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2014 Preview: New York Yankees

Mar 27, 2014, 3:21 PM EDT

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Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2014 season. Next up: The New York Yankees

The Big Question: Does $471 million in offseason commitments put the Yankees back in the playoffs?

The Yankees added Jacoby Ellsbury,Brian McCannCarlos Beltran and Masahiro Tanaka this offseason, with total salary commitments of nearly $500 million. That’s a lot of talent added, and every bit of that talent fills a need for the Yankees and represents a good baseball signing, even if one can question whether it will work out for them financially in the long term. Of course, why we care about the money side with the Yankees is an open question. But it’s also an open question as to whether all of those commitments make the team better in the aggregate, because there are a lot of problems here too.

The infield, as I noted in my video preview of the Yankees, is a tire fire. Or a dumpster fire. If he’s healthy, Mark Teixeira should be OK, but we don’t know if he’ll hold up. Derek Jeter and Brian Roberts up the middle are serious defensive liabilities even if they’re hitting, and a full-blown disaster if they’re not, and each of them have durability questions too. Kelly Johnson may hit well in Yankee Stadium, but his ability to hold down third base is seriously questionable. Brendan Ryan has an amazing glove, but he can’t play more than one position at a time and he can’t hit a lick.

The bullpen has questions too. David Robertson should be fine taking over for Mariano Rivera, but the rest of the arms there aren’t exactly intimidating. While Joe Girardi has been pretty good at making the most with what he is given in the Yankees pen, he doesn’t have as much here — or at least as much proven here — as he’s had in the past.

There are other “ifs” too, including “if CC Sabathia rebounds,” “if Michael Pineda returns to rookie form” and “if Masahiro Tanaka is as good as people think he’ll be.” Many of those “ifs” will break right for the Yankees as none of their uncertainties are the type which couldn’t, quite reasonably, turn out in the team’s favor. But all of the uncertainties puts a lot of pressure on McCann and the outfield which, while definitely team strengths, can’t afford to miss expectations.

Maybe all of that adds up to good playoff odds in another division, but in the AL East, I think it tips things in favor of the Yankees being on the outside looking in this October.

What else is going on?

  • Let’s focus on that big strength for a minute: the outfield. Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury would be starting center fielders for most teams, so having both of them out there at once is going to make Yankees pitchers happy. Beltran’s offense is quite welcome, and the fact that he can be the DH whenever he’s even mildly tired — with Alfonso Soriano and Ichiro spelling him — makes for an optimal situation.
  • Michael Pineda missed each of the past two seasons recovering from shoulder surgery and has yet to throw a regular season pitch for the Yankees after they acquired him from the Mariners for Jesus Montero in January of 2012, but he is now officially the 5th starter. If he’s anything close to what he was in 2011, he’ll provide a big boost to the rotation.
  • CC Sabathia being anything close to what he was before 2013 would be an even bigger help. Only five starters who qualified for the AL ERA title last year had a worse ERA than Sabathia’s 4.78. His velocity is down and he is trying to remake himself both physically — he’s noticeably thinner this year — and as a pitcher, having added a cutter to his repertoire. In people’s minds he’s still the Yankees’ ace. If he can return to being one in reality, it’s another big boost for this team.
  • Joe Girardi’s Yankees have been really good about not getting sucked into the media firestorms that always seem to visit the Bronx during the baseball season. They tend to say and do the right things and let the media bleat. Still, with A-Rod gone all year and no other obvious source of friction on the horizon, the team may be able to relax a bit more this season than they have in the past few years. One can’t quantify that, of course, but it’s hard to see how a little less time being on guard can’t help.

Prediction: The Yankees should be fun to watch — all that new talent in pinstripes will ensure that — but the Rays and Red Sox have more overall talent and far fewer question marks. I feel that makes the Yankees no safer a bet than Third Place, AL East.

  1. johnnysoda - Mar 27, 2014 at 3:32 PM

    I say we’ll be second, just behind Boston. This team will definitely be better than last year’s- not that that’s saying much, of course.

    • spudchukar - Mar 27, 2014 at 5:22 PM

      How do you neglect the Rays. All five of their starters were out for considerable stretches in 2013. As was Longoria, and Myers was a Summer call-up. They are better, deeper, healthier, and won 92 games in 2013.

  2. spudchukar - Mar 27, 2014 at 3:36 PM

    Not 3rd, 4th, only looking down on the floundering Sox. 77 wins looks about right. The starting pitching should keep them in contention for a while, coupled with an easy early season schedule, but time is not on their aging bodies’ side, and eventually, the brittle bones will snap, energy sapped, defensive weaknesses exposed, and the offense too anemic to support the OK starting pitching.

