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New York Yankees

Full seasons of 2017 additions have Yankees poised for improvement

Gary Phillips

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Feb 17, 2018; Tampa, FL, USA; New York Yankees starting pitcher Sonny Gray (55) throws during spring training workouts at George M. Steinbrenner Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Much fuss has been made over the moves the New York Yankees made this offseason, but let’s not forget about the pieces acquired last summer.

Giancarlo Stanton has stolen the spotlight this winter, and rightfully so. He’s the reigning NL MVP and the obvious starting point when arguing why the Yankees will improve in 2018. Aside from him, however, the Yankees made a few other impactful transactions, re-signing CC Sabathia and trading for Brandon Drury. Strictly in terms of quantity, it’s been a hushed offseason for the Yankees.

That’s because they filled most of their holes in the middle of last season.

Pre-deadline deals for Sonny Gray, David Robertson, Tommy Kahnle and Todd Frazier shored up New York for the second half in 2017. While Frazier bolted for Queens in free agency, the three pitchers are returning for the entirety of 2018. Like Stanton, their presence for a full slate is a reason to believe the Yankees will be better than they were a year ago.

Start with Robertson, who is now in his second stint with the Yankees after the White Sox traded him alongside Kahnle and Frazier.

He was fantastic for New York last season, recording a 1.03 ERA, 0.743 WHIP and 13.1 K/9 in 35 innings. A closer when he left Chicago, Robertson assumed a do-it-all role back in pinstripes. He did whatever was needed of him, no matter the inning, duration or situation. He was especially effective in the postseason, when five of his eight appearances lasted at least 1 2/3 innings.

As Robertson gets ready for 2018, he’s prepared to once again pitch as needed, providing the Yankees a bullpen weapon at any given moment.

The same can be said for Kahnle, who pitched to a 2.70 ERA with 12.2 K/9 over 26 2/3 innings. Once October came around, Kahnle followed Robertson’s lead, becoming a multi-inning master out of nowhere.

Of his seven postseason appearances, four lasted two frames or more.

With Robertson, Kahnle, Chad Green and Adam Warren, the Yankees now know they have four dominant relievers capable of coming in at any point in the game and throwing extended outings. No other bullpen has that type of flexibility.

As for Gray, he performed tolerably well in his first half-season in New York. Acquired from Oakland, the righty made 11 starts, tallying a 3.72 ERA, 122 ERA+, 4.87 FIP and 1.255 WHIP. He wasn’t the ace the Yankees were hoping he would be after parting with three top prospects, but he also didn’t get the run support he needed.

That said, Gray is certainly capable of being that frontline starter. He was Oakland’s ace for four and a half years. There’s no reason he won’t work in a similar capacity in New York. His numbers may not have wowed anyone last year, but make no mistake — the Yankees will better off thanks to a full season of Gray.

That goes for the other two as well. When looking at just their Yankees numbers, Gray, Robertson and Kahnle combined for 3.6 WAR last season. When looking at their entire 2017 campaigns, however, that number was 7.2. That might not seem like a huge margin, but a few wins were the difference between the AL wild card and the AL East last season.

So yeah, the Yankees are going to benefit from having these guys around for all of 2018, especially now that they know the relievers can handle a more versatile workload. Gray, meanwhile, will be better than he was if his track record is any indication.

If that’s the case, so will the Yankees. A new slugger won’t be the only reason why.

Gary Phillips is the Managing Editor of USA Today Sports' Jets Wire, a contributor at Sporting News and a columnist at FanRag Sports. Phillips has experience with The Athletic, The Bergen Record, CNBC, NBC News, Bleacher Report, NJ.com, The Journal Inquirer and The Journal News. A journalism graduate of Seton Hall, Class of 2017, he was Editor-in-Chief of The Setonian, the university's award-winning student newspaper. He can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @GaryHPhillips.

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