Yankees Talk: Joe Girardi Expects to Battle for the AL East Title

: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /

In his final contractual season with the Yankees, manager Joe Girardi says he fully expects his club to compete with the Boston Red Sox for the AL East title.

In a sure sign of things Yankees fans want to hear headed into the 2017 season, manager Joe Girardi says that although many feel his club is one going through a transitional period because of the young players being utilized at positions of importance, he still fully expects to challenge the presumptive favorite Boston Red Sox for the American League East title.

On Wednesday afternoon, before watching his alma mater Northwestern take on Pittsburgh in the Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee  Stadium, Girardi told the New York Daily News, “These are good players, and these are impactful players, so I think we’re a club that is fighting for our division. That’s who I think we are. Obviously, there will probably be more competition in spring training than maybe in any year I’ve ever been here, but that’s a good thing. I think competition brings out the best [in people], and I think there’s a group of young players that’s really close and really push each other and pull for each other, and a lot of them play the same position, but I think it’s a great thing, and I expect to fight for the division. Your first goal is to win your division, and that’s what we’re going to try to do.”

Some of the competition Girardi is referring to will likely take place at first base between Greg Bird (who is coming back from missing the entire 2016 season due to shoulder surgery) and second-year player Tyler Austin, who could split time between first base, DH, and one of the already crowded corner outfield positions.

Other than that, the No. 4 and No. 5 spots in the starting rotation will be up for grades, with the likes of Luis Cessa, Luis Severino, Tyler Greene, and possibly even Adam Warren getting first cracks. For those hoping for Dietrich Enns, Chance Adams, Jordan Montgomery or James Kaprielian to get their feet wet at the big league level, you’ll likely have to wait until one of the names with past Major League experience fails to cement his claim.

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When asked about the Red Sox further bolstering their already solid pitching staff with former White Sox ace Chris Sale now in tow, Girardi offered praise for the Yankees’ divisional rivals but reminded us all that his team too got incrementally better this offseason.

“Obviously they’ve [Red Sox] improved their club in adding him,” Girardi said of Sale. “He’s an outstanding pitcher. He’s had success in Chicago — a Cy Young candidate every year is who this guy is. They’ve improved their club. We’ve tried to improve our club, and the bottom line in this game is you’ve got to go play it on the field. On paper, it doesn’t really mean anything. Injuries happen and change the dynamics of teams. Sometimes guys don’t have the years you expect them to have. You gotta go play the games on the field.”

If Girardi hopes to secure another long-term contract as manager of the Yankees, he’ll have to surpass last season’s 84-78 record and compete well into September for a playoff berth. Should this team take a step back in its overall development of young players and proper usage of veteran leaders, then Girardi could find himself as a scapegoat at the first sign of trouble.

If I were a betting man, I’d venture to say that we should have a good idea of where the current manager of Yankees stands in regards to the future of the organization by the 2017 All-Star break.

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The Yankees don’t necessarily have to be in first place by July 10, but they certainly have to be playing better baseball than the Tampa Bay Rays, depleted Toronto Blue Jays, and maybe even the Baltimore Orioles —  because according to Girardi, the only team he’s worried about at the moment resides in Boston.