    But unlike the Sox who have plenty of youngsters, who are only a year or two away, the Yanks and their money, won’t just struggle in 2014 and 2015, but not seriously contend until the 2016 season and most likely have to wait until 2017 before their fans watch them in October.

    • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Mar 27, 2014 at 3:42 PM

      and the offense too anemic to support the OK starting pitching.

      I’m curious as to why you think their staff is only OK?

      • spudchukar - Mar 27, 2014 at 4:02 PM

        First off their ace, is no longer an ace. CC may be somewhat successful, but these days it is more guile than stuff. I doubt if his ERA is sub 4.00.

        Tanaka, has a real question mark. And I say that as a guy who drafted him in almost everyone of my fantasy leagues, only after Fernandez, Cobb, and Wacha.

        From what I have seen and that is only 2 full games and part of another, he looks solid, smart, with pretty good stuff, and a command that is better than a lot. The three things that worry me is his fastball movement, and his command, and his slider. Most surprising is his control, which was advertised to be his greatest strength. He won’t walk many, but he hasn’t been pinpoint. Maybe he will, and I expect for him to be better, but he has to, cause his fastball is pretty straight. His splitter is great, but he needs a third pitch, and I’m not seeing a consistent breaking ball. Sometimes good, sometimes pretty hangy.

        Pineda looks good, and he could be a difference maker, but of course asking him to produce 200 innings is hopeful. He is big and strong, but doesn’t have the track record, and he needs to maintain his stuff, cause he is a power pitcher and isn’t out there to fool people.

        I’m not as high on Nova as many. If he proves me wrong then the Yanks should be more than OK, but I just don’t think he has great stuff, is too inconsistent, and cannot get away with mistakes, which he is prone to do.

        Lastly, is Kuroda. My guess he won’t be as good as the first part of 2013, and not as bad as the last two months either. He hasn’t overwhelmed anybody in ST, is no Spring chicken, and I look for him to regress some, not a lot, but 3.6 to 3.8 ERA.

        A couple of young arms have been impressive, Phelps and Warren have looked good at times, but don’t come with great pedigrees, not that that is essential, but unlikely to step in and excel.

        Therefore Good, or maybe a tick above that, and that is if everybody stays healthy.

      • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Mar 27, 2014 at 4:28 PM

        Lastly, is Kuroda. My guess he won’t be as good as the first part of 2013, and not as bad as the last two months either. He hasn’t overwhelmed anybody in ST, is no Spring chicken, and I look for him to regress some, not a lot, but 3.6 to 3.8 ERA.

        He’s pitched 420 IP of 3.30 ERA ball the last two years. That’s the second best mark in the AL E behind Price. And as you mentioned that’s with him dropping off in the second half of last year.

        Yes CC looked awful last year, but his four previous years were 905 IP of 3.22 ERA ball. I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.

        Nova is an enigma, but he’s also pitched almost equivalent to Red Sox ace Lester over the last three years (albeit in fewer innings).

        Agreed we have no clue what to expect from Tanaka and Pineda.

    • aceshigh11 - Mar 27, 2014 at 4:03 PM

      So you think the Sox and the Yankees and will end up at the bottom of the division?

      Give me a hit off that sht you’re smoking, son.

      • spudchukar - Mar 27, 2014 at 4:11 PM

        That is indeed what I expect to happen. And I am becoming more and more sure of it. Toronto will surprise, and if they can get middle of the pack starting pitching could contend for a WC spot.

        Pretty similar for the O’s but they have a younger starting nucleus, and a better chance to be good, so I say second for them and a WC shot.

        The Rays are miles ahead of the others in talent. The top 4 starters could all be in the All-Star game come July. Price, Cobb, Moore, and Archer coupled with the best defense in the AL, (yes O’s fans, even better than yours), and some real emerging talent on the offensive side should run away with it all.

        AL East:
        Tampa Bay 101 61
        Baltimore 83 79
        Toronto 82 80
        New York 77 89
        Boston 75 87

      • aceshigh11 - Mar 27, 2014 at 4:25 PM

        Wow…well, I don’t agree at all, but you make some interesting points. Good luck with your prediction.

