What a difference a year makes. After setting a self-imposed $189 million budget in 2013 to get under the luxury tax, enduring a season where almost every one of their position players spent time on the disabled list and missing their second post season in 19 years, the Bombers plunked down some $500 million in free-agent contracts. Budgetary restraint is dead, kids. The Yankees are back with a vengeance.
The team filled a lot of gaping holes by signing catcher Brian McCann, speedy outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury and slugger Carlos Beltran. They also signed 25-year-old Masahiro Tanaka, Japan’s top pitcher, and brought back righty Hiroki Kuroda.
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They did, however, lose out on one big free-agent signing. Their 31-year-old second baseman Robinson Cano jumped ship for the Seattle Mariners to the tune of a $240 million, 10-year deal. Cano felt “disrespected” by a reported $170 million, seven-year offer from the Yankees, but the brass in the Bronx appears to have learned its lesson when it comes to handing out 10-year deals to players north of 30.
Besides the departure of Cano, the Yankees lost two productive and beloved veterans to retirement: closer Mariano Rivera and lefty Andy Pettitte. You don’t just replace a future Hall of Famer like Rivera, who is arguably the best ever to play the position. The front office and fans will keep a close watch on how former set-up man Dave Robertson handles the transition to closing duties. It might be a bumpy ride in the Bronx at the end of games.
The new additions greatly improve what was a pretty putrid 2013 lineup. Yet question marks remain most notably in the infield where both Derek Jeter and Mark Teixeira are returning from significant injuries. Still, this is a Yankee team that, unlike last year, befits its pinstriped pedigree.
Even though the Yankees lost their most potent hitter in Cano they have brought in both power and speed to improve the lineup quite considerably. McCann, a lefty, should love the short right porch at Yankee Stadium. Watch for his power numbers to rise. The switch-hitting Beltran should also fare well in the hitter-friendly confines.
The addition of Ellsbury coupled with Brett Gardner brings an awful lot of speed on the bases. Both outfielders are capable of distracting pitchers and can easily score from first on a well-hit ball. Throw in Alfonso Soriano, who seemed to find new life in his return to the Bronx, and the outfield looks to be a position of strength. Heck, the Yankees even have the nimble Ichiro as a defensive replacement in their back pocket.
As stated, the question marks are all over the infield. Will Teixeira return to form after missing an entire season recovering from wrist surgery? Can Jeter, who announced he will retire at the end of the season, have a typical Jeter-esque year after returning from an ankle injury? The Yankees also brought in oft-injured second baseman Brian Roberts late of the Baltimore Orioles. Forget about him “replacing” Cano. Can he just manage to stay healthy for a full season?
Then there’s Alex Rodriguez. He’ll be a non-factor (and non-distraction) as he’s serving out his PED suspension and will miss the entire season. A combo of left-handed hitter Kelly Johnson and right-handed hitter Eduardo Nunez will man the hot corner. Nunez is always an adventure in the field so look for Johnson to be the primary third baseman.
CC Sabathia is still at the helm, although concerns continue about his decreasing velocity. The trimmed down lefty ace has only topped out at 88 mph with his fastball this spring. Not a great sign.
Kuroda is a solid number two. Yankees manager Joe Girardi will likely make sure to get Kuroda extra rest wherever possible so he doesn’t lose steam down the stretch like he did last year. The signing of Tanaka will be a difference maker. Yes, he is unproven in the States, but he’ll be better than the pundits project. Tanaka’s been preparing for the big show for quite some time and knows expectations are high.
Ivan Nova along with Michael Pineda will round out the back of the rotation. Pineda has looked good this spring and the Yankees might finally get some payoff from the big right-hander who has missed two seasons recovering from shoulder surgery. David Phelps could be the odd man out. He will duel for long relief duties with Adam Warren. There has been talk of trading Phelps, but, as the old adage goes, you can never have too much pitching.
Opening day lineup
1. Jacoby Ellsbury CF
2. Derek Jeter SS
3. Carlos Beltran RF
4. Brian McCann C
5. Mark Teixeira 1B
6. Alfonso Soriano DH
7. Kelly Johnson 3B
8. Brian Roberts 2B
9. Brett Gardner LF
The farm system is a tad pedestrian compared to others in the league. Two of the top five prospects are catchers: Gary Sanchez, who ranks as the overall number one, and J.R. Murphy, who in any other organization would get called up this season. However, the Yankees now have McCann for five years and Francisco Cervelli is the frontrunner to serve as the back up. Not to mention that Austin Romine is still kicking around. They may use one of those guys as trade bait at some point, perhaps for an infielder.
Speaking of which, with the impending retirement of Jeter, the Yankees are going to need a shortstop next season. Eric Jagielo, 21, played third base for Notre Dame, but could be converted to the position. He has good power, decent defense and looks to rise quickly through the minor league system this season. There’s also young speedster Abiatal Avelino, 19, who is progressing nicely both at the plate and in the field.
Things can only get better for the Yanks. This team is vastly improved despite its infield concerns. Remember, even after enduring a plethora of injuries and fielding a lineup that was put together with spit and glue last year, the Bombers still managed to win 85 games and stay in the hunt for the second wild card spot.
The American League East is a tough animal and the Yankees have upped the ante with their new additions. The Bombers are back and ready to dominate. They won’t be denied another postseason appearance and will firmly implant themselves on top of the AL East.