Citak: 5 Biggest Questions Facing Yankees In Spring Training

Matt Citak
February 12, 2019 - 3:21 pm

Most teams around Major League Baseball would be thrilled with a 100-win season. But after the Red Sox took the AL East title with 108 victories and followed that up with a run toward another World Series championship, 2018 turned out to be a disappointment for the Yankees.

New York improved the overall depth of the roster with numerous offseason additions, but that hasn't been enough to get the bitter taste of last season out of fans' mouths. 

With pitchers and catchers set to report to George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, Florida, on Thursday, the time has finally come to turn the page on 2018 and focus on the upcoming season. 

There is no denying that the Yankees have one of the most talented rosters in all of baseball, but the Bronx Bombers still have a few things to resolve before the end of camp.

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With that said, here are the five biggest questions to be answered by the end of Yankees spring training.

1. Will the Gary Sanchez of old return?

Sanchez's struggles throughout the 2018 season were among the biggest disappointments (and surprises) in all of baseball. Following his 2017 All-Star campaign, the catcher hit a measly .186 in 89 games.

The 26-year-old's play behind the plate has always been a cause for concern, but if he can't get his bat going again, then how often will Sanchez play on a team intent on competing for its 28th World Series title?

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Will Sanchez return to being the player who looked destined for superstardom in 2017? Or is the 2018 version of the catcher what we should come to expect?

Spring training will provide us with our first chance to answer this crucial question.

2. Can Giancarlo Stanton offer a little more consistency?

2018 was an up-and-down season for Stanton, his first in pinstripes. He hit .230 in April and .213 in September, but also had months smashing .298 (June) and .323 (July). 

To call Stanton inconsistent would be an understatement. While he wound up hitting .266 with 38 home runs and 100 RBIs, it seemed clear that the boos raining down on him at Yankee Stadium were getting to his head. The slugger had an impressive .300 average on the road, but managed to hit just .229 in front of the home crowd.

The 29-year-old's monster contract is likely one of the big reasons why New York has not been a serious bidder in the Bryce Harper or Manny Machado sweepstakes. Stanton will have to improve at home if he wants Yankees fans to forget about that and truly get behind him.

3. Is Luis Severino ready to become a bona fide ace?

For the first half of the 2018 season, Severino looked like he would be a contender for the AL Cy Young Award. 

The 24-year-old went 14-2 with a 2.31 ERA and 1.01 WHIP in 20 starts over the first half, but he completely fell apart in the second half. Over 12 starts, Severino earned a 5-6 record while racking up a 5.57 ERA and 1.43 WHIP.

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Was the young pitcher tipping his pitches after the All-Star break, and was that what led to his downfall? These are both important questions that the Yankees will certainly be looking to answer by the time the team is ready to break camp.

Following New York's failed pursuit of Patrick Corbin, Severino's success will play a significant role in determining whether or not the Yankees are able to overtake Boston in the AL East.

4. Who starts at first base?

This will be one of the biggest questions manager Aaron Boone must answer during spring training. Will perennial bust Greg Bird finally put the pieces together and win the starting job, or will last season's darling Luke Voit continue his hot hitting in 2019?

Bird managed to suit up in only 82 games last season, hitting .199 with 11 HRs and 38 RBIs. It marked the second consecutive year that the first baseman failed to reach a .200 batting average. 

Voit, on the other hand, was a pleasant surprise for the Yankees. The team acquired him right before the trade deadline, but it wasn't until he was called up to replace the injured Didi Gregorius in late August that he really got a chance to play. In 39 games, Voit hit an impressive .333/.405/.689 to go with 14 HRs and 33 RBIs.

Bird will be under a microscope this spring, as it might be his last chance to prove that he belongs in the big leagues. But if Voit can show that his late-season power surge last year was not a fluke, then it might not matter how Bird performs in March.

5. Will New York regret passing on Machado for Troy Tulowitzki?

Manny Machado is still available on the free agent market. However, all signs point toward the Yankees passing on the young superstar, partly due to the signing of veteran Troy Tulowitzki.

This was surely one of the more puzzling decisions of the entire offseason. Tulowitzki sat out the entire 2018 season due to bone spurs and only appeared in 66 games the year before. In fact, he has not hit above .255 since 2015, yet general manager Brian Cashman decided to roll the dice on him to man the shortstop position until Gregorius is ready to return.

Of course, New York will only be paying Tulowitzki the veteran minimum ($555,000) as the Blue Jays released him with two years and $38 million left on his contract. This was obviously a very low-risk move, one that will cost the Yankees significantly less money than signing Machado would have.

But for a team with its eyes set on a World Series title in 2019, was this the right move? Only time will tell.

Matt Citak is a web producer for WFAN Sports Radio. Check him out on Twitter at @MatthewCitak