Saturday, February 1, 2014

Will the Yankees Moves Pay Off?

The New York Yankees had their worst season in over two decades last year, missing the playoffs for only the second time since 1995. Manager Joe Girardi was lucky to get 85 wins out of the Yankees last year. The Yankees had an aging, costly roster with many cast offs in important roles last season. Derek Jeter, Mark Teixeira, and Curtis Granderson missed most of the season with injuries. Alex Rodriguez was hurt most of last season and a distraction when healthy. Rodriguez will be suspended for the entire 2014 season because of his PED and Biogenesis connections. Longtime Yankee greats Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera retired at the end of the season. The Yankees entered the offseason with their best player approaching free agency and a bunch of holes on their team. They decided not to overpay for All Star second baseman Robinson Cano and let Granderson walk. The Yankees held firm and would not match Seattle's 10 year, $ 240 million offer for a player who is 31 years old.

Learning a lesson from A-Rod's contract, the Yankees decided Cano's demands were too much. That been said, the Yankees didn't get cheap this offseason. Instead, they spent big on several free agents to fill many holes. They added former Braves catcher Brian McCann to start off the offseason. Then Jacoby Ellsbury was signed away from the arch rival Red Sox. Soon after Cano's defection, the Yankees signed 8-time All Star outfielder Carlos Beltran. The Yankees also signed Brian Roberts, Kelly Johnson, Casey McGehee, Brendan Ryan, and Matt Thornton to one year deals. Last week, the Yankees made one more major move. They signed Japanese pitcher Masahiro Tanaka, a 25 year old right hander who dominated in Japan last year. In total, the Yankees spent over $ 400 million in player contracts this offseason.

Will the Yankees be any better this season? They finished in fourth place last year and are in a very tough division in the AL East. They will have to replace Cano's production, along with losing the greatest closer in history in Rivera. They will be somewhat younger with McCann, Ellsbury, and Tanaka, but still one of the older teams in the league. They still have question marks with Jeter, Teixera, second base, third base, and the bullpen. Will David Robertson be a effective closer after several years of being Rivera's top setup guy. Can he replace Rivera, like Rivera replaced John Wettelend in 1997? Will CC Sabathia rebound from a down year? Will the team avoid the injury bug this year? Let's take a look at their starting lineup and see how it shapes up.

CF Ellsbury
SS Jeter
RF Beltran
C McCann
1B Teixeira
DH Alfonso Soriano
LF Brett Gardner
3B K Johnson
2B Roberts

On paper, the Yankees lineup looks like a pretty good one. They should be one of the better scoring teams in the American League. They have solid backups with Ryan backing up Jeter and Roberts, and Ichiro Suzuki as the 4th outfielder. Still, it is hard to expect Roberts, Jeter, and Teixeira to all stay healthy and be productive. Ellsbury, Gardner, and even Beltran have some injury concerns. Ellsbury will add more speed to the Yankees lineup, and Gardner is also pretty fast.  It is unlikely that the Yankees will have as bad luck with injuries like they did last year, but they are still relying on many older, injury prone players. Next, we'll take a look at their pitching staff.

LH Sabathia
RH Tanaka
RH Hiroki Kuroda
RH Ivan Nova
5th starter: to be decided

Assuming Sabathia improves this year, this could be a pretty solid rotation. Tanaka isn't going to go 24-0 in the majors, but should be a major upgrade to the staff. Tanaka has been compared to the Rangers Yu Darvish, although he is smaller. Kuroda has quietly been an effective middle of the rotation starter for the Yankees the past two seasons. However, he is now 40 years old. Nova is one of the Yankees youngest players, and has been a solid starter since coming into the league in 2011. For the fifth spot, the Yankees have Michael Pineda and David Phelps competing for the spot. Robertson will take over the closer spot for Rivera. The Yankees could still add someone like Grant Balfour or Fernando Rodney to fill out their bullpen.

So, will the Yankees contend for the postseason this year? They certainly have a chance to, but it is not a foregone conclusion. They will have an interesting team after some major spending this offseason. The Yankees felt like they could not stand pat after seeing the Red Sox win the World Series last year. The Red Sox are still the favorites to win the AL East this season, but I would expect the Yankees, Rays, and possibly the Orioles to compete for the division crown this year. The Blue Jays are no slouch, either. Still, I think the Yankees are a better team now than they were at the end of last season.

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