After a long winter, pitchers and catchers reported for the Yankees today. Manager Aaron Boone gave his first press conference of the 2021 season; he addressed the media about various topics expectations for the team as well as expectations for individual players.
There were several great questions and answers during the conference which are highlighted below including the uncertainty of who the fifth starter is, expectations for players, and Boone also addressed outfielder Brett Gardner still being a free agent.
Q: Aaron, do you feel that you are equipped to chase a world championship; do you feel like you have the players in place?
A: “I do, absolutely, talk is always cheap, obviously at this point, but I really like the winter that we’ve had, with some of the additions we’ve made, I think we’re going to be impactful. To go along with the makeup of this team that is of championship caliber. And certainly, that’s what we’re here to try and do, and to try to accomplish, and we get to start that tomorrow. And you know, a lot of the groundwork is laid, a lot of that foundation is laid throughout the winter with guys in their off-season programs, but now we get to come together as a team and start trying to lay what we hope is that championship foundation.”
Despite staying under the luxury tax, the Yankees should be one of the favorites for the AL title once again as well as the World Series. Cashman made a lot of upgrades this winter with the restrictions put in place by ownership. He created a pitching staff with tons of upside in Corey Kluber and Jameson Taillon. Also, Domingo German will be returning from his suspension and Luis Severino should be back in the summer
On the offensive side of the ball, they brought back DJ LeMahieu for the next six years and Clint Frazier will be the starting left fielder. There is no reason the Yankees should want anything less than a World Series title once again.
Q: Do you see Clint Frazier as the starting left fielder at this point?
A: I do, you know Clint has obviously come a long way in every aspect of this game and certainly earned his place last year when nothing was given to him. He had to earn everything really the last couple of years. He has been a contributor going back really since the first year I was here and last year proved he was ready to grab an everyday role on this team and especially the improvements he has made in every aspect of his game and I feel like at his age with his experience now and his success and the confidence he has built has put him in position to go into this camp as an everyday player and he has certainly earned that.”
No surprise here. The starting left field job is now Frazier’s to lose. The improvements he has made on defense are night and day. In 2018/2019, he struggled to read routine fly balls. Last season, he was a Gold Glove finalist. Frazier showed his resilience to not give up when things got tough and he has shown that he has earned the job up to this point. If the Yankees organization did not truly believe Frazier is the left fielder for the future, they likely would have re-signed Gardner by now.
Q: Have you spoken to Brett (Gardner) at all, do you actually believe you’ll go into the season without Brett?
A: “We’ll see. he’s still a free agent. I have not spoken to Brett in the past several weeks, so you never know what can happen or transpire. We’ll see, obviously he’s been a great Yankee, but we’ll just see how things unfold here.”
Entering Spring Training, the only question that remains around the team is will the Yankees bring back Gardner? He was the longest-tenured Yankee on last year’s team and has been a leader for the clubhouse. If the Yankees can make it work and stay under the luxury tax, I think they should still re-sign him. It never hurts to have more depth in the outfield especially given the injuries the outfield has seen in recent years. Gardner is an excellent left fielder and can still play center field as well. It also cannot be stated how important he was to the clubhouse like how CC Sabathia was.
Q: Should there be concerns over players coming off injuries in the starting rotation?
A: “When you look at the names and the track records, you know there’s a lot of talented people and I think everyone can acknowledge that. Also acknowledge some of the risks and the questions that certain people have when you bring in Jamo and Corey, who haven’t pitched a lot in the last couple of years. We feel they’re in a good place and can make us championship-caliber contributors to the team, but time will tell.”
The risks in the rotation are well known, but the ceiling cannot be higher for this group. Kluber and Taillon both have not pitched a full season since 2018. Severino will be returning from Tommy John this summer and German has been out of the league since mid-2019. However, the Yankees have plenty of depth in the rotation. Should a starter go down at some point, they have plenty of starters behind to fill in the gaps. Boone stated during the press conference that the fifth starter spot is up for grabs with German, Deivi Garcia, and Clarke Schmidt all in the running for it. Garcia proved himself to be capable last season, Schmidt will hopefully take another step in becoming a reliable starter and the opener experiment with Chad Green has also proven to be effective.
Q: How will Miguel Andujar be included this year?
A: “We’ll see, the thing about Miggy is nothing has changed as far as the talent. He’s at an age where he technically should be entering the prime of his career, and obviously, the last two seasons for him, with the injury and the last year not getting a lot of regular at-bats, it’s a challenge. But obviously, he’s got loads of talent. We love the person, and the makeup, we just have to see how things unfold. He’ll get looks at third and in the outfield and at first base, and when those opportunities arise, which inevitably they usually do, you’ve got to be able to take advantage of them and it certainly has the talent to do that.”
As it has been the past few years, there is no place for Andujar on this team, unfortunately. He will be lucky to be on the bench on Opening Day. However, it never hurts to have this much depth. Injuries are bound to happen and the next man up will be asked to step up. If Andujar can find playing time before the trade deadline, he can help increase his value and he could be a once again valuable trade chip when the deadline comes.
Seeing Boone behind the microphone again was nice after there were questions about if the season would even start on time this year. There were no big surprises in this press conference. However, he did not close the door on a potential reunion with Gardner despite naming Frazier the starting left fielder. As Spring Training ramps up, more of our questions will begin to be answered including who the fifth starter will be and will Gary Sanchez get back to his former self.