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“65 Mustangs”Lots of New Animals at the Bronx Zoo. 2017 New York Yankees Preview.

The excitement in Tampa, FL this Spring is palpable. Yankee fans are more excited than they have been since the Spring of 1997 after the last major wave of Yankee farm hands put their stamp on a world championship. The Yankees, and Brian Cashman have switched gears over the past few seasons, realizing the machine was wearing down, and they knew they could not bring replacements in slowly from the farm, or with big contracts as they had during the entire Steinbrenner era. They had to rebuild instead of retool in front of a fan base who grew up never having to “play for next year”. Make no mistake, the Yanks’ revenue stream still gives them a major advantage over other teams, especially those in the small markets. The difference is in how they have used that capital to rebuild.

One of the biggest challenges to writing about sports, especially fantasy sports, is to remain objective when writing about one’s own favorite team. I have been a rabid Yankees fan since my father took me to my first game in 1969, then learned the hard way that being a homer is the best way to lose at fantasy baseball.  Over the years I have slowly replaced my unabashed excitement with black and white analysis and unemotional decision-making. Part of it is likely just growing up, but mostly I’ve been jaded by my quest to become an expert in the game of fantasy baseball.

That reality hit home this season when I joined several groups for Yankee fans on Facebook and subscribed to the Yankees Reddit community. Yes, I am admittedly late to the social media party. What I found was people who still had that rabid, undying optimism and excitement about their team and its players that I had lost along the way. And they are not only rabid fans, but extremely knowledgeable about baseball itself, its history, and their players both on the roster and in the deep minor leagues. Thank you to the members of those groups(1) both for bringing me back to something I didn’t realize I missed and for inadvertently helping me write this article.

With my impartial analyst hat back on and my Yankees cap back on the hook, let’s talk about the 2017 Yankees and which players will contribute to your fantasy teams both this season and future seasons, and more importantly for many of you, what you can expect from your favorite team on the field.

2016 Recap: The Yankees 2016 season as well as the two prior seasons marked the end of the MLB careers of several icons and staples of recent teams. Derek Jeter retired after the 2015 season and the rest of the “Core Four” Mo Rivera, Andy Pettitte & Jorge Posada retired in the seasons before that. During 2016 Mark Teixiera hung up his spikes, A-Rod was relieved of his spikes, becoming the most expensive Spring Coach in history.  Carlos Beltran, Ivan Nova, and the more recently acquired Andrew Miller & Aroldis Chapman were used as chips at the deadline. In the off-season Brian McCann was traded and Nathan Eovaldi was allowed to leave as a free agent along with his wild fastball and torn elbow. Talk about an unprecedented purge. Somehow through all the turnover the Yanks managed an 84-78 record and missed the post season by one game. The reward was getting to see some of the farm hands up close for the first time. Called up to replace the departed were Gary Sanchez, Tyler Austin, Aaron Judge, Luis Cessa, Brian Mitchell, Luis Severino, Chad Green, and a handful of relievers. Adam Warren came home in the Chapman trade  to help as well. I don’t need to tell you that Gary Sanchez made the biggest impact, ranking as one of the best hitters in the AL over the season’s last two months, hitting 20 HR and batting .299. His performance reignited the Yanks’ season and the fans’ long hibernating excitement and optimism which has carried over to 2017.

Who is out: See above.

Who is in? Aside from all the rookies listed above,  Matt Holiday & Chris Carter signed as free agents to bring back some veteran leadership and lineup punch, as did Aroldis Chapman who made both the Who’s out & Who’s in lists. Ex Mets Ruben Tejada & Jon Niese also signed for some depth. Potential Impact Prospects coming back in the 2016 trade frenzy include Gleyber Torres SS, Clint Frazier OF, Justus Sheffield, Dillon Tate, Billy McKinney, and Chad Green. 

Rumors have reignited that the Yanks may be pursuing starting pitcher Jose Quintana, who I think would be a great addition depending on the cost in prospects. His value should increase quite a bit getting away from the defensively challenged and anemic Chisox to play in NY. He is also one of my favorite players, but I can’t talk about that now that I changed hats.

