By Robert Dominguez
The New York baseball world has been turned upside down.
Where once it was the Yankees that was the veteran, perennial playoff-contending team filled with aging stars and bloated contracts — just last year, as a matter of fact — the new-look Bombers enter the 2017 season Sunday hoping a bunch of baby-faced rookies and inexperienced position players and pitchers can bring a winning tradition back to the Bronx.
Meanwhile, the Mets — barely a year removed from a World Series they gave away to the Kansas City Royals — is now New York’s elite team even after suffering another postseason disappointment last year in the National League wild card game against the Giants.
The battle-tested Mets may be better on paper right now — that’s if their vaunted young starting staff of hard-throwing hurlers stays healthy — but they’re faced with as many questions as the youth-movement Yankees, as injuries and a surplus of outfielders have already caused roster problems.
Here’s a look at some of the key New York players whose 2017 seasons can make or break their respective teams:
GARY SANCHEZ: C, Yankees
After just two months in the bigs in 2016, the now 24-year-old Sanchez — aka “The Sanchize” — has already been anointed the face of a franchise desperate to put fannies in the seats again after a barren postseason span of just one wild card game — a loss — since 2012.
An electrifying player on both sides of the plate — his quick ascension to everyday catcher was based on his savvy handling of pitchers, never mind his cannon arm — the Dominican native hit 20 home runs with 42 RBI to go with a .299 average in just one-third of a season.
Expecting him to triple his output to 60 dingers over a full year is unreasonable, as Sanchez is bound to go through the inevitable growing pains of adjusting to the extra attention opposing pitchers will give him as the No. 3 hitter.
But fans, and the front office, will be more than happy with a season of, say, 25-30 HR and 80-plus RBI — solid Jorge Posada numbers — as he further establishes himself as an all-star in the making.
LUIS SEVERINO: P, Yankees
It wasn’t too long ago when Severino was making fans think the Yankees had finally found their first homegrown, frontline starter since Andy Pettitte.
That was in 2015, when the then-21-year-old Severino pitched beyond his years, compiling a record of 5-3 with a 2.89 ERA record in 11 starts.
But the Dominican phenom’s weaknesses — mainly a lack of a viable third pitch — were exposed last season when he went 0-8 as a starter, a startling setback that helped keep the Yankees out of the playoffs.
Though Severino redeemed himself somewhat as a dominating middle-innings reliever, the front office is counting on him to be a top-of-the-rotation starter for years to come after rewarding him with the fourth starter role. the hoping he can win one of the three starting spots up for grabs.
YOENIS CESPEDES, OF, Mets
Desperate for a middle-of-the-order stud to shore up an otherwise lackluster lineup, the Mets handed a huge contract to their returning free agent – a flashy slugger who has habitually worn out welcomes with his previous teams thanks to a perceived selfish streak that includes too much golf and not enough hustle.
They’ll need the Cuban’s 30-HR pop more than ever now that icon David Wright and first baseman Lucas Duda are hurt again. But given Cespedes’ track record, the front office may well regret the four-year, $110 million deal that’ll bring him to age 34.
JEURYS FAMILIA: P, Mets
As Yogi Berra supposedly said, it’s déjá vu all over again. Familia, the Mets closer who saved 94 games over the past two seasons, is facing a likely 30-game suspension after his wife filed assault charges against him over the winter that have since been dropped.
It’s the same situation Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman faced last year after his domestic abuse case was made public, and could end up hurting an otherwise weak Mets bullpen if Familia’s 15-game suspension means the team gets off to a slow start.
Robert Dominguez, a senior editor at the New York Daily News, is also the managing editor of Viva, The News’ Latino lifestyle magazine, and is the co-author of “Bronx Bummers: The Unofficial History of the New York Yankees’ Bad Boys, Blunders and Brawls.” email@example.com
Buy it on Amazon!
(This story originally appeared on www.nydailynews.com/viva)