While the Yankees did not splurge on stars Manny Machado or Bryce Harper as many expected, the club completed a big trade and spread out its wealth for roster additions in free agency in an effort to supplement its incredibly talented young core.
Let's take a look at the 2019 Yankees, a team that sports an Opening Day payroll of approximately $204 million, according to Cot's Baseball Contracts ($226 million-plus for competitive balance tax purposes), as they embark on their yearly quest for a World Series title.
As the Yankees head north, the pitching staff is working three pitchers in the hole as Luis Severino, CC Sabathia and Dellin Betances will open the season on the injured list. The Yankees offense receives a lot of press, but when healthy, the pitching staff is among the better overall units, anchored by what is arguably the best bullpen in the game.
With Severino missing at least the first month of the season, he will be provided less time to prove he's the pitcher that flourished in the first half last season, and not the one that struggled in the second half. Without Severino, the Yankees will rely heavily on James Paxton, the team's trade acquisition, and Masahiro Tanaka to lead the rotation.
Paxton, an extremely talented left-hander, is looking to find the last piece to the puzzle - a full healthy season - needed to ascend to elite status as a starting pitcher. Tanaka, who will get the ball on Opening Day, will need to get off to a better start this year, something that has plagued him for two straight seasons.
The Yankees rotation is rounded out by re-signed lefty J.A. Happ, righty Domingo German, and eventually Sabathia.
The Yankees hope that Happ can rekindle the magic he spun in the final two months of 2018, and that German can control his dynamic repertoire while he subs for Severino. Meanwhile, Sabathia, who is retiring at season's end, will be a key presence at the backend of the rotation upon his return.
Arguably more so than the team's offense, the bullpen is the Yankees' biggest strength, and will be put to the test on a regular basis because of the rotation's collective proclivity to produce short outings.
Yanks closer Aroldis Chapman will continue to fine tune his slider in an effort to make his once always-electric fastball play up as it loses velocity. The Yankees will also have ground ball guru Zack Britton and another strikeout artist in Adam Ottavino, two of the Yankees free agent signings setting up Chapman.
Chad Green, Jonathan Holder and Tommy Kahnle will pitch in middle relief, and should receive some high-leverage work along the way. The Yankees might even use Green as an opener on occasion. Luis Cessa will pitch in long relief and Stephen Tarpley has a role at least until Betances returns.
The 2018 Yankees set MLB's single-season home run record by a team with 267 round-trippers. The record is indeed well within reach as the Yankees' offense is highlighted by two of the game's most prolific home run hitters in Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton, who will be key to the squad's success.
Judge is more than just a power hitter. His patience at the plate and his new two-strike approach might result in a decrease in strikeouts, which could help make Judge an MVP favorite. Stanton, in his second season in the Bronx, had a much better season in 2018 than some give him credit. Yet, with a year under his belt in New York and playing primarily as the squad's designated hitter, Stanton believes he is poised to step it up a notch.
Beyond Judge and Stanton, the Yankees have legitimate home run hitters up and down its lineup. In fact, the Yankees will once again have a chance at getting 20 or more home runs from each position in the batting order, and field a club with 12 players with double-digit home runs.
The Yankees will be without leadoff man Aaron Hicks for at least the first couple series of the season as he rests a weakened back. Hicks will be replaced by Brett Gardner for most games.
In the infield, Luke Voit, Gleyber Torres, Troy Tulowitzki and Miguel Andujar will receive a majority of the starts with Greg Bird and DJ LeMahieu finding time at 1B/DH and across the infield, respectively. Newly acquired outfielder Mike Tauchman rounds out the Yankees bench.
Behind the plate, Gary Sanchez is lean and hopes to put a disastrous 2018 season behind him. Austin Romine will once again be Sanchez's backup.
The Yankees grind at-bats and have some sneaky speed, but New York generally needs to be pounding baseballs into the seats. Fortunately, the group is built to hit home runs, and if the collection of thumpers is able to reach or eclipse last season's homer mark, it is safe to say that scoring runs will not be an issue.
Things will go well for the Yankees if…
First, the Yankees need Paxton to take control of the rotation from the outset of the season, and then Severino has to come back at the top of his game. While the bullpen is incredibly strong and the offense is going to be among the top performers in the league, it's a legitimate one-two punch from the rotation that the Yankees have lacked in recent seasons. Paxton and Severino have the talent to become one of the best duos at the front end of any rotation.
Second, the Yankees role players will have to play a major part this season. Tulowitzki filling in for Didi Gregorius, Gardner playing more with Hicks out, and LeMahieu roving around the infield will all receive an abundance of reps at the plate. If they produce well, the Yankees will be in good shape when the starters return.
Things won't go well for the Yankees if…
The team's health is already putting pressure on the club, and if it becomes a trend, there may not be enough depth to hold up the fort. The rotation seems to be the most susceptible to injury concerns, and the least able to be comfortably filled by a member of the organization.
Another potential issue that could derail the Yankees championship hopes is a poor performance from the bullpen. Chapman missed a month last season with a balky knee, and has been shaky at times. Betances is already out for the beginning of the season, and he too has bouts with inconsistency. Britton and Ottavino could be great, but they each have endured recent periods of underperformance.
Finally, if Yankees skipper Aaron Boone fails to improve his ability to translate the front office game plan on a daily basis, the team could suffer in the postseason.
Final record and season outcome
The Yankees have the ability to win 100 games again this season. Despite a soft schedule to open the season, the Yankees are going to be missing key contributors early on, and potentially more injuries will come its way. This leads me to peg the Yanks' regular season record at 95-67.
Despite my conservative regular season take, I admit the Yankees would be a dangerous playoff club - if healthy - in October. With two top-flight starting pitchers and a third starter with a playoff pedigree, a dominant bullpen, and plenty of offensive might, the Yankees will have the ability to win its 28th World Series title.
Ultimately, while the Yankees have roster firepower, they need smooth waters all season and the boat is already rocking. In my estimation, the 2019 Yankees will reach the American League Championship Series, but fail to advance to the World Series.