Pressing Fantasy Baseball Questions: The 2018 New York Yankees

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Scott Pianowski
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The Yankees haven’t won a World Series since 2009. They’ve won just one playoff series in five years. They have a new manager and uncertainty in three-quarters of their infield.

It doesn’t matter. It’s time to start calling them Damn Yankees again. These guys are stacked.

The Yanks quietly had a comeback season last year — finishing one game short of the World Series — and the team has been upgraded for 2018. With all due respect to the other strong clubs in baseball, our delve into Fantasy 2018 has to start here.

That’s what a Giancarlo Stanton trade will do for you.

Stanton’s joining an offense that went bonkers for most of 2017. The Bombers were second in runs scored, first in homers, fourth in slugging. They scored runs at home (third) and they piled them up on the road (fourth). Aaron Judge was the best fantasy hitter in the American League, and Gary Sanchez blew all the catchers away.

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Let’s get to the pressing questions, starting with the new kid in town.

Q: So about that Stanton, how high do we draft him? First? Second? Early in the first round?

A: Not so fast, grasshopper. While the upside of Stanton is thrilling to think about, we have to also consider the significant injury risk he’s carried his entire career.

First, the fun stuff. Stanton is coming off a monstrous .281/.376/.631 year in Miami, with 59 homers. He scored 123 runs, knocked in 132. And now he’s moving to a league and a park that favors offense, and shifting to a team that was a scoring machine last year.

The ballpark differences cannot be understated. Miami’s Fish Bowl trims scoring by 16 percent and drops right-handed power by 17 percent. Meanwhile, Yankee Stadium is a mild boost to scoring (three percent) and a major float to right-handed pop (23 percent). Yahtzee.

Now, back to those pesky injury concerns. Is Stanton injury-prone or accident-prone? He played in every game last year, but that’s on the heels of a spotty track record: 119, 74, 145, 116, 123 games played. Over that five-year period, he missed an average of 47 games per season. The presence of the DH could help Stanton avoid some aches and pains, though it’s not clear if the Yankees will use him primarily in that role.

I’m more driven by floor than upside when I make early picks, so I have Stanton cautiously ranked No. 11 on my initial 2018 board. He’s No. 12 in the Yahoo composite ranks. I’d be more tempted to go for Stanton in a medium or shallow league — where theoretical replacement value would be lofty — and less intrigued in deep leagues where injuries are more damaging. But if you prefer to focus on his new park and team, last year’s pinball line, and a full season without injury, I can’t definitively say you’re wrong. This is why we have a game.

Q: Okay, killjoy. If you’re not in on Stanton, how about Judge, his new running mate?

A: I wouldn’t say I’m dismissing Judge out of hand, but it’s not difficult to build a fade case, either. I’ll be open minded in the middle of the second round.

Judge was a three-true-outcome story for most of 2017 — a bushel of homers (52), a ton of strikeouts (208), a bevy of walks (127). The whiffs are far more acceptable in the shape of today’s game, and although Judge’s .357 BABIP looks like an outlier, it’s supported by a hard-hit rate of 45.3 percent (second in the majors).

So what’s not to like? Judge has done it just once. He hit a mediocre .228 in the second half, as the league started to make adjustments on him. He’s coming off arthroscopic surgery on his left shoulder, though (as usual) the team and player aren’t worried about it.

Judge’s power is undeniable, but I can’t project anyone to hit 50 home runs. He probably won’t be a batting-average drain, but a chunk of regression is expected from last year’s .284. Will the shoulder be fine in April? I’m not going to automatically assume that. Judge looks like a reasonable pick in the second round, but with so many other offensive players with safer track records, I don’t expect to be dialing No. 99.

If you want a pro-Judge stance, my colleagues are here to oblige. Andy Behrens currently ranks Judge No. 12 on his board (ahead of Stanton, in fact), while Dalton Del Don slots Judge No. 14.

Q: What’s the ETA on hot infield prospect Gleybar Torres?

A: I’m guessing we’ll see Torres in the middle of the season, though the Yankees have no need to rush him. He’s only 21, he had Tommy John surgery in June, and it might make sense to keep his service clock from starting. Torres played in just 55 games last year, with 23 of them coming at Triple-A (.309/.406/.457). He’s ranked third, fifth, and sixth on the primary prospect boards.

The position isn’t clear on Torres, either. He’s been a shortstop for most of his minor-league career, but the Yankees already have the capable Didi Gregorius. Torres has seen spot duty at second and third base, and it will be interesting to see if that becomes a priority this year, with an eye to him impacting the 2018 Yankees season.

Pinstripe Patter: Brett Gardner has a consistent scan over the last five years, and although he can’t be counted on for a plus average, he should contribute in the other four categories. And assuming he keeps the leadoff spot here, look at all the run producers after him . . . Some might criticize Gregorius for his hack-first mentality, but I don’t care about non-walkers, so long as they make contact. Gregorius struck out just 12.3 percent of the time last year and has 45 homers over two seasons. He’s a value play at shortstop, and the rare Yankee who’s actually underrated . . . The New York staff isn’t as exciting as the offense, on paper, but it’s also driving the legitimate 2018 hype. Last year’s New York pitchers ranked fifth in ERA (fifth among starters, third among relievers). And no one significant was lost from that formidable crew . . . Sonny Gray shifted from the expansive Oakland Mausoleum to the homer-friendly Yankee Stadium and paid a price — his HR/9 rate doubled after the deadline deal. Gray’s front-door ERA only bumped slightly, but he also had a 4.87 FIP with the Yankees, tiptoeing some favorable luck. Gray should get sublime offensive and bullpen support in his first full New York season, but he might not be able to keep that ERA under 4. Caveat emptor . . . Relief pitcher Chad Green was one of the finds of the year, collecting an insane 103 strikeouts — against just 17 walks — over 69 innings. A 1.83 ERA and 0.74 WHIP will play in any format. The Yankees have ridiculous depth in the bullpen and might press Green into a starting role if anything happens to the incumbents there, but I suspect most of Green’s work will come in relief again. I’d be surprised if Green fell off the map, but this is not the type of outlier season to chase after — reliever performance is highly volatile. The goal should be to find the next Green (I like looking for them after 3-5 weeks of results are in), not pony up for last year’s model.

Yankees Projected Lineup

LF Brett Gardner

RF Aaron Judge

DH Giancarlo Stanton

1B Greg Bird

C Gary Sanchez

SS Didi Gregorius

CF Aaron Hicks

3B Miguel Andujar

2B Ronald Torreyes

Yankees Projected Rotation

SP Masahiro Tanaka

SP Luis Severino

SP CC Sabathia

SP Sonny Gray

SP Jordan Montgomery

CL Aroldis Chapman

RP David Robertson

RP Dellin Betances

RP/SP Chad Green