The New York Yankees 2016 season was a disappointment as they missed the postseason for the third time in the last four years. The club's position players turned in uneven offensive performances, which was a major letdown and factored heavily in the team's 84-78 record. On the field, the Yankees turned in a slightly above-average effort as a whole.
In 2015, the Yankees received big comeback performances from veterans they were not expected to rely on; Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira. Rodriguez missed the entire 2014 season due to a yearlong suspension for violating the league's performance-enhancing drug policy. Teixeira suffered through another injury-plagued season in 2014, which diminished expectations for 2015. Both men had resurgent efforts, with Rodriguez hitting 33 home runs and Teixeira going yard 31 times.
The Yankees came into the 2016 season relying on Rodriguez and Teixeira in hopes of duplicating their roles for what was the second highest scoring offense in the American League in 2015. Unfortunately, the elder duo was emphatically bad for much of the season.
Rodriguez was such a disappointment (.598 OPS) that the Yankees basically pushed him into an early retirement one year before his contract was due to expire. Teixeira, who was in the final year of his eight-year deal, decided to call it quits not long after Rodriguez made his last appearance. Teixeira declined with the bat (.654 OPS), but still managed to play well in the field (two defensive runs saved).
At the top of the lineup the Yankees could not get fully productive seasons from Jacoby Ellsbury or Brett Gardner. Each had stretches of positive production, but more often than not they were never in sync with each other. Further, both players have become less than eager base stealers and it has hurt the club.
Neither player had more than 40 extra-base hits in 2016, so the need to turn some of their singles into doubles via the stolen base could have helped ignite the team. Instead, when they did get on they languished at first base. Ellsbury stole 20 bases, while Gardner swiped just 16, but their running was virtually nonexistent in the second half (four each). Having two table-setters at the top of the lineup that failed to bring the wares consistently was detrimental to the overall offensive production of the club.
In right field, the Yankees received excellent production from Carlos Beltran (22 home runs, .890 OPS) until he was dealt at the trade deadline. After Beltran was traded, the Yankees called up Aaron Judge to take over the role full time. Judge homered in his first plate appearance but his stint in the majors was marred by strikeouts. Judge struck out 42 times in 95 plate appearances and then missed the final 18 games with a shoulder injury.
Judge, one of the club's top prospects, coming up to the big leagues was actually the second such move the Yankees made after the deadline. They first brought up catcher Gary Sanchez, who immediately supplanted Brian McCann as the primary catcher.
McCann was not driving the ball as much as he had in 2015, nor was he knocking in runs as he had that season. McCann was already losing at-bats against left-handed pitching to backup catcher Austin Romine, so the switch to Sanchez, long considered the catcher of the future, made sense.
Sanchez did more than hit 20 home runs in 202 at-bats, he proved he upgraded his game behind the plate and maybe most importantly, he matured. The knock on Sanchez was never his hitting ability, but rather whether he would kick bad habits and work hard to get better. Sanchez took control of the pitching staff and went on a historic home run tear which cemented his role for the near future.
What lies ahead for McCann is up in the air. He is a trade candidate, but holds a full no-trade clause. I believe moving McCann might not be the best idea. He could serve as the team's primary designated hitter (at least against right-handers against whom he hit 17 home runs and registered a .770) and spell Sanchez behind the plate as the team's backup. Sanchez's run was impressive, but there will be slumps and it would be nice to turn to McCann if there are rough patches.
McCann staying in New York would leave Romine on the outside looking in. If McCann is not moved, the Yankees will surely try to trade Romine to a team looking for a solid backup catcher.
Staying up the middle, the Yankees have what seems to be a very good double-play combination for the next few seasons. It is true that the Yankees have a couple of prospects within years of making noise up the middle (Jorge Mateo and Gleyber Torres), but Didi Gregorius and Starlin Castro, both 26-years-old, should keep the spots in good shape in the meantime.
Gregorius continued his fine defensive skills at shortstop, but for the second straight season improved his offensive production. Gregorius set career highs in virtually every offensive category including doubles (32), home runs (20), RBIs (70) and OPS (.751). Defensive metrics do not favor Gregorius (-9 defensive runs saved) compared to the eye test, which saw him make some spectacular plays; though his 15 errors were a career-high.
Castro, received in an offseason deal from the Chicago Cubs, acclimated well to his new position at second base, even showing signs of mastering the role. He had his spells of nonchalance which affected his play at the keystone (-8 defensive runs saved), but his results at the plate were exactly what the Yankees hoped they would receive. Castro set a career-high in home runs (21) and also drove in 70 runs.
At third base, Chase Headley started out the season in a severe batting slump, but worked his way out of once the calendar turned from April to May. From that point, Headley was among the better performers on the club with the stick. Headley finished the season with a .713 OPS (.756 from May 1 through the end of the season). Headley had a much better time in the field this season, reversing a terrible 2015 performance, when he made 25 errors. Headley cut that number down to 10 in 2016 and generated seven defensive runs saved, which is more in line with his career numbers.
Off the bench, the Yankees received varying performances. Aaron Hicks got off to a horrible start at the plate, which severely limited playing time. The season was surely a disappointment for Hicks (.610 OPS) who the Yanks hoped at the worst would thrive as a right-handed hitter, but that never came to fruition. Hicks did manage four defensive runs saved in his time in the outfield.
Ronald Torreyes stuck with the team from Game 1 through 162 as the utility infielder. He stayed incredibly focused despite getting at-bats in between wide swaths of time. Torreyes' .680 OPS and average defense across three infield positions (-1 defensive runs saved) is solid for a utility player.
When Judge got the call, he was accompanied by Tyler Austin, who began to see a prominent role at first base to spell Teixeira, due to the veteran's nagging injuries. Austin, once a top MLB prospect, made it back from injuries of his own and turned in a fabulous season in the minors. Austin, who can also play right field, compiled a .758 OPS (90 plate appearances) with the Yankees and each of his four home runs gave the Yankees late leads. Austin figures to battle Greg Bird for the first base job in 2017, but both could make the 25-man roster.
Overall, the Yankees offensive production was not nearly enough to push them into the postseason. While there were some bright spots, the club never got the entire offense clicking together for extended periods of time. Contrary to 2015, the Yankees were unable to dominate opposing pitchers for more than one or two games at a time.
Next season, the Yankees will have plenty of at-bats for Austin, Bird, Judge and Sanchez, but they'll have to be balanced by the veterans who remain with the club through an offseason which could see significant roster changes.