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Masahiro Tanaka will help, but the Yankees need much more than him to be a contender

Jan 22, 2014, 12:24 PM EDT

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The offseason distorts things. The wintertime focus on individual player signings and the underlying optimism everyone seems to have about the prospects of their local nine often makes us forget that, in baseball, one player cannot make the difference between winning and losing. Heck, sometimes even three players don’t. Just ask Albert Pujols, Josh Hamilton, C.J. Wilson and thousands of disappointed Angels fans these past couple of seasons.

Which isn’t to say that Masahiro Tanaka was a bad signing for the Yankees. Anything but. The Yankees had serious issues in their rotation and Tanaka was, by far, the best pitcher available on the open market. Tanaka’s presence will dramatically improve the Bombers’ rotation even if his numbers pale compared to the video game stats he posted in Japan this past season.

But before Yankees fans clear their October calendars in favor of watching a deep playoff run, they need to remember that, despite the nearly half a billion dollars the Steinbrenners have devoted to free agents this offseason, their local nine still has a lot of holes.

Mariano Rivera is gone and, though David Robertson is one of the best relief pitchers in the game, one does not simply replace the greatest of all time. Maybe more to the point, with Robertson moving in to the closer’s role, the rest of the bullpen is thrust into flux. Lefty Matt Thornton was a nice pickup, but New York could really use another solid reliever.

The infield could be a much bigger problem. Heck, if things break bad it could be a hot mess. Mark Teixeira‘s wrist, which kept him out of the entire 2013 season, is already giving him some problems, with reporting earlier this week that he’s likely to have a late start to spring training as a result. Derek Jeter is back, but he is no safe bet to be healthy and/or effective at his advanced age. His fill-in — Brendan Ryan — is a slick fielder but worthless at the plate. And he may be covering second base anyway if Brian Roberts, imported from Baltimore, is unable to shake the durability issues he’s had for the past several years. Finally, while everyone is happy that A-Rod is gone, third base is a question mark. Kelly Johnson hasn’t played much third in his career., and he may need to cover first base if Teixeira is gimpy.

That sound you hear is Stephen Drew‘s agent clearing his schedule to take meetings with Brian Cashman. Or, if Cashman is smart, it should be.

Even before the Tanaka signing, the Yankees addition of Brain McCann, Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran made them better. But there’s no escaping the fact that this was an 85-win team last year which arguably overachieved to get even that far (their Pythagorean expectation was 79 wins). To compete with the defending world champ Red Sox and the always pesky Tampa Bay Rays, the Yankees needed to improve significantly.

There is no question that the Tanaka signing is a significant upgrade to the rotation. But to the extent anyone says it “buys the Yankees a championship” or anything close to it, they’re ignoring the fact that an awful lot has to go right for this team, as currently constructed, to even be assured of the playoffs. They’re a reliever, an infielder (or two) and a couple of bounceback years from some aging veterans away from printing playoff tickets.

Sometimes all of those things break just right. They’re not the sort of things people wager a lot of money on, however.

128 Comments (Feed for Comments)
  1. 461deep - Jan 22, 2014 at 4:57 PM

    Tanaka should do well and make up for loss of Pettite. Kuroda not likely to be quite as good as last year while CC should be better. Starters look improved now over 2013. Pen, some decline. Infield even with a healthy Tex down big. Hard to replace Cano and A-rod in the lineup as they were anchors. Beltran and Soriano older and may not perform as in the past. Elsbury and McCann will help even things out. Jeter will add what he can. Outfield D nice. Infield average at best at 2nd, 3rd, SS.

  2. isaiah432013 - Jan 22, 2014 at 5:16 PM

    Congratulations Yankee fans! Now that you have what you wanted, what are you going to do with the rest of the lineup? Not a playoff lineup….hope you have more money to spend; maybe call Ned Colleitti in Los Angeles….great minds think alike?

