The Yankees' 2016 season did not end with a postseason appearance, but there were still plenty of big moments. Rather than relive each one, let's see how some of those circumstances might shape the 2017 season...
Aroldis Chapman was traded to the Yankees just prior to the new year, but his 30-game suspension for violating the league's domestic violence policy was announced right before the season began. The Yankees tried to say all the "right" things concerning the trade and then continued to back Chapman as a person they believed deserved a chance to redeem himself.
The Yankees obviously feel that Chapman showed enough as an individual in his few months with the club to sign him to the largest free agent deal for a reliever in MLB history. There is no denying Chapman's abilities on the mound, but the off-the-field concerns could follow him forever. Some fans were willing to put Chapman's history to the side so long as he dominated hitters. However, if Chapman's performance on the hill falters, will he be unable to hide from his off-field issues?
Avoid a slow start
Teams seek improvement from one season to the next and the Yankees can look to their performance in 2016's first month as a good starting point. They absolutely cannot have the same kind of April they did last season. Winning just eight games in the season's first month would surely put the club up against the wall while playing in one of the game's best divisions.
If the Yankees have as many young players leading the way as expected when the club breaks camp, manufacturing a winning record in April might be difficult. The Yankees will need to get the most out of the veterans on the roster in an effort to balance the growing pains of the inexperienced players the club expects to provide a boost.
Another summer sell-off?
The Yankees did something last summer for the first time since 1989, when they conducted a full-fledged sell-off at the trade deadline. The moves were bold and helped propel an already improving farm system into one of the best in the game. If the Yankees find themselves in a similar situation as July winds down, it will not be at all surprising to see them do it all over again.
The Yankees have a handful of players who might entice playoff contenders to trade away prospects, including Masahiro Tanaka (he can opt out of his deal at season's end), Michael Pineda (free agent after 2017), Brett Gardner (continuously in trade rumors), and perhaps Chase Headley (also surfacing in rumors this offseason).
The organization has demonstrated they will not maintain players reaching free agency or older veterans if they can add depth to the farm system while simultaneously opening up a spot for a younger player.
What remains to be seen is which of the prospects will wear pinstripes for the major league club and which will be used as a trade piece for a young controllable star.
After the Yankees sold off their top trade assets, Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez both decided to hang up their cleats. There was a bit of a surprise here as each player had big comeback seasons in 2015. The Yankees' 2016 offense was built to rely on Teixeira and Rodriguez in the middle of the lineup and the set up completely failed when each player regressed to the point that they realized walking away from the game was their best option.
The Yankees could be in for a similar situation with CC Sabathia, who like Teixeira in 2016, is in the final season of his contract. Last season, the veteran left-hander pitched to an ERA below 4.00 for the first time since 2012 and was the second-most reliable starter behind Tanaka. At 36 years old and battling severe knee issues, there is a distinct chance Sabathia falters in 2017, and sadly perhaps to the point that he might have to consider how long he can be an effective pitcher in the league.
Youth movement's next star?
Once Teixeira and Rodriguez decided to retire, the Yankees also transitioned from Brian McCann to Gary Sanchez behind the plate. Sanchez had proven himself at Triple-A, but what happened when he took over as the starting catcher was beyond anyone's expectations. Sanchez's 20 home runs, 42 RBI and 1.032 OPS in 229 plate appearances thrust him into the conversation for Rookie of the Year honors despite just two months of MLB playing time. Sanchez's production begs the question of which Yankees prospect can make an impact at the big league level in 2017.
It would be incredibly unfair to expect the level of production Sanchez provided from any rookie, but I do believe that Aaron Judge has the potential to provide a force to the Yankees lineup as the starting right fielder. Judge was ushered into the league following the sell-off and after he homered in his first at-bat, the rest of his time with New York was a struggle. He struck out in 44.2 percent of his 95 plate appearances before going down with an injury that kept him out of the lineup for the remainder of the season.
Judge has demonstrated the ability to pick himself up after his initial promotion from level to level. I expect he will be able to do the same thing in 2017. The numbers might not be otherworldly, but I believe they will be respectable enough to put him in the Rookie of the Year conversation this coming season.
The Yankees' 2017 season might not develop into a complete replication of 2016, but there are sure to be storylines in the upcoming campaign that can be traced to the recent past.