The Yankees should field better this season. Whether they’ve improved on the mound and at the plate remains to be seen.
New York’s key moves after its 12th straight unsuccessful season were to trade catcher Gary Sánchez and acquire shortstop Isiah Kiner-Falefa in a move that allows Gleyber Torres to play second base.
Sánchez led the AL in passed balls in three of the last five seasons, and pitchers threw 60 wild pitches with Sánchez behind the plate last year, a career high. Torres was moved to second base last Sept. 13 after making 18 errors, second-most among AL shortstops at the time of his move.
“We feel by doing this trade that we’ve upgraded defensively and offensively at third, defensively at shortstop, placed Gleyber at a position he’s best at — at second base — so on the infield side, we’ve upgraded three different ways,” general manager Brian Cashman said. “And improved the defense on the catching side, as well. It was with one transaction with one particular team that solved a lot of areas of focus that we had targeted.”
Kiner-Falefa was third among qualified AL shortstops with 10 defensive runs saved last year, while Torres was at minus-10.
“He’s going to get that chance to be that everyday guy and run with it. Doesn’t lack confidence, he’s going to bring some athleticism to defense,” Cashman said.
Josh Donaldson, the 2015 AL MVP, was acquired in the trade and takes over at third from Gio Urshela, who was dealt to the Twins along with Sánchez, Now 36, Donaldson had 26 homers and 72 RBIs last year, well off the 41 homers and 123 RBIs of his MVP season.
“The reality is, we have a lot of great people in that room, a lot of great players in that room, and for all the ups and downs that we had last year, we still managed to get to the playoffs with all those guys,” manager Aaron Boone said. “We also feel like there’s guys in there, a handful of guys, that didn’t have their best year, and we certainly expect guys to come and in some cases hopefully continue to duplicate what they’ve done but hopefully we’re able to see some improvement with guys as well. There’s no excuses no matter what happens. We expect to be a great team. The expectations are high in that room and that won’t change.”
Anthony Rizzo is the first baseman after being acquired ahead of the trade deadline last summer. New York re-signed the left-handed hitter and dealt 2020 home run champion Luke Voit to San Diego.
Center fielder Aaron Hicks is back after missing most of last season with a wrist injury.
Joey Gallo, another trade deadline acquisition, figures to get most of the time in left field.
ROOKIE TO WATCH
Clarke Schmidt, a 26-year-old right-hander, is likely to start the season at Triple-A after missing a large chunk of last year with a shoulder injury. He debuted with the Yankees in September 2020 and pitched just 6 1/3 innings in the major leagues last year. With Domingo Germán starting the season on the 60-day injured list due to shoulder impingement, a good few weeks in the minors could lead to a promotion for Schmidt.
While Gerrit Cole (16-8, 3.23 ERA) and left-hander Jordan Montgomery (6-7, 3.83) seem set at the top of the rotation, the rest looks shaky, Luis Severino (1-0, 0.00 ERA) pitched six innings over four games last year following Tommy John surgery and had a spring training start pushed back because of body soreness.
“I feel like it is general and us being cautious,” Boone said. “But anytime I say that about a pitcher, especially his stature and what he’s been through, yeah, it gives you a little bit (of a pause).”
Jameson Taillon (8-6, 4.30) has a history of injuries. Left-hander Nestor Cortes Jr. (2-3, 2.90) could be the fifth starter.
Aaron Judge (.287, 39 homers, 98 RBIs) and Giancarlo Stanton (.273, 35, 97) stayed healthy for most of last year and keyed the offense.