I recently came across a really cool challenge: to create the ultimate 26-man roster taking one player from each year over the past 26 years. That means one New York Yankee per season for the past 26 seasons. A roster made up of the best of the best for the best franchise in MLB over the past 26 years.

The catch being, for everyday players, that the year and performance matters. Sure, Derek Jeter played for the Yankees in 2013 but he only played 17 games so it would be bush league to take Derek Jeter for 2013.

Get the concept? Great, let’s get started!

 

1998 – David Cone

David Cone is an all time favorite of mine, and he was always going to make this list. 1998 was Cone’s last great season before his performance began to decline following his 1999 perfect game. In 1998, Cone was a 20-game winner for the best team in MLB history, the 1998 Yankees. Cone threw over 200 innings with 209 strikeouts to only 59 walks, which resulted in a 3.55 ERA and a fourth-place finish in the Cy Young voting.

 

1999 – Bernie Williams

Bernie Williams put together one of his best seasons ever in 1999. The switch-hitting cleanup hitter of the 90s dynasty teams hit to a .342 Avg with 116 Runs, 200+ Hits, 25 HRs, and 115 RBIs. Bernie was also elite defensively, winning a Gold Glove in 1999.

 

2000 – Andy Pettitte

Andy Pettitte is one of the Yankees best pitchers of the past 26 seasons. There were multiple years to choose from, but 2000 really stands out. Pettitte won 19 games, threw over 200 innings, and finished fourth in the Cy Young voting.

 

2001 – Tino Martinez

Hindsight being 20/20, the Yankees never should have walked away from Tino Martinez after the 2001 season. Jason Giambi was never the all-around player, competitor, and team leader that Tino was. 2001 was a solid season for Tino. He hit for a .280 Avg, clubbed 34 HRs, and knocked in 113 RBIs while striking out less than 100 times, regularly putting the ball in play (which is something Yankees fans miss about the late 90s/early 2000s dynasty teams). There are just too many Ks in today’s game.

 

2002 – Gerald Williams

Constructing a 26-man roster means a couple of bench players will be needed. Gerald Williams is one of my favorite Yankee role players. A solid righthanded bat coming off the bench, a solid defensive replacement who can play in all three OF spots, and a speedy pinch runner off the bench. Being one of Derek Jeter’s all-time best friends certainly helps land him a spot on this team, being a great clubhouse guy.

 

2003 – David Dellucci

The second defensive replacement coming off the Yankees bench. He’s very comparable to Gerald Williams, but as a lefthanded bat. You can read more about Dellucci and his spectacular defensive play here. Much like Gerald Williams, he’s a solid defensive replacement who can play in all 3 OF spots and a speedy pinch runner off the bench. 

 

2004 – Gary Sheffield

Gary Sheffield was a savage in the box. His 2004 was a monster season where every at-bat was must-see. One of the toughest outs in baseball, Sheffield batted to a .290 Avg with 117 Runs, 36 HRs, and 121 RBIs while recording a sub-100 strikeout season, making him one of the toughest hitters in baseball to strike out. He also finished second in the 2004 MVP voting. A dominant season from a dominant hitter.

 

2005 – Alex Rodriguez

Alex Rodriguez certainly had his ups and downs as a Yankee, but 2005 was an up year. Alex was on a mission in the regular season, winning the 2005 AL MVP. He hit to a .321 Avg with 124 runs, 194 hits, 48 HRs, and 130 RBIs. Not only did he put up cleanup hitter MVP numbers, but he also added 21 stolen bases. 2005 A-Rod was a force.

 

2006 – Derek Jeter

You knew Derek Jeter was going to be on this list, but which season was I going to choose? 2006 was one of Derek Jeter’s finest seasons, and the best SS in baseball history certainly had a lot of great seasons. Derek Jeter finished second in the 2006 MVP voting. Looking back, he unquestionably should have won the MVP. He dominated with a .343 Avg, 118 Runs, 214 Hits, 39 doubles, and 97 RBIs while batting at the top of the lineup. Jeter also stole 34 bases while winning a Gold Glove as one of the most underrated fielders in baseball history.

 

2007 – Joba Chamberlain

Joba Rules!! 2007 was Joba Chamberlain’s rookie season, and he absolutely dominated in his rookie year. Joba threw a 100-MPH fastball with a wipeout slider, a combination which resulted in a 0.38 ERA with an average of 12 Ks per 9 innings. When you watched Joba Chamberlain in 2007, you knew you were watching something special.

 

2008 – Johnny Damon

Admittedly, we are in one of the lean years for this list. Johnny Damon put together a solid 2008 season with a .303 Avg while stealing 29 bases. This isn’t a year that is going to jump out at you, but we need someone from each season. Now we have our starting left fielder.

 

2009 – Alfredo Aceves

Alfredo Aceves was a solid long reliever for the Yankees in 2009. He’s not a name that all Yankees fans will remember, but he was a reliable arm out of the bullpen in a long relief and spot starter role. Aceves won 10 games while pitching to a 3.54 ERA.

