TAMPA, Fla. — The outside predictions for the 2017 Yankees, while far from dire, aren’t ones the franchise is used to.
But that’s only from the outside.
“We are in a transition, but we’re not waving any white flag while we’re transitioning,” general manager Brian Cashman said Thursday. “That’s the balancing act we’re taking and we’ll see where it takes us. 2017 has a chance to be a pretty interesting year for us.”
The “not conceding anything” message has been delivered consistently by team hierarchy during the first week of camp, by manager Joe Girardi on Tuesday, managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner on Wednesday and again by Cashman.
“We have the potential to be a championship-caliber team,” Cashman said. “Listen, if we stay healthy and perform up to expectations and certain guys who are obviously starting their careers reach their ceiling sooner than later, then I think without question we can be a team to be reckoned with and not one to be taken lightly.”
A lot would have to go right across the board for that to happen.
Yes, young players such as Gary Sanchez, Greg Bird, Aaron Judge and Luis Severino would have to be very good, but Jacoby Ellsbury, 33, and Chase Headley, 32, would have to be better than they’ve been, too. Didi Gregorius and Starlin Castro hit a total of 41 homers last season and would need to continue to develop. The back end of the bullpen — Aroldis Chapman, Dellin Betances and Tyler Clippard — would have to come through.
In the rotation, Masahiro Tanaka is an established ace, but there is uncertainty behind him with 36-year-old CC Sabathia and the inconsistent Michael Pineda. The last two spots will come from a young pool of talent that includes Severino, Bryan Mitchell, Luis Cessa and Chad Green (veteran Adam Warren also will compete for one of those spots).
Ellsbury, entering the fourth year of a seven-year, $153-million deal, has a .264/.326/.382 slash line in three seasons with the Yankees. Cashman tabbed him, among others, as an established player who must produce for the Yankees to contend.
“I just think that he’s got a lot of ability that we certainly have seen in the past on championship effort runs with Boston, and I still think there’s more in the tank with Jacoby Ellsbury for us,” Cashman said. “Hopefully, we’ll see in 2017 more of that, just like we need to see more of that from others on this roster.”
Much has been made about what the Yankees could be in 2018 and beyond if their deep farm system turns out the gems it’s supposed to. But Cashman, who like Girardi is entering the final year of his contract, isn’t looking that far ahead.
“I’m hoping I’ll be here in 2018 and 2019,” he said, smiling, “so that means I better focus on right now.”
And the right now, Cashman insisted, could be very good as well.
“Hopefully, we’ve given Joe Girardi and our staff down here enough talent that can stay healthy and mesh together really well and provide some exciting baseball for the next six months to push ourselves to the postseason again,” Cashman said. “That’s where we’re looking to get back to and take a shot and see. It’s a fine line we’re walking, but one I think we’re doing a good job of doing.”