It’s been a while since any of us has shared a thoughts post, hasn’t it? Not like there’s been much going on in the Yankees’ universe, anyway. We have heard a bit more from the team in the media of late, whether it’s appearances on the YES Network hot stove show or elsewhere. And now that I’ve finished shoveling (twice already), I have some thoughts on what we’ve heard from in recent days, so let’s get to it.
On the latest with DJ LeMahieu. By now you’ve surely seen the reports that the Yankees and DJ LeMahieu are $25 million apart in contract negotiations. Sounds bad, doesn’t it? But really, it’s not. The difference here really is a matter of years, not money. Per the initial NJ.com report, LeMahieu’s camp is seeking $100 million over five seasons, whereas the Yankees prefer four years for $75 million. We’re really talking about one year difference in term and $1.25 million in average annual value.
LeMahieu turns 33 in July and the Yankees’ preference is to have his contract end sooner. That’s always sensible with a player entering his mid-to-late thirties. Meanwhile, LeMahieu wants to scratch out as much as he can since this likely is his final chance to cash in. Also sensible! But perhaps most importantly in this negotiation, both sides have clearly signaled a desire to reunite. At some point, I imagine the Yankees and LeMahieu will compromise on some sort of option for that fifth year.
Now, I must admit all of this admiration and negotiation through the media has grown a little tiring for me. Just get a deal done, already. A blogger needs some news to keep content going, you know.
Even considering my own impatience, I am a little confused about the Yankees unwillingness to do anything until the LeMahieu situation is resolved. The Yankees have something like $30 million of space below the first luxury tax threshold and it’s not like LeMahieu is going to eat up all of that. Sure, he’ll take up a good chunk, but there should still be something like $10 million to play with. I get that the front office isn’t going to turn and sign say, Marcus Semien, since that would eliminate them from retaining LeMahieu. But what about some position player depth? Another relief arm? I don’t know. Again, I’m desperate for something.
In the last decade, the Yankees did not have an AL MVP. They didn’t have a Cy Young winner. They earned one Rookie of the Year, one Comeback Player of the Year and two Relievers of the Year.
For the team that produced the most regular season wins in the 2010s, that’s surprising. The Bombers still had an impressive collection of talent that rivals previous decades of the organization.
We decided to put together the Yankees’ best team of the last decade in two parts. First, in this edition, we’ve assembled a 25-man roster of the best players the team had in the 2010s, taking into account the whole of their accomplishments. In Part II, we’ll take a look at the individual seasons that stood out and merited inclusion here.
Let’s get to positions.
Catcher: Gary Sánchez
The Yankees have had good production from catcher in the 2010s, but it has come from a variety of players. Jorge Posada, Russell Martin, Chris Stewart, Brian McCann and Sánchez have all held down the job, with a healthy dose of Francisco Cervelli in-between. On the whole, pinstriped backstops have a 98 wRC+ and 40.8 fWAR, good for third and fourth-best in all of baseball in the span.
Of the aforementioned catchers, Sánchez has been the best of them this decade (2000s Jorge Posada would be a different question). In 3 1/2 full seasons, he’s bashed 105 home runs, more than any catcher in baseball since 2016. It’s four more than Yasmani Grandal, and 29 more than the next hitter. For his defensive warts, the Kraken is still a tremendous force.
First Base: Mark Teixeira
Teixeira’s best season in pinstripes was his debut in 2009, when he produced 5.3 WAR, finished second in MVP voting and won both a Gold Glove and Silver Slugger. His 2010s, particularly after 2011, were injury-filled as his steady switch-hitting bat was taken out of the lineup far too often.
For the first half of the decade, the Yankees went as Teixeira went. He was still productive from 2010-12, producing 11.3 bWAR and winning two Gold Gloves. When a wrist injury derailed both his 2013 and ’14 seasons, the Yankees’ offense lacked the necessary juice to reach the postseason. Then, when Tex regained All-Star form in 2015, he became the driving force to an unlikely wild card bid.