 

2010 – CC Sabathia

Once again we have an all-time, beloved Yankee on the list. The big guy had an awesome 2010 season, anchoring the Yankees pitching staff and winning 21 games with a 3.18 ERA. He was a workhorse who pitched over 230 innings while striking out 197 batters, finishing fourth in the Cy Young voting.

 

2011 – David Robertson

Bullpen guys aren’t always remembered or celebrated, but they have a crucial role to play in today’s game. David Robertson’s 2011 stacks up against any reliever from that era not named Mariano Rivera. David Robertson was an All Star in 2011, an honor he truly deserved. Robertson was 4-0 out of the bullpen with an ERA of 1.08. He struck out 100 batters while only walking 33 in 66.2 innings pitched. Robertson was electric and unhittable in 2011. In those 66.2 innings, he only gave up 1 HR.

 

2012 – Russell Martin

I know there is going to be some controversy to this one. Most Yankees fans would choose Jorge Posada as their starting catcher, which I fully understand. Jorge is an all time Yankee great and one of the best clutch hitters of the past 26 seasons. However, I chose to go with Russell Martin because of his defense and the way he handled a pitching staff. Russell Martin was a defense first type of catcher, the best defensive catcher the Yankees have had in the past 26 years. In 2012, Russell Martin elevated the Yankee pitching staff in a way we haven’t really seen over the past 26 seasons. The 2012 Yankee pitching staff doesn’t look spectacular on paper, but that staff overachieved in nearly every start they made. You also need to factor in Mariano Rivera missing most of the season with an injury and Rafael Soriano stepping in and stepping up, being one of the best closers in baseball. I think Russell Martin deserves the credit for how good the Yankee pitching was in 2012. The lineup I am putting together is filled with big bats, so I am going defense first when putting together this team. I love Jorge, but Russell Martin gets the nod today.

 

2013 – Mariano Rivera

Yankee fans have a cheat code for this game, which is that Mariano Rivera can be used for any year between 1998 and 2013 (with the exception of 2012, when he was injured). Younger fans may not realize that setup man wasn’t really a thing until 1996, when Mariano Rivera changed the way bullpens were constructed forever. Mariano Rivera took over the closer role in 1997 and was Mr. Consistent from that point forward. Each season ranged from really, really good to great. There is no wrong year to use Mariano. I chose 2013 for two reasons. First, 2013 was an awful year for the Yankees, and there wasn’t much to choose from. But also to make a point, 2013 was Mariano’s last season and he was still the best closer in baseball. In his final year, at age 43, he was still dominant. Mariano went 6-2 with a 2.11 ERA. He saved 44 games and only walked 9 batters. He finished his career with an All Star season. There will never be another Mariano Rivera.

 

2014 – Dellin Betances

I mentioned it earlier and I will mention it again, relievers aren’t always remembered. If anything, they tend to be remembered for their mistakes as opposed to their successes. Dellin Betances had a few rocky years with the Yankees, and it seems like he is better remembered for those rocky years than he was for the years where he was an unhittable, overpowering bullpen arm. 2014 Betances is a great example of how good he was at his best. Dellin Betances broke out as a Rookie of the Year candidate in 2014, finishing third in the voting. He put up a 5-0 record while pitching to a 1.40 ERA over 90 innings. In those 90 innings, he struck out 135 batters utilizing his electric fastball mixed in with his offspeed breaking ball and change up. He showed tremendous control, only walking 24 batters in his rookie season while also being named to the All Star team.

 

2015 – Brendan Ryan

A backup infielder isn’t going to be the most exciting pick, but if you watched the Yankees in 2015, you’ll know Brendan Ryan was an exciting fielder. No batted ball ever seemed out of range for Brendan Ryan, and he was a wizard in the middle of the infield. This team doesn’t need offensive power coming off the bench. What it needs is elite fielding and pinch running, which is what Brendan Ryan provides.

 

2016 – Andrew Miller

“God’s gonna cut you down.” Another forgotten reliever who dominated for the Yankees. Andrew Miller was a tall lefty with an overpowering fastball and the mental makeup to be a closer for the Yankees. In 2016, Andrew Miller posted a 6-1 record with a 1.45 ERA. He struck out 123 batters while only walking 9 over 74.2 innings pitched. He had the second-best walkout music ever for a Yankees closer, introducing a generation of Yankees fans to Johnny Cash. Miller was an incredibly likable guy with the right attitude. When the Yankees acquired Aroldis Chapman a year later, Miller willingly ceded his closer role to Chapman to provide the Yankees with two dominant closers to finish out the 8th and 9th innings.

 

2017 – Austin Romine

This team needs a backup catcher, so we might as well select one of the best backup catchers the Yankees have had over the past 26 seasons. No one has a bad word to say about Austin Romine. He was solid defensively, handled pitchers well, and was even praised for his abilities by the great Yogi Berra!

