TAMPA — Manny Machado and Bryce Harper aren’t likely to enter the Yankees’ universe via free agency, but second-year manager Aaron Boone is hoping the 2019 version of the Yankees is superior to the 100-win season team of a year ago.
Asked Wednesday at George M. Steinbrenner Field if his Yankees were better than the club that finished eight lengths back of the AL East-wining Red Sox, Boone responded by saying, “I hope so’’ and credited general manager Brian Cashman for adding reinforcements to the team the Red Sox handled in the ALDS.
In a follow-up question about hoping today’s Yankees are better than the 2018 outfit, Boone understood where the club is in the process and that talk isn’t worth much.
“When I say, ‘I hope so,’ we are here and it’s early February,” Boone said on the day pitchers and catchers reported to spring training in front of Thursday’s first official workout. “So, in a lot of ways to talk about it is cheap.”
That goes for the other 29 big-league teams at this juncture, but Boone’s hope for improvement is based on Cashman’s moves concerning the pitching staff.
“I feel like, on paper, our rotation and bullpen feels a little bit stronger as we sit here today,” Boone said.
Lefty starter James Paxton was the Yankees’ biggest addition via a trade with the Mariners that sent pitching prospect Justus Sheffield and two other minor leaguers to Seattle. CC Sabathia and J.A. Happ were brought back via free-agent deals. All three will pitch behind ace Luis Severino and Masahiro Tanaka.
As for the bullpen, Cashman replaced David Robertson with fellow right-hander Adam Ottavino and retained lefty Zack Britton. It remains to be seen if Ottavino, a Brooklyn native, can fill Robertson’s shoes on the mound and handle pitching in the fishbowl that The Bronx is compared to Denver, where he worked the previous seven seasons. Britton will work in front of closer Aroldis Chapman and can be used for the final three outs when Chapman needs a rest or misses time with an injury. Chapman was on the injured list each of the past two seasons with left rotator cuff inflammation and tendinitis in his left knee.
The signing of free-agent infielder DJ LeMahieu gives Boone options at first, second and third, and the hope is Troy Tulowitzki can handle short until Didi Gregorius returns from Tommy John surgery on his right (throwing) elbow. Brett Gardner re-signed as a free agent and is expected to be the left fielder against right-handers.
Without naming names, Boone said his hope of being better was in part based on players bouncing back from subpar seasons a year ago.
“Certainly, you look at some guys that maybe had down years and I think there are reasons to expect that they can bounce back,” Boone said of a group led by Gary Sanchez and includes Greg Bird. “I feel like the depth we have created within our team, I feel like that even if we are healthy we will probably wind up having really good options and really good players at Triple-A who will make contributions at some point during the year.”
Before hearing Machado, and Harper to a lesser degree, linked to the Yankees during the offseason, Boone gave himself a grown-up dose of motivation by watching the Red Sox beat the Dodgers in the World Series.
“I watched the postseason, and this year was a little more difficult. I made it a point to watch the World Series and watch the Red Sox celebrate and watched them on the podium. I don’t know if I was torturing myself or what,” Boone said. “You put this hat on and this uniform on, you shouldn’t need much motivation. But to watch a team you know so well celebrate where you want to be, I think that adds a little fuel to the fire.”
Which might figure in Boone’s hope that this coming season turns out better than the previous one.
This post was originally posted at https://nypost.com/2019/02/13/aaron-boone-is-liking-what-hes-seeing-from-cashmans-moves/. WGEH does not own this content and is not responsible for it.