Second Base: Robinson Canó
Starlin Castro proved a fine stopgap and Gleyber Torres is going to man the middle of the Yankees’ infield for at least the next five years at least. However, Canó was the best Yankees second baseman in recent memory and his breakout season coincided with the turn of the decade.
From 2010 to 2013, Canó batted .312/.373/.533 (142 wRC+) and finished no worse than sixth in MVP voting every season while playing no fewer than 159 games. He slugged 117 homers and 176 doubles in that span and made up for his lack of walks (#KabakHat) by putting the ball in play with his line-drive swing. While Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter defined the 2009 World Series run on offense, Canó was the catalyst for the last gasps of that title window.
Shortstop: Didi Gregorius
This is the first one with two legitimate candidates, though Gregorius ultimately runs away with the honor. Jeter held down shortstop longer than he likely should have, yet he made four All-Star teams, somehow won a Gold Glove and was 2012 hit king, all 2010 or later.
Gregorius, meanwhile, had to come from underneath Jeter’s shadow, but he learned to excel in the Bronx and became a fan favorite in his own right. His defense kept him steady, yet it was his shockingly powerful bat that won the Bronx faithful over. He now owns the record for most home runs in a season by a Yankee shortstop (Gleyber nearly qualified to break it in 2019) and has more than a few memorable playoff homers to his ledger.
Third Base: Alex Rodriguez
By the end of the decade, A-Rod was in the broadcast booth. Before that, he was a DH. Before that, he was suspended for a year. And before that, injuries and age had sapped his production and turned him from MVP to mere All-Star.
Still, Rodriguez had back-to-back-to-back 4.0 WAR seasons from 2010-12 and launched 113 homers, including two 30-dinger years. I’m including his bounceback at DH under here, even though his 2015-16 seasons included all of 18 innings at the hot corner.
A-Rod had an eclectic group of successors. They include Chase Headley, the brief rise of Yangervis Solarte, Todd Frazier’s three months and Miguel Andújar, as well as the out-of-nowhere Gio Urshela in 2019. The last two are contenders for best season at third in NY this decade, but they don’t have the longevity of Rodriguez.
Left Field: Brett Gardner
The de facto Yankees captain of the last five years, Gardner is the longest-tenured Yankee for a reason. He started in center field for brief, non-congruous periods, but he became a Gold Glover in left field. It’s insane to think back to 2009 Gardner, who hit only three dongs, and then realize he hit 121 dingers over the following decade.
In addition to that, Gardner led the Bombers with 228 stolen bases in the 2010s and was successful on 80.5 percent of his steals. He’s not quite the spritely slap hitter of yesteryear, but he’s adjusted to the game and stayed in pinstripes all the while.
Center Field: Curtis Granderson
Aaron Hicks has an argument after usurping Jacoby Ellsbury in 2017 and playing well in center for the last three years. However, this is Granderson’s job, even with a move to left field by the end of his time in the Bronx.
Granderson hit 84 homers between the 2011 and ’12 seasons, leading baseball in runs scored and RBI in 2011. His weak arm made him a liability at times in the outfield, but he was a wrecking ball at the plate. His 2011 season, which was his second in New York, was a career year and the best from a Yankee center fielder since prime Bernie Williams.
Right Field: Aaron Judge
Judge transformed the Yankees in 2017. When he became an MVP-type player, the Bombers became contenders with him as their leader. If he were a one-hit (or 52-homer) wonder after 2017, dayenu. Yet he’s improved in some ways, becoming a more selective hitter and having his overall numbers only hampered by injury.
Nick Swisher deserves mention here as an All-Star and fan favorite in his own right. Funny enough, the compensation pick for letting Swisher go was the one the Yankees used to pick Judge. It all comes full circle.
