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Previewing the AL East: New York Yankees

The Yankees retooled after a wild card loss this season. Can the Bronx Bombers overcompensate for a lack of speed and a thin rotation?

MLB: Spring Training-Pittsburgh Pirates at New York Yankees Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

Starting in 2023, teams will play five less games against each division opponent. The change should provide a boost to the Orioles as they look to climb their way out of the cellar in the AL East. Unfortunately, Baltimore will still face the Yankees 19 times this season. So what should we expect from the Bronx Bombers?

The Yankees won 92 games last year but still finished eight back of the Rays. New York dropped the single-elimination Wild Card game at Fenway after Gerrit Cole coughed up multiple homers in less than three innings. The Mets may have temporarily commandeered the title of New York’s biggest spender, but the Yankees still retooled enough to take another shot at the division crown.

Additions and Subtractions

The Yankees did not break the bank with a top free agent this season, but they did bring back Anthony Rizzo after acquiring the first baseman at the deadline last year. New York inked Rizzo to a two year deal worth $32 million, and the former Cub should slide in nicely at first base.

New York further bolster the infield with a surprising deal with the Twins. The Yankees acquired three-time All Star Josh Donaldson, shortstop Isiah Kiner-Falefa and backup catcher Ben Rortvedt in a deal that sent Gary Sanchez and Gio Urshela to Minnesota. It’s always nice to pickup a former league MVP, and the move certainly shakes things up. The deal marks a disappointing end for Sanchez in New York, but both he and Urshela will have an opportunity to be successful with the Twins.

With the addition of Rizzo and Donaldson, the Yankees had a bit of a long jam at first base. They solved the problem by shipping Luke Voit to San Diego for Minor League pitcher Justin Lange. Voit led the league in homers during the abridged 2020 season, but the Yankees were not satisfied with his production last season.

Starting Rotation

Gerrit Cole and his nine-year, $324 million contract will once again anchor a starting rotation with a few question marks. Cole posted a 16-8 record, 3.23 ERA and 1.059 WHIP last season. It’s difficult for any player to live up to a deal with an average annual value of $36 million, but the Yankees know what to expect from Cole. He shrugged off a few hiccups last season, but did not deliver in the Wild Card game.

Jordan Montgomery will likely slot behind Cole as the top lefty in the rotation. Luis Severino is back from Tommy John surgery, and Jameson Taillon should be ready to go after offseason ankle surgery. Nestor Cortes Jr. will likely round out the five man group. The Yankees recently placed Domingo German on the 60-day injured list with a sore shoulder.

The Bullpen

Flame thrower Aroldis Chapman appears set to serve as the keystone of the Yankees bullpen for another season, but the closer may not always take the mound in the ninth inning. Chapman recently told reporters that he will make some appearances in the eighth inning. Skipper Aaron Boone said that the move should help keep Chapman fresh for the duration of the year. Chapman allowed 14 of his 21 earned runs over a nine-game spiral between June and July last season.

Our old pal Zach Zack Britton could miss all of 2022 after undergoing Tommy John surgery last September. However, the 34-year-old has not ruled out a return this season. A collection of Chad Green, Jonathan Loáisiga, Clay Holmes and Wandy Peralta appear set to flank Chapman. The Yankees recently signed Shelby Miller to a minor league deal after the 31-year-old struggled last season.

The Lineup

Simply put, there are not a lot of easy outs here. Sluggers Aaron Judge and Mike Giancarlo Stanton return along with Rizzo and Joey Gallo. Donaldson has not been named an All Star since 2016, but he still slashed .247/.352/.475 while hitting 26 homers and driving in 76 runs.

Kiner-Falefa does not provide much pop, but he did hit .272 last season. Gleyber Torres tallied only nine homers last year, but he still managed to hit .339 in 16 games against the Orioles. There may not be much speed—just ask Voit —but the club can hit the ball hard.

The Defense

The departure of Voit opens up a full time spot for Rizzo at first base. Donaldson should take third, while Torres and Kiner-Falefa play up the middle. Judge, Gallo and Aaron Hicks should handle the outfield duties while Stanton serves as the designated hitter.

D.J. LeMahieu and Miguel Andújar provide defensive versatility off the bench. Kyle Higashioka and Rortvedt appear to be the favorites behind the plate, but Max McDowell’s defense is valued by Boone.

The Yankees dedication to adding big bats to the lineup can come back to bite them defensively. It is unclear how often Stanton will be asked to play the field and if Aaron Judge is the second option in centerfield. Donaldson has some miles on him at third base, and Torres has been forced to play out of position before.

The Projections

PECOTA: 99-63

FanGraphs: 91-71

Draftkings Sports Book: Over/Under 91.5 wins, +195 to win AL East, +900 to win World Series.