For today’s team preview, you’re in for a real treat. The team is the New York Yankees, always relevant and at the forefront of the baseball universe. This preview is extra special because it’s written by one of our favorite baseball writers on the internet: William Tasker, also known as The Flagrant Fan. You can follow William on twitter here for some great baseball takes and reads all season long. William gives us an excellent perspective being that he is a die-hard Yankees fan.
Every single projection system on the planet seems to calculate the 2014 New York Yankees to finish with 83 wins. And that is somewhat understandable since huge question marks abound concerning the infield, the bullpen and CC Sabathia. But what if those concerns are unfounded? This is a team that can win 93 games just as easily as it wins 83.
Manager Joe Girardi has had a very successful Spring Training. With a team stacked with injury risk, the only major concern has been time missed by Jacoby Ellsbury with a calf strain. Of cource, the newly acquired center fielder is one of those injury risks as he has had problems staying on the field in the past. Otherwise, others who have caused great concern have looked healthy. Let’s go over that list quickly.
Derek Jeter missed all but a few games last season. Mark Teixeira missed most of last season with a wrist Injury. Michael Pineda missed two years with shoulder problems. Brian Roberts, the new second baseman has played a half a season worth of games in the last four years. New right fielder, Carlos Beltran, has had knee problems for years.
Those are all legitimate concerns. This is an older team with some really old players. 2013 could happen again and leave the Yankees scrambling to hang on through depth again. It did not work out last year and would not work out this year if things are repeated.
But what if they could all stay healthy? What if Derek Jeter could play his last year and hit .280? What if Brian Roberts could also play all season and hit .280? What if Beltran, new catcher, Brian McCann, Mark Teixeira and Alfonso Soriano can all hit over 25 homers as they are capable? What if Jacoby Ellsbury can play 150 games and steal 80 bases between he and Brett Gardner?
All those things could happen and this would be a deep and dynamic lineup. But what about the pitching?
There was hope that a healthy off season would bring CC Sabathia his velocity back. But it is safe to assume that it is never coming back. He has sat at 89 the entire spring. Surprisingly, he is not concerned. He spent enough time with Andy Pettitte to understand that he can be effective with location and arm angle. After a very poor season a year ago, Sabathia has shown this spring that he can get guys out just the way he is. He will improve his numbers this season.
Hiroki Kuroda is another concern. He is another year older and after running out of gas in August and September last year, the Yankees know they will have to rest him at times during the season. When rested, Kuroda really knows how to pitch.
This could be the year that Ivan Nova puts it all together. The two-seam fastball he came up with last year is devastating at 94 MPH with tons of movement leading to awkward swings. And his curve is a thing of beauty. The only thing missing with Nova has been the ability to be consistent. The stuff is there and this might be the year.
Masahiro Tanaka will have no problems adapting to American baseball. He is such a younger version of Kuroda that Girardi had to split them in the rotation so teams wouldn’t get two similar looks in consecutive days. His stuff is nasty and he knows what he is doing. Tanaka is the real deal.
Even the fifth spot in the rotation looks good for the Yankees. Michael Pineda has looked great all spring and it will only be a question of how many innings the Yankees can get out of him and how his shoulder will hold up. If he can give them twenty starts with David Phelps or Adam Warren backing him up, the fifth spot in the rotation could be one of the better ones around the league.
This could be one of the deepest rotations in baseball …if it all works out.
Pineda making the fifth spot in the rotation this spring made the bullpen deeper since Warren and Phelps can be flexible enough to move there with some success. Losing Mariano Rivera is never replaceable, but David Robertson learned a lot from the great closer over the years and has been one of the most solid setup men in baseball. He is not a worry in the closer role.
Shawn Kelley has become a very reliable guy. Dellin Betances has earned a spot and has big time stuff to be effective. And two lefties, Cesar Cabral and the venerable Matt Thornton should be fine. Bullpen depth is one thing the Yankees have in the minors if there are problems.
The outfield is deep and talented. With Gardner in left, Ellsbury in center and Beltran in right, they are backed up with the versatile Ichiro Suzuki (who they should not trade) giving them a very good defensive and offensive punch. Soriano can play left against the tougher left-handed pitchers in spots so he cannot hurt the defense too badly.
The infield has been the talk of most people all spring. You cannot replace Robinson Cano. He was a top ten player for them and those kinds of offensive skills will be missed. But the infield, if Jeter can hang on, could be better than advertised. Kelly Johnson should like the right field porch at Yankee Stadium and benefit from his year in Tampa Bay. Brian Roberts has played all spring like his old self and could have a renaissance season.
Mark Teixeira is a remarkable first baseman and makes them all look better and has been swinging freely, so he could be okay. He might not get all his power back, but he will be better than the Mark Reynolds of the world.
The Yankees found out this spring that they had some nice depth at the infield. Dean Anna and Yangervis Solarte were excellent and versatile all spring. And one of them will head north with the team while Brendan Ryan is on the disabled list. The only real question is why the Yankees insist on staying with Eduardo Nunez. He must have something on Brian Cashman because he should have been gone a long time ago.
The offensive capabilities of the catching corp last year was horrendous. So Brian McCann was a super smart sign for the team. Not only will he produce offensively, but he will take over the pitching staff like he did in Atlanta like no catcher the Yankees have had in a long, long time. Francisco Cervelli as a backup is terrific and has worked hard on his skills. The Yankees also have minor league depth at the position with Austin Romine and John Ryan Murphy, two guys who could be starting for a lot of teams right now.
On paper, the Yankees only add up to an 83-win team according to the super-computers. And they play in a very tough division with excellent Rays’, Red Sox’ and Orioles’ teams and the Blue Jays will be better this season. But this Yankees team could surprise a lot of people and no one in the AL East should sleep on them.