Projected Batting Order: I suspect this will be fluid all season depending on which of the rookies breaks camp with the Yanks and/or how soon they come up to the Show. There is also a lot of flexibility both in the number of major league ready players available and the versatility many of them have. Plenty of players are on the bubble as the season draws near, but isn’t that a good problem to have?

Jacoby Ellsbury, CF: The elephant in the room now that all the other elephants have been purged from the team. He is too expensive to trade (21M over next 4 years), too good to sit, but not nearly worth his salary. We need to hope he stays healthy, keeps up his decent OBP and the hitters behind him come through. Other than power his skills have not eroded much and he had the best SO/BB ratio of his career in 2016. In fantasy plug him in your 5th OF spot if he drops far enough and hope he has a bounce back, otherwise let someone else over pay.

Brett Gardner, LF: I may be the only Yankee fan who still has faith in Gardner. He’s gritty and reminds me of my favorite Yankee, Roy White. He still has great on base skills, more so than Ellsbury at half the salary, but declining speed and power. Plus he knows LF at the Stadium pretty well. Likely far better in real baseball than fantasy baseball where he is barely a 5th OF. Besides, who are you going to replace him with until Clint Frazier is ready? Brett’s wife Jessica doesn’t seem worried that he is getting any older.

Gary Sanchez, C: We know what he can do, but the pressure will be on him: batting 3rd in NY and looked on as a savior. Don’t draft him on the hype or the numbers he put up in two months, but he has the potential to hit 30 HR. I’d bet on .275, 25 HR and 80 RBI, but even that makes him a top five catcher. I hope he can handle having the weight of NYC on his broad shoulders. He will be over drafted so stick to your plan.

Matt Holliday, 1B/OF/DH: Professional hitter. Great protection for Sanchez. I bet he still has some good seasons left. I’m drafting him if he drops to mid rounds. I’d be happy if he got back to his pre-injury 2014 season numbers: 20 HR,  90 RBI, .272. At 13M for one season it is not a huge risk. Playing DH may keep him fresh. Between Jessica Gardner and Leslie Holliday I’m wondering if I should shave my head.

Greg Bird, 1B, Chris Carter 1B/DH: The Carter signing looked like it caused a glut of 1B/DH.  But he can also play OF, platoon with Bird, and is great insurance for Bird. Between Holliday, Bird and Carter, there will be plenty of AB’s to go around. Plus Carter only led the NL with 47 HR in 2016. Bird burst onto the scene in 2015 and hit 11 HR in a little over a month. Even though he played five seasons in the minors and missed nearly all of 2016 with a shoulder injury he is only 24. His on base skills are outstanding and he rarely strikes out giving more confidence in his Batting Average translating to the majors. His power is real but not 10 HR per month real. I remember guys like Shane Spencer and Kevin Maas who came up and destroyed AL pitchers for a month only to fade away. I’m having trouble ranking him and would not want to leave the draft with him as my primary 1st sacker, especially with the unknown injury aftereffects. He won’t last long either,  I’m thinking I’ll put him in my Queue around the 14th round. He should grow into his power at 6’4″ 225, though Aaron Judge makes him look short.

Starlin Castro, 2B: The HR are nice but his on base skills are seriously lacking, barely cracking .300 though his early Cubs career OBP is much higher. He’s also striking out more frequently and walking less often, which is usually not a good sign.  He might just be a placeholder for when Gleber Torrez or Jorge Mateo are ready. I’ll take a late round shot at him for one reason. His HR spiked to 21 in his first season in NY, and he turns 27 in two weeks. If he catches the age 27 wind blowing out he could be a sneaky power play at 2b. If not it was just a late round pick.

Didi Gregorious, SS: We also saw a sudden power surge in Didi (20) and much like Castro he just turned 27 himself. Also like Castro he has on base problems and no speed, mainly because he won’t

take a walk (19 in 600 PA’s). In this lineup I have him behind Castro, but some want him 2nd. I just don’t see the on base or base runner moving skills for that. I used him as an injury replacement for Story and got some power, but I don’t know if he is a starting SS in fantasy as SS is so deep this season.

