The Super Bowl has come and gone, which means it's time to really start digging into how the Red Sox are looking heading into 2018. Despite being back-to-back division champs the New York Yankees are the favorites to win the American League East this year. As they should be. This is a New York group that made it to Game 7 of the ALCS in 2017 (and actually had a 3-2 series lead that they blew, which people forget). They have the reigning Rookie of the Year winner (and MVP runner-up). They have a soon to be 24-year-old ace who just finished third in the Cy Young voting. And oh yeah, this winter they traded for a guy who hit 59 home runs a season ago. Welp.
New York's move for Stanton combined with Boston's second straight early playoff exit has Red Sox fans shook, but let's relax for a minute. Here's why:
1. It's true that the Yankees are the AL East favorites, but let's not act like they're perfect. For starters (pun intended) their starting rotation is very much up in the air. What they do have is an ace, a legit top-10 pitcher in baseball in Luis Severino. In his age-23 season last year he had a major breakout, finishing with a 2.98 ERA and 230 strikeouts in 193 1/3 innings pitched. He passes the eye test, the advanced stats back up what he did last year, and he's probably going to be the team's Opening Day starter. What they don't have is reliable starters to follow him.
Sonny Gray posted an average 3.72 ERA in 11 starts after being acquired from Oakland mid-season, Masahiro Tanaka's elbow could fall off any day now, and CC Sabathia is going to turn 38 this season after (probably) over achieving in 2017. That group doesn't scare me one bit. You compare that to what the Sox *could* have (Sale, a healthy Price, Pomeranz, a Porcello bounce back, a healthy E-Rod) and all of a sudden Boston has the clear edge. It's assuming health, though, and the Yankees could still make a move for a front line starter, either soon or come July, but right now give me our rotation over theirs.
2. It's easy to forget now, but before 2017 Giancarlo Stanton wasn't GIANCARLO STANTON. Don't get me wrong. He was still insanely good, finishing second in the MVP voting back in 2014. But 2017 was the breakout we were always hoping for from him and 59 homers later he won that NL MVP. And now he's a Yankee. The question I find myself asking this winter is was this just a career year for Stanton, or a sign of more to come?
These days accumulating 5 WAR in a given season is the new baseline for what makes a good player. Kind of like what hitting .300 used to mean. Stanton last year put up 7.6 WAR, which is great, but it's just the third time in his eight year career he's posted at least 5 (6.5 in 2014, 5.5 in 2012). A part of that is injuries. In the six year stretch from 2012 to 2017 Stanton appeared in at least 125 games just twice. Now, maybe all he needed was sustained health to do what he did last year, or maybe it was just one insanely hot stretch in August that he won't ever be able to repeat. If that's the case the Yankees still added a great player this off-season, but I'm not yet convinced they acquired an annual MVP front runner. We'll see.
3. Is Aaron Judge good or great? I know, I know. He's probably at least good, but his rookie season was so inconsistent (both good and bad) that we really can't be certain what to expect from him this year. We know the story. He started hot, then got REALLY HOT. but then he struggled after the All-Star break, batting an alarming .185 for 55 games. Then he got hot again.
Even with that slump Judge had a historic year. He won the HR derby. He won AL ROY. He broke Mark McGwire's rookie home run record. When he was hot he hit dinger after dinger after dinger. As a Sox fan it was frightening. It still is frightening. But I bet that slump is just as frightening for Yankee fans. 55 games is...enough to make you think. He'll probably be great, but Mookie Betts has taught Boston fans following up a breakout isn't always easy. Let's just see Judge do it once more before assuming he ever repeats 2017 again.
4. Why are we just assuming that Aaron Boone is going to transition seamlessly into his role as Yankees manager? I like Boone. He seems like the exact type of manager you want running your team these days. He played the game. He's young. He's good with the media. He's open to analytics. Long term this could be a great hire, especially once he gets through the growing pains.
I just think it's fair to wonder whether that'll happen right away. Boone has never managed before. He has never even coached before. He's been in the broadcast booth since retiring in 2009. His bench coach, Josh Bard, doesn't have much experience either. Maybe it's not an issue. Maybe this Yankee team is so stacked and has so much chemistry they'll cruise to the division. My point is just that there are enough things to QUESTION about NYY to not give them the division just yet. Expectations, an underrated shaky rotation, possible offensive regression, and a new manager? The Sox are more than talented enough to make it three division titles in a row in 2018.