What can we expect from this season’s crew? I’ll break it down into several sections – infield/catcher, outfield/DH, starting rotation, bullpen, bench and manager/front office. I’ll provide my prediction for the Yankees record, order of finish in the American League East and any postseason aspirations at the end of the article.
The biggest question mark surrounding the club is the infield. Kelly Johnson takes over the everyday role at third base with Alex Rodriguez suspended for the season. Johnson is being asked to play a position that he is mostly unfamiliar with. He has been primarily a second baseman during his career with just 16 games played at the hot corner. His lefty bat which possesses some pop could play well at Yankee Stadium. Unfortunately there could be some haphazard play in the field from Johnson early on.
Brian Roberts was signed to fill the enormous shoes of second baseman Robinson Cano, who fled to the Seattle Mariners via free agency. Roberts is a former All-Star, but has had his troubles staying on the field over the last few seasons. He has looked healthy this spring and the Yankees would be very happy with 140 or more games played. If he stays on the field Roberts can still provide good production, just not of the level Cano used to deliver.
Mark Teixeira is at the crossroads of his career. He turns 34-years-old in 10 days and looking down the barrel of declining returns. He is further coming off a major wrist injury which could sap the power he desperately needs to provide the Yankees while hitting in the middle of the order. Teixeira still has three years left on his contract (including this season) and the Yankees are hoping he can find his way into a .280/.350/.500 season with 30-plus homers and 100-plus RBIs, something he has not done since 2011.
Derek Jeter’s retirement tour is set to begin and anyone who has followed the Yankees since The Captain stepped foot in New York knows he wants to go out with a bang and a title. He’ll have to concede some starts and spend some days at designated hitter in order to stay fresh through what can be a grueling season. Jeter had a rough spring with the bat but has been moving well on the field and the bases. He seems to be in great shape and hopefully can turn in an effort that approaches his 2012 season.
Perhaps the biggest impact signing the Yankees made was for catcher Brian McCann. The former Atlanta Braves backstop is lauded by anyone who has played with him. He is one of the best pitch framers in the game and his lefty power has fans drooling over the potential bombs he might hit into the right field porch. McCann has had his own share of injury concerns over the years, but he too seems be in good health as the season begins.
Francisco Cervelli has a monstrous spring and made the decision of who will be the backup to McCann very easy. Cervelli is a good defender and will not provide a terrible loss of production when he is subbing for McCann.
Brett Gardner looked like he was headed out the door when the Yankees signed Jacoby Ellsbury to a seven-year, $153 million contract in response to Cano’s departure. But, the Yankees took a completely different approach and extended Gardner’s contract through the 2018 season. It provides the Yankees another speed option which allows manager Joe Girardi to mix power with speed at two different spots in the lineup. It also, offers calm for the chance that Ellsbury suffers an injury.
Ellsbury can potentially propel the Yankees to the playoffs or doom their chances simply based on how many games he plays. Even with Gardner at the ready to shift over to the center field, Ellsbury’s abilities when healthy are not matched by many in the game. His speed is undeniable and he does have some power potential in his bat.
The Yankees did not help their average-age when they signed Carlos Beltran to a three-year deal. Beltran, who turns 37 at the end of April, will man right field. He has shown in recent seasons that he is in good health but has averaged 146 games played the last three seasons. The Yankees will likely rest Beltran from the field on occasion and force a full day off here and there in order to keep his legs completely under him.
Alfonso Soriano projects to be the man to take most of the at-bats as the designated hitter. Soriano is new to a full-time DH role, but he has taken to the position without complaint. As he ages, Soriano must realize that he can stay in this game for a good number of years as a DH provided he hits like he did in 2013 (34 homers & 101 RBIs). Soriano will get some time in the field when one of the regulars needs some rest as described above.
CC Sabathia, the team is looking for the starters to gel with McCann and quickly.
Sabathia is in the process of truly forgetting his days as a power pitcher and work on getting hitters out with his ancillary pitches. He seems to realize that his fastball will never be the same and he also finally seems comfortable with that fact. He had a very good finish to the spring and is in the best shape of his life. The Yankees will need Sabathia to regain his ace form in order to have a shot at reaching the postseason.
Hiroki Kuroda has been the most consistent starter over the last two seasons. Unfortunately, part of that consistency has included poor finishes to the season. Kuroda, 39, is going to need to be handled differently as the season progresses so that he is strong in August and September.
