The New York Yankees won 100 games last season and may have barely scratched the surface of what’s possible.
The only way is up, at least according to franchise greats Paul O’Neill and Tino Martinez. The pair said as much to amNewYork at Pepsi Zero’s “Judge Yourself” event at Grand Central Terminal on Wednesday while fans lined up to time their swing and take photos with them and fellow team legend Bernie Williams.
“They know they came up short, and they know they had the talent to win it all, and it really disappointed them,” said Martinez, who won four championships during the Yankees dynasty. “This year, they really want to get it done and break through because they feel this is the best team they’ve had the last few years, and they should win it all this year.”
Injuries to pitchers Luis Severino and CC Sabathia, outfielder Aaron Hicks and shortstop Didi Gregorius, put the Bombers behind to open the season.
“They’ve got three or four guys down right now and you still expect them to get off to a good start,” said O’Neill, a five-time champion with the Yanks and Cincinnati Reds. “It just goes to show you the type of team they are.”
To O’Neill, the key to a successful year is plugging gaps as they appear and making the most of the open space in the meantime.
“It also gives guys the opportunity to pitch,” O’Neill said. “They can be good. And sometimes you can find guys by injuries, by getting that opportunity.”
The Yankees finished eight games behind the eventual World Series champion Boston Red Sox in the American League East last season. Catcher Gary Sanchez had a down year, hitting .188 and struggling defensively. If he can return to the production from his first two seasons, Martinez believes the team could compete for the division.
“He worked hard again in the offseason on his defense,” Martinez said. “He’s gotten a lot better. He hit the ball great in spring training, so I’m looking forward to a really big year from him this year and reaching his potential.”
Most teams don’t have the luxury of using the word "potential" after hitting a triple-digit win total. O’Neill credited general manager Brian Cashman for putting together a blend of homegrown stars like Sanchez and Aaron Judge, as well as outside additions like Giancarlo Stanton.
“They’re bringing in a specific type of players to fit what they need to make a perfect team,” O’Neill said.