The New York Yankees are coming off an 84-78 2014 season, a year that saw them essentially play .500 baseball for the duration. The Yankees played four games over .500 in April, but were not able to sustain that pace the rest of the season. The team was 14-14 in May, 12-15 in June, 14-12 in July, 15-13 in August and 14-13 in September. For the first time in years, the Yankees’ most recent season was not considered a disappointment in the eyes of the national baseball community. If you followed this team, you would have never felt the impression that the 2014 Yankees were a legitimate contender. However, they still finished in 2nd place in the AL East, albeit 12 games off the pace set by the Orioles. Thanks to postseason expansion, the Yanks wrapped up the season a mere 4 games out of the last wild card spot, which went to Oakland.
What doomed the Yankees last season and will likely doom them in 2015 is the aging of their top players. The down, injury plagued seasons of 1B Mark Teixeira (.216, 12, 62, 123 games), Carlos Beltran (.233, 15, 49, 103 games) and CC Sabathia (3-4, 5.28, 8 starts) symbolized what happens when very good to great players get older. All three will be a key to the 2015 club as well, though their health cannot be a guarantee by any stretch of the imagination.
Derek Jeter has ridden off into the sunset, to be replaced by 25 year old SS Didi Gregorius who came over from the Arizona Diamondbacks in a three way deal that sent RHP Shane Greene to the Tigers and LHP Robbie Ray to the D’Backs. Baseball scouts have been talking about his ability to play SS for years now, but has been known to have significant shortcomings at the plate (.226, 8, 27 in 80 games in 2014) (.243, .680 OPS in 191 MLB games from 2012-2014). However, almost a third of his hits last season were for extra bases (9 2B, 5 3B, 6 HR, 61 hits). The ranks of star, offensive-minded shortstops are dwindling quickly. Perhaps Gregorious can spark a revival to the powerful hitting shortstops which ruled the Nineties.
The Yankees did make some other minor moves this offseason, acquiring RHP Nathan Eovaldi (6-14, 4.37, 33 starts) and 1B Garrett Jones (.246, 15, 53, 146 games) from the Miami Marlins in exchange for 2B Martin Prado (.282, 12, 58, 143 games for D’Backs and Yankees) and RHP David Phelps (5-5, 4.38, 32 games, 17 starts). The Yankees lost closer David Robertson (4-5, 3.08, 39 saves, 96 Ks in just over 64 IP) to free agency and signed LHP Andrew Miller (5-5, 2.02, 73 games, 103 Ks in just over 62 IP) to take his spot in the bullpen. RHP Dellin Betances (5-0, 1.40, 70 games, 135 Ks in 90 IP) moves from the 8th inning to the 9th with Miller taking his place in the 8th.
Bringing back 3B Chase Headley (.243, 13, 49, 135 games for Padres and Yankees) and 2B Stephen Drew (.162, 7, 26, 85 games for Red Sox and Yankees) answered any questions of what the team’s lineup will look like. Alex Rodriguez will get all the attention this spring, but for the Yankees, it will be all about what he can do to help this team and what he has left in the tank. This will be the first time in Alex’s career that he is simply one out of 25. He will not play every day and is expected to start the season as the right hand hitting DH that will play some 1B and 3B. I know the media wants to make more out of this than it has to but it really is this simple. If Alex hits and helps this team, he will see regular plate appearances. If not, he will largely be relegated to a bench role, unless the Yankees are willing to eat the remainder of his contract.
So, what does A-Rod have left? I have no idea. The fact that he will be 40 in July and has spent over a year away from the game does not bode well. However, maybe the time off last year allowed his body to heal. If the Yankees can get a duplicate of his 2011 regular season (.276, 16, 62 in 99 games), they would sign up for that in a heartbeat. Many of the lofty milestones baseball pundits had in mind for Rodriguez are out the window now, but it is worth noting that he will begin the regular season only 61 hits shy of 3,000 for his career.