 

2018 – Luis Severino

Luis Severino’s tenure with the Yankees was a rollercoaster. The good times were great and the bad times were awful. 2018 was about as high as it got for Severino. He won 19 games with a 3.39 ERA and 220 strikeouts for the 2018 Yankees. When he was not dealing with arm issues, head issues, and when he had his combination of pitches working, he was a dynamic hurler who could anchor a rotation. 2018 was one of those years for Severino.

 

2019 – Zack Britton

Zack Britton was made for Yankee Stadium, a hard-throwing sinker ball pitcher who kept the ball on the ground. Yankee fans did not worry if he put a runner on base, because we always felt like the next pitch would induce a ground ball. Unfortunately, Britton’s time with the Yankees was marred by injury. 2019 was not one of those injury prone years though, with his heavy sinker leading to a 1.91 ERA as the Yankees setup man and part-time closer.

 

2020 – DJ LeMahieu

When Yankee fans think of DJ LeMahieu, we think of LeMachine of the 2019 – 2020 seasons. DJ was a force in the Yankees lineup. He could bat leadoff or he could be the cleanup hitter. He was an all-around hitter who would drive fast balls the other way or sit on breaking balls and pull the ball to left field. DJ LeMahieu was amazing in 2020, leading to the Yankees re-signing him on his long term deal. Some Yankee fans look at his six-year deal as a mistake considering how injury prone he has been, but how could the Yankees not re-sign LeMahieu after 2020? He was an MVP candidate, finishing third in the voting while winning the batting title with a .364 Avg and putting up an excellent .421 OBP. I beg the baseball gods to bless him with health for the rest of his career. I would love to get this version of DJ back.

 

2021 – Roughned Odor

The final bench player on this roster. When Roughned Odor joined the Yankees in 2021, I don’t think anyone expected much out of him. He surprised Yankee fans by putting up a solid season as a much-needed left handed hitter. He was an excellent clubhouse guy who really seemed to make an impact on the team. I always liked him for punching Jose Bautista, but I really fell in love with him as a player when he joined the Yankees and made an impact both on the field and in the clubhouse.

 

2022 – Aaron Judge

Was there ever any question who the player of the year for 2022 would be? Aaron Judge put together the best offensive season we have ever seen in 2022. Going into a contract year, he rose to the occasion and clubbed an AL record 62 HRs. But he was much more than a one-dimensional power hitter, nearly winning the Triple Crown with a .311 Avg and 131 RBIs. The 2022 AL MVP also scored 133 Runs while drawing 111 walks. What makes this season even more astounding is that he must have had a low strike called on him at least once in every single at bat. Pitchers learned to throw the ball low because umpires were unable to adjust their strike zone. If we had robo-umps calling the game, this season could have been even more impressive.

 

2023 – Gerrit Cole

We close out this roster with the most dominant pitching season from a Yankee since Ron Guidry’s 1978. Gerrit Cole elevated his game in 2023. He always had the talent and he always had a great mind for pitching, but somehow both his talent and mind elevated to another level in 2023. The 2023 Cy Young Award winner put up a 15-4 record. He dominated with a 2.63 ERA pitching in the hitter friendly AL East. He threw 209 innings with 222 strikeouts to only 48 walks. Gerrit Cole only gave up 20 HRs, down from 33 HRs in 2022 despite pitching in Yankee Stadium, which is unforgiving to right-handed pitchers. He also really separated himself from every other pitcher in baseball by throwing two complete game shutouts. This feat may not seem that impressive to anyone who watched baseball in the 20th century, but two complete game shutouts in a single season in the 21st century is practically unheard of. 

 

Recap By Position

 

C Russell Martin 2012

1B Tino Martinez 2001

2B DJ LeMahieu 2020

3B Alex Rodriguez 2005

SS Derek Jeter 2006

LF Johnny Damon 2008

CF Bernie Williams 1999

RF Aaron Judge 2022

DH Gary Sheffield 2004

 

SP Gerrit Cole 2023

SP CC Sabathia 2010

SP David Cone 1998

SP Luis Severino 2018

SP Andy Pettitte 2000

 

CL Mariano Rivera 2013

8th Zack Britton 2019

7th Dellin Betances 2016

Long Alfredo Aceves 2009

RP Joba Chamberlain 2007

RP Andrew Miller 2014

RP David Robertson 2011

 

C Austin Romine 2017

IF Roughned Odor 2021

IF Brendan Ryan 2015

OF David Dellucci 2003

OF Gerald Williams 2002

Lineup

LF Johnny Damon 2008

SS Derek Jeter 2006

RF Aaron Judge 2022

CF Bernie Williams 1999

DH Gary Sheffield 2004

3B Alex Rodriguez 2005

1B Tino Martinez 2001

2B DJ LeMahieu 2020

C Russell Martin 2012

 

By JMo

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