There are a lot of new faces on the New York Yankees this season thanks to all their free agent signings. The team has certainly addressed a number of weaknesses. Yet it’s going to be the old faces who will be critical to the Yankees’ success in 2014. Here are four Yankee veterans whose performances will be a vital part of the team making it back to the playoffs.
The lefty ace had a very un-ace like 2013, posting a 4.78 ERA and giving up 28 home runs. That’s not something you want from your top-of-the-rotation guy. The main concern has been the decreased velocity of his fastball. During spring training, CC Sabathia has been regularly hitting between just 88 and 91 mph, which is concerning. He reported to spring training 40 pounds lighter and with a cutter added to his repertoire with the hope hitters won’t sit on his now-wimpy fastball. Sabathia says he is using Andy Pettitte as his role model. Pettitte had a long and very successful pitching career thanks to his great control and a devastating cutter. Fastball, cutter, slider, whatever is in his bag of pitching tricks, the Yankees need Sabathia to return to form and be, if not the ace of the staff, then at least a much better pitcher than he was last season to keep them in games.
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This is the final year for the Captain as he’s announced his retirement. After missing almost all of 2013 recovering from an ankle injury, it remains to be seen if he will go out with a bang or a whimper. The Yankees infield is a bit paltry since they’ve lost Robinson Cano to free agency and Alex Rodriguez to a season-long PED suspension, not to mention that Mark Teixeira is coming back from wrist surgery. Derek Jeter looks healthy and is moving well but is still shaking off rust. He’s hitting just .128 this spring. The Yankees are going to need him to hit a tad better than that and return to being Captain Clutch for his final season.
It looked liked Brett Gardner’s days as a Yankee were numbered when they signed center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury to a $153 million, seven-year deal. Instead the Yankees turned around and gave Gardner a four-year, $50 million extension. It’s a good thing, too, because having two outfielders with speed and great defensive skills makes the Yankees more versatile than their usual slugger-heavy lineup. He’s been valuable to the Yankees. Since Gardner started manning the outfield in 2008 he’s been worth 17.8 WAR. However, his stolen base totals have been decreasing. Last year he snagged only 24 bags, which was down quite a bit from 47 in 2010 and a career high 49 in 2011 (he was injured most of 2012). Last year’s numbers are hopefully an anomaly created by a lackluster lineup because Gardner’s worth is in his speed.
The Mariano Rivera era is over. Set-up man David Robertson is the anointed closer. In fact, Rivera even threw out the ceremonial first pitch to Robertson before the first game of the Legends exhibition series the Yankees played in Panama. Rivera said it was a symbolic passing of the torch. No one expects Robertson to be Rivera, but fans will want him to translate his success in the set-up role (2.76 career ERA) to his closing duties. When Rivera went down with a season-ending knee injury in 2012, Robertson was expected to fill in. After several consecutive blown saves, Rafael Soriano became the closer for the rest of that season. It’s a good thing Robertson has been successful in his bullpen role since then and is a home-grown player because fans will have a little more patience with him … a little. The Yankees need D-Rob to make the transition to closer as easily as possible as there are no obvious choices in the bullpen to step in should things go pear-shaped.