The Christmas season is officially upon us. Carols are heard on every airwave, decorative lights shine with the warm glow of holiday spirit and the New York Yankees are looting the free-agent market like a mom with five kids at a department store.
For just the second time since 1993, the Yankees failed to make the playoffs. The other time, 2008, they signed CC Sabathia, Mark Teixeira and A.J. Burnet (a combined $384 million) forming a super team that ended up winning the championship the following year with the promise of more in each super-sized contract.
There’s a glitch in the Matrix.
Five years later, the Yankees are back at it. This time around, Jacoby Ellsbury, Brian McCann and Carlos Beltran have been added to the pinstripe payroll at a discounted price ($285 million) in an attempt to not exceed $189 million for the year and avoid the luxury tax. Put the gun down, Mr. Beane.
Let’s take a step back and admire how bad the Yankees were in 2013. (Mainly because I am a Red Sox fan.) They finished 85-77, tied for third in the AL East and fifth in the wild card standings. Rock bottom for them. They never had the fear-inducing factor that’s defined Yankees teams since 12 B.C. and, according to Wikipedia, their last highlight came on July 6.
To turn those fortunes around, they’ve turned again to their Steinbrenner credit card. And more than likely, this strategy will succeed in the short term. Ellsbury gives them a premiere leadoff hitter and center fielder. McCann is one of the best overall catchers in the league. Both are at the apex of their prime and will bolster the Yankees lineup tremendously if healthy.
Then there’s Beltran and Hiroki Kuroda, 37 and 38, respectively. A middle-of-the-order bat and a pitcher, they were signed to short-term contracts designed to squeeze the last drops of production out of their careers. Ah, the Yankee way.
Unlike 2013, where their opening-day lineup looked like a poor man’s Island of Misfit Toys, 2014’s looks a little brighter. However, there’s a dark underbelly to these signings that will keep them from playing deep into October.
The Yankees now have five outfielders deserving to start in Ellsbury, Beltran, Ichiro, Alfonso Soriano and Brett Gardner. Kelly Johnson is set to replace Robinson Cano and, if something truly drastic happens, provide more outfield depth. And no one has a clue what will happen with Alex Rodriguez.
This Yankee offseason is nearly a dead ringer for the one following 2008. From the wild spending to mask a disappointing season, right down to the crazy A-Rod controversy heading into the season. Everything is the same, except their pitching.
The focus of 2008 was bolstering the rotation, which was achieved by acquiring Sabathia and Burnett who combined for a 32-17 record their first year in the Bronx. This offseason, they’ve re-signed Kuroda and lost Andy Pettitte to retirement and Phil Hughes to a ridiculous contract from the Minnesota Twins. Not exactly an improvement.
Last year, like every other year, proved elite pitching gets you deep in the playoffs. The three starters the Yankees have returning in Sabathia, Kuroda and Ivan Nova were a combined 34-32 last season. It hardly screams elite and, when it’s combined with Mariano Rivera’s departure and the inevitable bullpen shakeup, you’ll understand why no analyst has them in “the conversation” just yet.
Yes, the Yankees will improve. Yes, they will put fans in the seats and eyes on the screen. But that’ll be it unless they can make a legitimate improvement to their rotation, which is currently 40 percent depleted.
Perhaps they sign Matt Garza, Ubaldo Jimenez or Rakuten Golden Eagle Masahiro Tanaka (who the Yankees are literally banking on) to boost the rotation. Or maybe they parlay Gardner or Ichiro into a starting a pitcher. A “Yankee Swap” of sorts. (I’ll close my head in a door for that later.)
Next season should look a little more familiar to Yankee fans. They’ll be a threat again, giving at least a little air to the “whatever, we have 27” argument. But if the Yankees want to seriously contend in 2014, they’re going to need pitching. Luckily for them, there’s still time for some last-minute Christmas shopping.