The Yankees best offensive players right now are CF Jacoby Ellsbury (.271, 16, 70, 39 SB) and Brett Gardner (.256, 17, 58, 21 SB). C Brian McCann (.232, 23, 75) is what he is right now, a broken down aging catcher. He is going to lose hits due to the shift and let’s not forget he hit .230 for the Braves in 2012. The best Yankees lineup, in my opinion, is Gardner LF, Beltran RF, Ellsbury CF, Teixeira 1B, McCann C, Headley 3B, Rodriguez/ Jones DH, Drew 2B, Gregorius SS. Chris Young (.222, 11, 38 for the Mets and Yankees) plays a very important role in this team’s OF with Ichiro going to Miami. If Young can produce and can stay healthy, he will likely play in 140-150 games. Infielders Rob Refsnyder, Jose Pirela and Brendan Ryan will all battle for likely two spots as backup infielders. A healthy Ryan has the upper hand because of his defensive mastering of the SS position. JR Murphy (23-81, 1, 9) will start the season as the backup catcher with Austin Romine also in the mix.
Starting pitching was a key to the Yankees being as competitive as they were last season. Losing Hiroki Kuroda (11-9, 3.71, 21 starts, 199 IP) hurts and there is some uncertainty with the health of Sabathia and Masahiro Tanaka (13-5, 2.77, 20 starts). Throw in the fact that Michael Pineda (5-5, 1.89, 13 starts has yet to pitch a complete season with the Yankees and Ivan Nova (2-2, 8.27, 4 starts) is recovering from Tommy John surgery, and the Yankees have a lot of questions going into the season. Chris Capuano was expected to hold the team’s fifth rotation spot, but he is out for the foreseeable future with a strained right quad. Capuano is definitely out for Opening Day, with no word on how long his rehab will take. Adam Warren (3-6, 2.97, 69 games, 0 starts), Scott Baker and Kyle Davies are potential options to fill the void during his absence. These three may also be called upon to step up if Sabathia is a no-go to start the season.
The bullpen, even without Robertson, has a good chance of being the best part of this team. Betances is the closer, with Miller setting up. The Yankees also have a good collection of hard throwers who should leave their mark. RHP David Carpenter (6-4, 3.54, 65 games, 67 Ks in 61 IP) comes over from Atlanta in a deal for LHP Manny Banuelos. LHP Justin Wilson (3-4, 4.20, 70 games, 61 Ks in 60 IP) came over in the deal with Pittsburgh that sent C Francisco Cervelli to the Pirates. LHP Jacob Lindgren also has swing and miss stuff. Two others in camp, RHPs Andrew Bailey and Esmil Rogers, have the ability to help out as well. Bailey, however, has not been able to stay on the field. He missed all of 2014 and has pitched just 49 games since the start of 2012. Rogers has the ability to start, but has not been good after making more than three starts in a row. Just look at the track record of his career. He has shown some promise as a reliever, but has never had that breakout relief season. Jared Burton comes over from the Twins on a minor league deal (3-5, 4.36, 68 games) and will be in the mix as well. And don’t forget Warren, who will be a late game reliever if he is not needed as a starter.
When it comes to the Yankees youngsters, Refsnyder probably deserves a chance to play at the major league level. He has been impressive at every level he has played at, but will have to keep it up to get his shot. Yangervis Solarte hit last year and got his chance, so Refsnyder can try to do the same. C Gary Sanchez will be playing in AAA and even though his “can’t miss” status is not the same, remains a quality catching prospect. RHP Luis Severino is the Yankees best overall prospect, but is unlikely to have a huge impact on the 2015 Yankees. He will be a September callup at best.
The Yankees are a difficult team to predict this season. It would be easy to just assume all the veteran players will be hurt and things will be the worst for this team. I think there is enough depth to help them cover certain injuries, as long as they don’t cost players full seasons. The bullpen has a chance to be great and if Tanaka and Pineda are healthy, they can overachieve. I also think they can beat the other teams in their division, a testament to how weak the division has gotten. Vegas put their O/U at 81 1/2 and I think they are right on. I am going with 82-80, 3rd place in the AL East.