Where do the Yankees go from here?
SportsPulse: USA TODAY Sports’ Bob Nightengale and For The Win’s Ted Berg tell us who they think is the favorite to win the upcoming ALCS between the Red Sox and Astros.
NEW YORK — The Yankees’ 2018 campaign ended in indignity on Tuesday night as the Red Sox celebrated an ALCS berth at Yankee Stadium after the Bombers’ too-little, too-late comeback effort against Craig Kimbrel in the ninth died on an infield dribbler.
The club hit a record 267 homers in the regular season, won 100 games, and cruised past the Oakland A’s in the wild card game. But after the Tuesday loss ended its World Series hopes at the hands of the rival club that outpaced them all season, Yankees players struggled to put a positive spin on the year.
“It was a grind, up and down, the whole way,” said Aaron Judge. “Guys battling injuries, battling slumps, battling this and that – just another baseball season. But we know we came up short of our goal. Now it’s time to build off that, and get ready for this year.”
“We fought as hard as we could to try to catch them all year, and obviously weren’t able to,” said Brett Gardner. “We wanted so bad to send (the ALDS) back to Boston for Game 5, and to come up short, it’s just tough.”
Gardner, the team’s longest tenured position player, faces an uncertain future: The Yankees hold a $12.5 million option on his contract for 2019, but given their crowded outfield picture, it’s unclear if it will be exercised. CC Sabathia, the Yankees’ longest-tenured pitcher and the loser in Game 4 on Tuesday, is slated for free agency.
But the overwhelming majority of the Yankees’ key contributors from 2018 will return for 2019. Judge, Aaron Hicks and Giancarlo Stanton should be back in the outfield. Luke Voit, Gleyber Torres, Didi Gregorius and Miguel Andujar will be back in the infield. Gary Sanchez will be back behind the plate. Luis Severino and Masahiro Tanaka will be back to front the rotation. Aroldis Chapman, Dellin Betances and Chad Green will be back in the bullpen.
“Obviously, we have some decisions, a lot of things are going to happen between now and next year,” said manager Aaron Boone. “But I think we’re right there knocking on the door to be (champions). We’re very close to being a championship club right now. We’ve just got to continue to improve on the margins in every facet.”
Yankees general manager Brian Cashman could spend his entire offseason on a beach, throw his cell phone into the ocean, and show up to the team’s spring training complex in Tampa in February knowing he can field a competitive club. After Cashman’s masterful – and shockingly fast – youth movement that started in earnest at the 2016 trade deadline, the Yankees appear positively stacked with young, cost-controlled talent. Torres and Andujar graduated to the majors just this season, and the Yankees still have three guys on the most recent Baseball America Top 100 prospects list as well as a host of promising players around them in the organization.
But Cashman will not stand pat. The Yankees have jockeyed to get below MLB’s luxury-tax threshold to get out from the stiff penalties levied on repeat offenders, and landing below that line in 2018 means they should be able to open their deep coffers on a star-studded free-agent class that includes Bryce Harper and Manny Machado.
Harper, of course, will draw the most headlines come December. Fans and analysts both have pegged him as an inevitable future Yankee since he first landed on baseball’s radar as a teenager. He doesn’t seem a perfect fit for this New York club, especially after it took on Stanton’s massive contract last season, but both parties could find the other so appealing as to find a creative solution.
Starting pitching appears the club’s most obvious need, so Cashman could pursue the likes of Patrick Corbin, Dallas Keuchel and Charlie Morton on the open market. If the Yankees prefer to avoid committing a long-term contract to an aging pitcher – as many teams now do – they could try to trade from their depth in position-player talent to land a young, controllable ace. They’ve got options.
The Red Sox aren’t going away, and the Tampa Bay Rays team that won 90 games in the regular will undoubtedly enter 2019 looking to unseat the establishment juggernauts in the AL East. But no team in the division – and arguably no team in baseball – appears more apt to contend for a championship next year than these Yankees. They have the talent, they have the money, and the bitter taste left in their mouths at the end of their 2018 season will long have subsided when they arrive at spring training to find a clubhouse full of current and burgeoning superstars.