Designated Hitter: Giancarlo Stanton
With A-Rod at third base, there’s no clear cut DH like a David Ortiz or Hideki Matsui to put here. Posada, Eric Chavez, Raul Ibanez, Marcus Thames and Matt Holliday each had one good year with a host of a DH ABs, but Stanton gets the crown both with how he carried the team to the postseason in 2018 and how he stuck around for a second year.
Stanton will likely be one of the few players on this list that could repeat at his position in the 2020s, alongside Judge and Sanchez. Ideally, he’d play enough left field to earn recognition there, but his injury history makes that a debatable assumption.
If you’re putting these nine players into a lineup, weighing the player they were this decade, it’d go something like this:
Actual bench players: Cervelli, Andruw Jones, Chris Young, Ronald Torreyes
Next best to form bench: Martin, Gleyber, Swisher, Hicks or Jeter
You can go at building the bench in two ways: You can either use the actual bench players from the previous 10 years, or you can take the next best players that missed the list and try to back up each position. I give you both.
In the first one, Cervelli is listed as the starter in 2010 on Baseball Reference, but he was the primary backup for a few seasons. Jones and Young each had a great season as a platoon bat, while Torreyes was a steady utility man, never hitting all that well, but doing just enough to stay rostered.
In the second scenario, Martin or McCann could get the spot while Swisher is an easy choice as an outfielder and backup first baseman. Torres can backup the middle infield and third base in a pinch, which leaves it down to Hicks or Jeter. Either will do, I’ll take Hicks for an actual bench spot.
You can quibble with the order of the rotation as long as you put Sabathia at the top. There isn’t much you need to say about him. He was the heart and soul of the Yankees for 11 years and both served as an ace and a steady back-end starter.
Kuroda is one of the most underappreciated Yankees of the 21st century. He was only in the Bronx for three years, yet he outpaced his four seasons in Los Angeles in that time. It’s a shame he only got to pitch on one playoff team in New York.
Tanaka and Severino have been the Opening Day starters since Sabathia ceded the role in recent seasons and they’re both worthy of the honor. Tanaka looked like an ace before his Tommy John scare and has been a steadying presence with a knack for the big game since. Severino, meanwhile, is closer to actual ace-hood when healthy and his stretch from the start of 2017 to mid-2018 is about as good as any Yankee pitcher in the last couple decades.
The last spot was tough, choosing between Ivan Nova, Phil Hughes, Michael Pineda and Pettitte. The Bombers haven’t had tremendous starting pitching depth this decade and it shows in this. Pettitte got the spot because he was truly excellent, albeit in just 121 innings, in 2010, and was solid again in his final two seasons after his first retirement. An added bonus is how he helped Sabathia turn into a crafty lefty in his own mold.
Closer: Mariano Rivera Middle Relief: Dellin Betances, Aroldis Chapman, David Robertson, Andrew Miller, Chad Green Long Man: Adam Warren
There’s a legitimate case for Chapman or Robertson as the closer, but how could you not go with Rivera? He was still at the top of his game in 2010 and was excellent still over his final two full seasons. Over 193 2/3 innings after turning 40 just before the 2010 season, he had a 1.95 ERA (216 ERA+) with 167 strikeouts to 30 walks and a 0.929 WHIP.
The middle relief is a murderer’s row of potential or actual closers. Betances was the best reliever in baseball from 2014 to 2018. Chapman probably has the title since Rivera retired. Robertson and Miller were lights out and helped lead superbullpens that made the post-Mo years tolerable. Green, meanwhile, is a multi-inning stud and his 2017 season is up there with 1996 Mo and 2014 Betances for best New York reliever seasons of the last 30 years.
I figured, if we’re putting together an actual roster, we might as well put in a long man, a role that Warren fit like a glove. He was a great swingman in the Bronx and even did OK as a middle reliever. If you’re going with the next best reliever of the decade, Tommy Kahnle or Rafael Soriano are each worthy of inclusion.