Yankees Playing With House Money And Little Margin Of Error

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

The Yankees enter the new season essentially playing with house money. There is little margin for error and, individually, players are competing for their baseball future.

The Yankees enter the 2017 season with predictions of a finish no higher than third in the AL East, and some even put them fourth behind the Baltimore Orioles. All of the pressure is centered in Boston where the Red Sox have put together a team that is formidable and proven.

Expectations, though, can be cruel and the pressure unrelenting over the course of a six-month 162-game season. Just ask, for instance, the Washington Nationals about their experience in 2015 when they spent the whole season trying to get out of their own way, allowing the Mets to grab the title and spiral into the World Series.

The Yankees are defending nothing this year. Instead, they are poised to create a juggernaut of trouble for any and all of their opponents. And if their Spring Training record is an indication of anything, it’s that this team is armed and ready to enter the conflict.

When it comes to the pitching staff, and especially the starting rotation, there is no margin of error.

Well, maybe not necessarily armed but we’ll get to that later. At the same time, though, there is little margin for error for the team that Joe Girardi has hand-picked to start the season. The veteran trio of Jacoby Ellsbury, Brett Gardner, and Chase Headley has to do more than they did last season when the Yankees finished in the bottom third in team runs scored.

And that’s the big “if” when you talk about the 2017 Yankees. Girardi nailed it when he said that all these guys need to do is to play at the level they are capable of, inferring that the rest of the team can carry them if they just do that. There’s that if again.

Only A Bit Of Wiggle Room

The team made some bold moves yesterday, and all of them fall into this little margin error scenario as well. They made Aaron Judge sweat out the entire spring under the illusion that he was subject to being replaced by Aaron Hicks. And that turned out to be a good thing as Judge responded winning the job in his own right.

The Yankees talked at times about Luis Severino as though he was an afterthought and they were just going through the motions with him before they would send him down for “more seasoning.” In the end, though, Severino is the fourth starter, and he’ll be given the opportunity to forge his future in New York, and possibly in all of baseball.

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By default, Girardi tagged Ronald Torreyes as the shortstop replacing Didi Gregorius knowing that the bright lights of the Big City will be shining on this largely untested player for at least the next six weeks. Unlike the team, though, Torreyes is not playing with house money. This is his chance.

So, on many levels, you have this disparity between a team with modest expectations this season and players who do not have that luxury and know that their job(s) with the Yankees are tenuous at best. And if they read the papers, and all of them do despite what they say, they’ll hear the hoofbeats of those coming up behind them all season long.

In many ways, it’s a perfect storm for the Yankees. Because it means that the team can be loose and easy in the clubhouse at the same time they’re a tarantula on the field when individuals are tested on a daily basis.

Zero Wiggle Room With The Pitching

When it comes to the pitching staff, and especially the starting rotation, there is no margin of error. Much like the Dodgers, who if Clayton Kershaw goes down for any significant length of time, their season is threatened when they turn to the likes of Rich Hill and Brandon McCarthy for help; the Yankees are tethered to Masahiro Tanaka.

CC Sabathia, bless his heart, will gut it out for one more season, but his contributions are subject to question. The difference could be as stark as him finishing 13-9 instead of 9-13. The team will get innings from him, but beyond that, and much like Michael Pineda, it’s a crapshoot as to what the Yankees wind up with regarding effectiveness.

The Yankees are also a team that no team can afford to take for granted when they roll into town for a series

And perhaps it’s telling that Joe Girardi decided to keep both Adam Warren and Bryan Mitchell on the squad, predicting that long relief needs will be high over the long haul. Both Mitchell and Warren competed for a spot in the rotation until the final days. They’re stretched out and can be used in a variety of ways by Girardi.

Darkhorses loom in the background, though, and by season’s end, both Jordan Montgomery and Chad Green could ride to the rescue if needed and one of them will man the fifth spot in the rotation regardless.

And beyond that duo, Chance Adams, Justus Sheffield, and James Kaprielian will be taking regular turns in the minors, and any or all of them could be ready to pitch in the majors by mid-summer.

Yankees Are Poised To Surprise

2017, by any stretch, is not a throwaway season for the Yankees. While the pressure is removed from the team and centered more in Boston and Toronto, individually there is a multitude of players who have something to prove this season and precious little time to prove it.

Even proven talents like Gary Sanchez and Greg Bird will, and should, feel the pressure of knowing the team is relying on them for run production and taking turns carrying the team on their back.

But overall, this is a team playing with house money this year. And it’s also a team that no team can afford to take for granted when they roll into town for a series. It all begins on Sunday in Tampa Florida. Strap in and enjoy the ride.