TAMPA, Fla. — When they heard the bombshell news of the baseball winter that the club had acquired National League MVP Giancarlo Stanton from the Marlins, Yankees players experienced two thoughts:
Skepticism followed by elation.
“Kind of disbelief at first,” reliever Adam Warren said. “The talent we already had, to add someone of his caliber was pretty exciting.”
Said fellow reliever Chad Green: “I kind of had to do a double take. I was like, ‘Really?’ The guy’s a monster. Having him and [Aaron] Judge in the same lineup is kind of crazy.”
First baseman Greg Bird went the deadpan route regarding the addition of Stanton, who hit 59 homers last season.
“Can’t hurt,” he said dryly before smiling. “I’m excited to meet him. I’ve heard a lot of good things, so I can’t wait.”
As the Yankees, who fell to the eventual World Series champion Astros in ALCS Game 7 last October, begin spring training this week — report day for pitchers and catchers is Tuesday; the first full-squad workout is a week from Monday — myriad storylines accompany them.
There is a new manager, as Joe Girardi was deposed after 10 years in charge, replaced by Aaron Boone, a former major-leaguer known for his smarts and interpersonal skills who grew up around the game but has never managed or coached. There are a few coaching holdovers, such as pitching coach Larry Rothschild and hitting coach Marcus Thames, but the big-league staff is almost entirely new.
There are open positions at second and third that, depending on how spring training competitions pan out, could be manned on Opening Day by a pair of acclaimed prospects, Gleyber Torres and Miguel Andujar. (Yankees general manager Brian Cashman is still pounding the pavement looking to add insurance in the infield with a proven big-leaguer.)
Cashman also is on the lookout for an extra starting pitcher — one of his pursuits throughout the offseason — but the rotation as is looks pretty solid, led by Luis Severino, who finished third in the American League Cy Young Award voting last year.
“Again, like every team, if we stay healthy, I like what we have,” Rothschild said. “But the odds aren’t with us. If you go year to year and look at the staff staying healthy, you’re not going to use five starters in a year and you’re lucky if you get in under less than 10, really. So our object is to keep them healthy and keep them strong all year. We’re aware of the difficulties that can present.”
If Cashman can’t obtain another starting pitcher and rotation issues present themselves, there are some intriguing arms in the system likely to get a chance this season who will be on display in the coming weeks, yet another storyline of spring training. That group is led by the club’s top pitching prospects, righthander Chance Adams and lefthander Justus Sheffield. Seed-throwing righties Albert Abreu and Domingo Acevedo also are in the group.
Still, all of those stories finish behind one sure to get the most attention as spring training unfolds: Stanton teaming with Judge — a unanimous winner of the AL Rookie of the Year award and the runner-up in the MVP voting after hitting an AL-best 52 homers — in what should be a brutally tough lineup. On paper, this team certainly seems capable of making a run at the franchise’s single-season record of 245 homers set in 2012. More than a few in the game think the Yankees are capable of threatening the single-season record of 264 set by the 1997 Mariners.
“Once it [the Stanton news] kind of sunk in, you kind of start rolling through the lineups we’re going to be putting out there, what opposing pitchers are going to have to face and the amount of run support we’re going to get this year,” Warren said. “It’s going to be a lot of fun for us as a pitching staff.”
And for the fans, who since the Stanton addition have been gobbling up both regular season and spring training tickets.
Indeed, the combination of a young, athletic and potent team to go with a farm system bursting with prospects has the Yankees back in familiar territory (though not so much in recent years): that of a heavy favorite to get to the World Series.
Being viewed as an underdog like the 2017 team, of which little was expected from the outside, is no more.
“We’re on the map,” Bird said earlier in the week. “We said we were going to surprise people last year, that was our thing, and this year it’s not a surprise anymore. We’re a good team and people know that, so they’re going to be coming after us, and we’re going to go after them, and that’s how it’s going to be.”
With Giancarlo Stanton (59 home runs last season), Aaron Judge (52) and Gary Sanchez (33) leading the way, can the 2018 Yankees break the MLB record for team home runs in a season? The leader board:
260 2005 Rangers
2010 Blue Jays
2000 Blue Jays