’t a successful season, it was the bare minimum expectation. It always felt like championship or bust since the late 1990s up until just ahead of Derek Jeter’s retirement.
When no. 2 called it a career, the Yankees were in an unfamiliarly dire position. They’d always had some deadwood on the roster, the cost of the monstrous contracts they’d ink years prior, but that was the overwhelming construct of the roster. Now, they find themselves in more unfamiliar territory but the grass over here isn’t decrepit: it’s just starting to grow and it’s going to be brilliant.
In Year 1 A.D.J. (After Derek Jeter), Alex Rodriguez, CC Sabathia and Mark Teixeira were making the most money on their team. The youngest of which was Sabathia, who was 34 that year but had long lost his youth, fastball and prime.
Teixeira and Rodriguez have retired, and Sabathia is (finally) on the last year of his contract. The only huge free agent contract they’ve signed as a replacement is Jacoby Ellsbury, which already isn’t looking so great. But it’s only one, so #progress.
Last season, the team moved in a savvy, non-George Steinbrenner direction. For the first time in a generation, they were sellers at the trade deadline rather than buyers. They maximized returns for some valuable assets and replenished their farm system which now is one of the best in baseball.
The current roster is no longer rife with past-their-prime stars, nor is Joe Girardi burdened with typical Yankee expectation. This season is about the development of young players, an exciting time for fans. Enjoy it. Even if the overall record is bad, it won’t much matter as long as the young guys flash pyrotechnic look-ins to the future.
Imagine how great it must have been for fans of the Oklahoma City Thunder during the nascent beginnings of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden? Obviously we know how that turned out: they ONLY had the fleeting hope dangled ahead of them, but those years must have been great.
That’s what Yankees fans will get this year with every Gary Sanchez home run, big Greg Bird hit and whatever might come from a potential bounce back season from Luis Severino, should it happen. Ditto for whatever current minor league players can cross the threshold to the majors during the year.
But, Sanchez’s expectations could potentially be elevated a notch too high. The catcher put himself on pace for 60 homers over a full season after what he did in his time in New York in 2016. Thankfully, no one is expecting that but there are already way too many people asking questions like “is Sanchez the best catcher in the American League?” For someone with just a smudge north of 200 Major League at bats, that’s criminally unfair.
But maybe he lives up to the sky high hype his barrel created for himself last season. All the better. More likely, he won’t be the best catcher in the American League next year and that’ll be okay. He doesn’t need to hit half a century of home runs ever, let alone in his age 24 season.
The difference this year is that Sanchez really won’t be alone. Aaron Judge was with him last year, but had the inverse of success that Sanchez had. That’s okay, too. Remember that time Judge and Tyler Austin hit back-to-back homers in their first at-bats? Yeah, from that moment on anything he did in 2016 was a bonus.
This year, he’ll be the everyday right fielder. Sanchez will be the everyday catcher, Greg Bird at first base. Once Austin returns from his unfortunate broken foot, he’ll be in the mix too. It’s an exciting time and it’s just the beginning.
What Sanchez is to the young players penciled in for the opening day big league roster, Clint Frazier is to the exciting prospects that’ll start in minors. He’s the king of the next wave of prospects and has the personality to run New York, something Matt Harvey seemed primed to do a few years ago. It’s still up for the taking since Jeter left.
Frazier isn’t too far off the majors. He got his first taste of AAA last season but the Yankees won’t rush him, either. There’s no point. But he’ll be in the Bronx before we know it.
Next to Frazier is 20 year old Gleyber Torres. He, unlike Frazier, is well far away from graduating to the big leagues after just seeing high-A ball last year. But his name is already being associated with the highest praise. Headlines like “How Yankees Phenom Gleyber Torres Is Like A Young Derek Jeter To Joe Girardi” exist.
There are other sumptuous pieces in the revamped farm system and the Yankees have a path to contention that doesn’t rely solely on free agency for the first time since the mid-1990s when the likes of Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Jorge Posada and Andy Pettitte were breaking through.
It’s a great time for Yankee fans, enjoy the growing pains.