Aaron Judge, RF: A recent article had Aaron Hicks starting over Judge, and another later in the day said the other way around. I like Hicks but I have to believe Judge is the long term RF’er. He has unharnessed Reggie power, but also his strikeouts. He does have a good batting eye and is still young enough (25) to increase contact rates. At 6’7″ 275 he will be a presence, and with the pressure on Sanchez, Judge could blossom and move up in the order. He also could slump and see AAA again, but I’m optimistic. In three Milb seasons he hit near .280 with a .373 OBP. I’ll put him in my queue in round 11 though I’d like to see him closer to 14.

Chase Headley, 3B: The Yankees must miss Yangervis Solarte who they traded for Headley. There is no viable replacement though until Miguel Andujar is ready or Refsnyder takes it. Like Ellsbury this contract was a bust. The Yanks paid for his 30 HR season, and he has not cracked 14 since. He is a fantasy non factor.

Potential battles for bench spots: 

Austin Romine & Kyle Higashioka, C: Higgi looks good, but I like him more as a trade chip. Romine should stay here to backup Sanchez on and off the field.

Rob Refsnyder, Ronald Torreyes, Miguel Andujar, Jorge Mateo, INF: There may only be room for one here. Mateo is a contact hitter with a ton of speed, but may not be ready. Same with Andujar, but if Andujar were to start off well in the minors he could end up with Headley’s gig. Both Refsnyder and Torreyes can play any position, but Refsnyder likely brings more back in trade. Especially as part of a deal for Quintana. None are assured enough playing time to matter in fantasy yet.

Tyler Austin, Aaron Hicks, Mason Williams, Billy McKinney, OF: There may only be one or two from here as well which surely puts Williams and McKinney on the bus home. Hicks has a contract and Girardi loves him so he is in. One of these seasons he is going to show us what he can do, and I hope I own him when he does. Austin may be a victim of numbers, but also one injury from a call up. Long term McKinney seems like the guy to own in a Dynasty.

Starting Pitching: This is where the Yanks need help to field a good competitive team in 2017.

Masahiro Tanaka: The Yanks unquestioned Ace, and he should be a top 20 SP. The only thing holding him back is his trouble reaching 200 IP. But when he is on he is unhittable. In Fanasy drafts many fear the elbow tear he is pitching with which causes him to drop in the draft right into my open arms.

CC Sabathia: After Gardner he is now the longest tenured Yankee. In 2016 he had some brilliant starts , often followed by Home Run parties inflating his ERA. He would be great as a 4th or 5th starter, like the Mets got from Bartolo Colon for two years, but he may be asked to shoulder more of a load than that. In fantasy you have to know when to start him.

Michael Pineda: If Ellsbury is the elephant in the room, Pineda has become the baby elephant, at least with Yankee fans. He has flashes of Brilliance and gets hammered sometimes. His peripheral stats scream top of the rotation starter, with a superb K/BB ratio, but he has to find a way to stop launching HR or it will never happen. They say command is the last thing to return after TJ surgery, especially one as complicated as his. I’d like to see it come back in this, his contract season. I’d draft him as my last starter in Roto, maybe earlier in H to H. He could get it together and you want him when he does.

Battle for last two SP: Brian Mitchell, Luis Cessa, Chad Green, Luis severino, Adam Warren: This is wide open though Warren and Severino could end up in the pen

Relief Pitching:

Aroldis Chapman – Closer: Top two closer in baseball with Kenley Jansen of the Dodgers, back to the Yanks after they traded him right into the Cubs World Series pen. He brought in good chips, I wonder if they’ll do it again. Ha, I doubt it. He loves NY.  He should be one of the first two closers off the board if you draft them that early.

Dellin Betances – Set-Up, Closer: He got a chance to close last season and saved 12 games, but it was not pretty, also blowing five. Overall he still had a top 5 season for a reliever, hardly giving up homers or walks and was 1st in the MLB with a 15.5 K/9. After his nasty arbitration battle he says he shook it off and is ready to go. I hope so as the Yanks need him to shine in the 8th as he has before. I’d draft him ahead of most of the closers for the contributions outside of saves. Plus, Cashman may cash in some chips again.