Ivan Nova will have to build on his 2013 season in order to alleviate some of the pressure on Sabathia and Kuroda. Nova’s biggest knock is that he’s failed to put back-to-back good seasons together. It’s time for Nova to make the next step and solidify his position as a member of the rotation for years to come.
Masahiro Tanaka seemingly has the toughest road ahead of him. It is not about his abilities, but more about acclimating himself to the pressure cooker of the Bronx and the lofty expectations placed on his due to his seven-year, $155 million contract. Tanaka has looked more than ready on the field and has handled the media well thus far. It will be interesting to see how the Yankees protect him early on in the season as he is not completely used to pitching every fifth day. He has purposely been lined up as the fourth starter to alleviate some of the demands of his arm early on.
Michael Pineda won the fifth starter role and is finally going to toss a major league game for the Yankees. He is still just 25-years-old and during spring training he looked much like the pitcher the Yankees traded for back in 2012. Pineda has a chance to prove he is fully back and ready to contribute to this team for the next few seasons.
David Robertson takes over the closer role, following the greatest closer of all time, Mariano Rivera. Robertson is saying all the right things thus far concerning pitching his own game and did not allow a run during the spring. He has been a premier setup man for the Yankees for the last few seasons and his abilities should translate to the closer role. Avoiding comparisons to Rivera will be difficult, but Robertson has always seemed focused to me and I don’t see that changing.
Robertson’s primary setup men will be right-hander Shawn Kelley and southpaw Matt Thornton. Kelley had a nice 2013 season and Thornton, while not quite as dominant against lefties as he once was, could still provide some late inning assistance.
Dellin Betances could be the breakout star of the bullpen if not the team. He was dominant this spring. He’s fully acclimated to his role as a reliever and could provide important support in the late innings as the season progresses.
The combination of David Phelps, Adam Warren and Vidal Nuno will provide support both in long relief and short relief. I would not be shocked if Phelps in particular has solid late inning success at some point this season.
The Yankees are carrying two rookies and a seasoned veteran on the bench. Dean Anna won the role of backing up Jeter as Brendan Ryan recuperates from a back injury which sidelined him for a majority of spring training.
Yangervis Solarte’s incredible spring boosted him from non-roster invitee to the Opening Day roster, beating out veteran Eduardo Nunez. Solarte will see time at second and third base.
Ichiro Suzuki is the fifth outfielder. He will need to adjust slightly to his role as he will be used sparingly for the first time in his illustrious career. Expect Ichiro to give Beltran some rest on occasion and potentially earn some pinch-hitting spots along the way.
The same goes for the outfield where there might be a rotation of sorts which will get Soriano and Ichiro on the field in order to spell Ellsbury and Beltran.
Girardi will also have to decide who his best go-to arms are in the bullpen. He will need to abscond with his tendency to be too loyal and make some hard quick choices if the current setup men are not performing adequately.
General manager Brian Cashman will continue to work the phones. Teams are interested right now in the Yankees’ catching depth. Other than that, the organization is not very strong where it concerns major league ready or superior minor league talent. The Yankees might need to add a player or two at the deadline depending on circumstances and they could find it difficult to compete with the Boston Red Sox and the Tampa Bay Rays if they are interested in the same players.
The amateur draft will be difficult for the Yankees as they lost three picks due to signing players who had received qualifying offers. They’ll need to find some hidden gems in the later rounds of the draft in an effort to rebuild a lackluster farm system.
If you saw my full MLB preview, I pegged the Yankees as one of the American League wild card teams finishing second in the AL East to the Rays. It is conceivable that the Yankees could switch spots with the Red Sox who I also have slotted as a wild card team.
A lot has to fall into place for the Yankees to get to the postseason. They need to stay healthy of course, but they also need players to perform at or better than expectations. Any slip in anticipated performance from more than a couple of players could impede their chance of success.
The rotation has a chance to be the focal point of this team. The offense will be better than 2013 and the bullpen while missing Rivera could be better than some are giving them credit for.
In the end a 90-72 record is where I’d place the team. I could see a four-game swing in either direction should things completely fall into place or injuries once again swallow up the team.
If they do reach the playoffs, I think they would fall to either the Rays or the Detroit Tigers in the first round assuming they were able to win the play-in game against the Red Sox.
What do you think? Where do you see the Yankees finishing the season? Let me know in the comment section below.
Christopher Carelli is a freelance sports writer/editor and the Director of Content Strategy for Sportsideo.