  3. anxovies - Jan 22, 2014 at 5:23 PM

    Brendan Ryan might surprise everyone this year. Remember that he hit over .290 in 390 AB with St. Louis in 2009. According Michel Kay in a game last year Kevin Long believes that he can “fix him.” Long thinks that he has gone through too many changes in his batting stance. Also, the Yankees have Ronnier Mustelier who hit very well in the minors and almost made the team in spring training last year but got hurt chasing a ball in the dugout. Mustelier was signed as a 2B out of Cuba and can 3B and the corner outfield.

    • anxovies - Jan 22, 2014 at 5:24 PM

      “play 3B”

    • bigharold - Jan 22, 2014 at 5:57 PM

      “Kevin Long believes that he can “fix him.” ”

      If Long can fix Ryan he’ll be elevated to baseball coaching God. I can hear it now;… We can“fix him”. Cue Six Million Dollar Man theme music.

      Ironically, back in the day $6 Mil was a lot of money but now it is about what a decent hitting SS gets these days.

      • cackalackyank - Jan 22, 2014 at 9:10 PM

        YES, enter K-long. Now I know how we will replace those 250 strikeouts we had after he “fixed” Granderson.

    • dylanthom2013 - Jan 22, 2014 at 6:54 PM

      You realize 2009 was 4 years ago, right? And Mustelier is 29. I don’t get how a team with a massive massive payroll has to resort to cheap journeyman-types to fill holes at any roster spot. Don’t you have any near-ready prospects at all?

      • cackalackyank - Jan 22, 2014 at 9:11 PM

        No. No we don’t.

      • bigmeechy74 - Jan 23, 2014 at 12:43 AM

        no. brian cashman does such a wonderful job. He just has unlimited money to buy old free agents with and then whiffs on the draft every single year. genius. It must be tough to be a GM with a gigantic payroll

  4. tigertigerwoodsyall - Jan 22, 2014 at 6:29 PM

    This article is ridiculous. The Yankees contended for much of the season last year due to their starting rotation and great contributions from a rag tag team riddled with triple A players. Yeah, Jeter and Tex are back and won’t be the answer, but they made some nice signings, too. Total Yankee hating article.

    • bigmeechy74 - Jan 23, 2014 at 1:18 AM

      awww… poor little baby… did the bad man pick on the little ol yankees? awww i hope you are ok

  5. chuckychucksteak - Jan 22, 2014 at 6:32 PM

    its like Craig Calcaterra thinks he needs to prove how much he hates the Yankees.

    • happytwinsfan - Jan 22, 2014 at 8:36 PM

      why does believing, right or wrong, informed or uninformed, that the remaining weak spots on the yankee roster will make it difficult for them to compete for a play off spot make one a “yankee hater”.

      the yankees look to me like a 80 – 85 win team, although i also suspect their off season isn’t over yet and that that will change. am i a “yankee hater”?

      i also believe that the twins additions so far will only improve them to maybe about 75 wins (i hope). am i a “twins hater”?

      • chuckychucksteak - Jan 24, 2014 at 6:55 PM

        dude stfu. its not like this guy wrote one article and i formed this opinion about him. my impression of the writer is that he doesnt like the Yankees. my perception is just that, mine. glad you’ll be able to continue reading his stuff. cheers.

  6. retief1954 - Jan 22, 2014 at 11:51 PM

    Ugh. What a shame. It’ll be great again this coming year, watching this guy get hammered by MLB hitters and watching NYY get BEAT, AGAIN. Remember, NYY and fans – anything less than a WS championship is a FAILURE. You know… because you’re all so good, and so deserving. How could NYY NOT win the WS every year?!?!? WTF??

    • cofran2004 - Jan 23, 2014 at 8:40 AM

      Butt hurt much? But DAYUM, do you look bitter!

    • ironyisadeadscene - Jan 23, 2014 at 9:41 AM

      See, THIS…is what a yankee hater post looks like

  7. jeffr85392 - Jan 26, 2014 at 11:46 PM

    Speaking for those of us west of the Mississippi, I can honestly say, Who cares?

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