Tyler Clippard – Set Up: Decent #2 set up man and holds guy. Not likely to sniff too many saves though.

Tommy Lane – LHS: Good source of Holds and more importantly IRS. He nearly always comes in with men on base.

Adam Warren – Long Relief/Spot Starts: I have a feeling Warren is going to be heavily relied upon by the Yanks in 2017. If he is starting check to see how the match up looks.

Battle for remaining RP: Losers from the SP battle, Alfredo Aceves, Ben Heller, Chasen Shreve, D. Ennis, Johnny Barbato, Domingo German, Yeffry Ramirez.

Impact Prospects for 2017:

Gleber Torrez, SS: Could be a future leader on this team. Now Yanks #1 prospect.

Clint Frazier, OF: Frazier is a very talented player with a lot of tools and a lot of red hair. Wait this is the Yankees. He got a hair cut today. He is listed as the #2 prospect in NY.

Jorge Mateo, 2B/SS: May be the most ready of this bunch, and he can play infield or OF.

Miguel Andujar, 3B: Could supplant Headley if things start off badly.

Dustin Fowler, OF: Could be the next Brett Gardner.

Kyle Higashioka, C: Likely could start for some teams, but not here any time soon.

James Kaprielian, SP: Little known pitcher who is showing off top of the rotation stuff.

Thanks for reading, and this was fun talking about my Yanks. Yes, I can be optimistic for the 2017 season and beyond in the real game even if I’m not as bullish in the fantasy games.

Next week we will break down the New York Mets. See you then, and I hope you turned your clocks back.

Joseph.Iannone021@gmail.com   @JoeIannone2 on Twitter

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Major League Fantasy Football 2017 League Openings

(Click the RED link below to listen)

Major League Fantasy Baseball Radio Show: Join Corey D Roberts, and Kyle Amore live on Sunday March 5th, 2017 from 7-9pm EST for episode #77 of Major League Fantasy Baseball Radio. We are a live broadcast that will take callers at 323-870-4395. Press 1 to speak with the host. This week we break down both Central divisions. We will discuss potential lineups, rotations, bullpens, and any minor league potential for each team along with a heavy fantasy spin.

Our guests this week are Hernan Batista, and Jesse Ellison. Jessie is the owner of Ellison Baseball Instruction in S.E. VA. You can visit his organization at ebicamps.com. Hernan is a frequent guest on our shows, and an experienced MLFB league member.

You can find our shows on I-Tunes. Just search for Major League Fantasy Sports in the podcasts section. For Android users go to “Podcast Republic,” then download that app, and search for “Major League Fantasy Sports Show”

______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

(Click the RED link below to listen)

Major League Fantasy Baseball Radio Show: Join Corey D Roberts, and Kyle Amore live on Sunday March 12th, 2017 from 7-9pm EST for episode #78 of Major League Fantasy Baseball Radio. We are a live broadcast that will take callers at 323-870-4395. Press 1 to speak with the host. This week we break down both West divisions. We will discuss potential lineups, rotations, bullpens, and any minor league potential for each team along with a heavy fantasy spin.

Our guests this week are Kevin Bzdek and Kevin O’Hara. Kevin Bzdek is one of our newest additions to our baseball writing staff in 2017. His articles publish every Friday morning. Kevin O’Hara is a big dynasty baseball fan and a moderator for the fantasy baseball community on reddit.com.

You can find our shows on I-Tunes. Just search for Major League Fantasy Sports in the podcasts section. For Android users go to “Podcast Republic,” then download that app, and search for “Major League Fantasy Sports Show”

 

I'm an accountant and an amateur writer of fiction and sports commentary, mostly baseball. I've been a student of the game of baseball since the Dinosaurs roamed the earth, or at least since a few years before the world knew what a designated hitter was. Otherwise, I like "antique" cars of the 60's and 70's and have been a fantasy baseball fanatic since my first draft many years ago. I live in CT with my wife Megan of 25 years, our daughter Caitlin and their (their) cats. I'm also the better looking of the two guys in the the photo.

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