This is one of a series of posts in which I will be breaking down every team in baseball. I am by no means a credible source—merely a casual fan who knows a little about baseball and would like to share my observations.
Today we look at the Yankees, whose tradition of excellence has fallen short in recent years, the team not having made the playoffs since 2012. With Derek Jeter, the last remnant from their dynastic run of championships, now gone, it’s time for new faces to usher in the next era of Yankee greatness.
Projected Lineup: CF Jacoby Ellsbury, LF Brett Gardner, RF Carlos Beltran, 1B Mark Teixeira, C Brian McCann, 3B Chase Headley, DH Alex Rodriguez, SS Didi Gregorius*, 2B Stephen Drew
Projected Rotation: RHP Masahiro Tanaka, RHP Michael Pineda, LHP CC Sabathia, LHP Chris Capuano, RHP Nathan Eovaldi*
* new additions
The only storyline anyone will be focused on this season for the Yankees is the A-Rod parade, which is a shame.
No matter your stance on his alleged wrongdoings, the one fact upon which everybody can agree is that his impact on this year’s Yankees will be essentially “meh”. If the Yankees contend this year, it won’t be because of him.
So, shouldn’t we shift our focus to some of the brighter spots on the team?
Here’s the thing about the Yankees: They were actually quite good last season. They finished just five games out of a playoff spot. They’ll be even better now that they’re not running Derek Jeter out at shortstop every day. That fact alone makes them a 90-win team.
But let’s go deeper.
Masahiro Tanaka may be a ticking time bomb. There isn’t a Yankees fan in the world who won’t be on edge every time he as much as blinks in a weird way. But the Yankees believe that he is the key to contending this season. Otherwise, they would’ve gone through with the surgery and been done with it.
This spring, Tanaka has appeared nothing short of excellent, making the Yankees’ gamble look like the right move. In four starts, Tanaka put up a 0.96 WHIP, with 13 strikeouts to just one walk allowed. It’s unclear as to whether manager Joe Girardi will restrict Tanaka’s innings at all this season, but he is reported to be on a pitch count for the season opener.
Don’t read too much into that, though—Girardi is likely just building Tanaka’s strength up slowly, so that within a few weeks or so, he can be unleashed at full force.
The Yankees are also looking forward to seeing a full season from Michael Pineda. Pineda is reportedly healthy and keeping the pine tar under his hat these days, so there should be nothing of concern this season that would keep him from the baseball field.
Another guy in the rotation who may be on the cusp of a breakout year is newcomer Nate Eovaldi. Don’t underestimate him just because he’s never had a season ERA under 4, or a WHIP under 1.30. A big thing that came around for Eovaldi last year were his walks. He allowed a career-low 1.9 walks per nine innings, down from a previous career mark of 3.7.
Both Pineda and Eovaldi have also had very good spring showings, and appear primed to hit the ground strong in April.
In the bullpen, the Yankees plan to continue using the giant they keep chained in the basement to pitch in games, but this season, it’ll be in the ninth inning. Yes, the 6’8” Dellin Betances will be taking over the closer role left vacant by the departed David Robertson.
What makes Betances scary isn’t his imposing frame, nor his video game numbers that last year included a 1.40 ERA and a 0.78 WHIP. No, what makes his scary is how many innings he can pitch. The 90 innings he logged in 2014 led all full-time relievers, and the fact that he only did it in 70 games means that he frequently threw more than one inning. Which makes sense, really—a man who is 30% larger than most humans should be able to throw about 30% more. But what a weapon he’ll be for the Yankees and Joe Girardi, who will have the freedom to call for his closer in the eighth inning if he so chooses.
The rest of the rebuilt bullpen includes new set-up man Andrew Miller, who probably won’t be quite as good as his numbers from last year, but only because he doesn’t get to face the Yankees any more, whom he absolutely owned. Rumor has it they only signed him so they wouldn’t have to face him.
The position players will still make the team look like an Old-Timers’ Game, with Didi Gregorius the only starter under 30. However, a few of the old guys still know how to ball.
Brett Gardner had a transitional year in 2014, in which he came to terms with his game not being based entirely on speed any more. But that’s okay—Gardner put on some muscle and started hitting for power, which became more apparent in the second half of the season. After July 1, Gardner hit 10 of his 17 homers on the year, and stole only six bases. Expect his power surge to continue into this season.
Third baseman Chase Headley has also looked like a new player ever since he put on pinstripes. His power has awoken, and his on-base percentage of .371 is in line with his career best. Maybe it’s the hitter-friendly ballpark, or just the change of scenery, but Headley should once again be considered one of the better switch-hitters in the game. And if a guy like Carlos Beltran can’t pull his weight, Headley could be moved up into the heart of the Yankees’ batting order.
The Yankees’ pitching is their main strength, but don’t count out their offense. If a few hitters can get on a roll, it’ll go a long way towards propelling the Yankees into October.
Projected Finish: 91-71, First place in AL East