      • themanytoolsofignorance - Mar 28, 2014 at 6:53 AM

        The spud and I agree on a couple of facets. Toronto needs only league average pitching and they will make the post season. They hit all over that lineup and get to play a lot of games that pander to their power. The Yankees do not have the power bats like that, have a “tire fire” infield and a pitching staff that could seriously explode into a heap. The Sox relied heavily on career years from pitchers that typically have not played as well as they did play and they got lucky with winning a lot of one run games. The Sox will regress but they won’t be last, so here we diverge. They’ll likely mix it up with the Orioles and Blue Jays. The Rays win the division, I think. The O’s, Blue Jays and Sox are all about even. The Yankees? fuhgeddaboudit

  3. rcali - Mar 27, 2014 at 3:43 PM

    This Yankees team reminds me of the Lakers right now. Both teams have ownership trying to do whatever they can to hold on to the past by throwing a bunch of had beens in the line-up only to watch them fall apart leaving fans who overpaid for tickets with a false sense of hope. Here come the thumbs down from those same fans.

    • 18thstreet - Mar 27, 2014 at 3:51 PM

      McCann’s not a has-been.

      • spudchukar - Mar 27, 2014 at 4:28 PM

        You are absolutely correct, and neither is Ellsbury, but outside of the Tanaka addition, nobody else can is anything but a hope. Beltran will be OK, but he is starting to have to cheat on the fastball, and look for his BA to drop, and he is only a 120 game dude at the most.

        The Yanks will struggle to score runs, their infield defense is atrocious, and they have a team of DHs, not a remedy for success.

      • 18thstreet - Mar 27, 2014 at 5:09 PM

        Ellsbury is such a crapshoot. I loved the guy in Boston (I have a soft spot for speedy centerfielders without power, so the surge of 2011 was bittersweet for me), but the injuries are a real issues. And he’s not THAT young.

        His similarity scores (via B-R.com) aren’t an impressive list, which is hard to believe, but I think it reflects just how injured he’s been. I envision him, when healthy, hitting with very good power in Yankee Stadium.

        Phil Bradley (956)
        Tony Gonzalez (954)
        Roberto Kelly (953)
        Tommy Holmes (949)
        Carl Furillo (949)
        Ken Griffey (947)
        David DeJesus (947)
        Shane Victorino (945)
        Pete Fox (940)
        Coco Crisp (939)

        In conclusion, I don’t know anything.

      • spudchukar - Mar 27, 2014 at 5:19 PM

        Well I don’t either, but that isn’t going to stop me. Some power around 20-22 would be my guess, if healthy, and that is “iffy” at best.

        But lefties should still be problematic. Not only does it challenge the top two, it also inhibits their base stealing opportunities. Beltran is better as a lefty but not by a lot, and Tex is pretty much equal, but that isn’t equal in Yankee stadium, although these days left field isn’t that much of a challenge either.

        One thing for sure Giardi is going to be busy, between the DH rotations, infield platoons, and line-up alterations, he has plenty of decisions. Not many days will the line-up be the same, and it will be interesting to see if Gardner and Ellsbury are always #1 and #2? Hey he could always slide the Capt. in between in the 2 hole.

      • spudchukar - Mar 27, 2014 at 4:31 PM

        …Er.. you can can the unneeded “can”.

      • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Mar 27, 2014 at 4:41 PM

        and he is only a 120 game dude at the most.

        He’s played no less than 142 games in the last three years, and now has the DH to keep him fresh.

      • spudchukar - Mar 27, 2014 at 5:11 PM

        If he played on a different team he would have the DH, to keep him fresh, but unless MLB makes a rule change, and damned fast, to allow 2 DHs, that position will be more than filled on a daily basis. I still view this as the most under appreciated aspect to this line-up.

        I am a Beltran fan, was one before St. Louis acquired him and he was nothing but terrific in both 2012 and 2013, but he tapered off in both years, his defense is no longer a strength, and that is kind, and he doesn’t steal anymore. The short porch should help, but the Cards coddled him, with daily relief in later innings. Plus games played doesn’t translate to starts, and pinch-hitting roles don’t equate to a full game.

      • 18thstreet - Mar 27, 2014 at 5:20 PM

        McCann’s games played should be a real concern for Yankee fans. Here’s the last four years: 143, 128, 121, 102. I like Church, but he keeps averaging the last three or four years to get an answer he likes better. But that’s the list: 143, 128, 121, 102. The next number in that series is more like to start with nine than one.

      • spudchukar - Mar 27, 2014 at 5:25 PM

        Well part of his problem was the eye “thing”, which I think is corrected, so I could see him starting 110-120, and Cervelli is no chump, and should be used as much as possible, especially against lefties, then McCann can rest, and make him available for the DH spot when it is a righty and Cervelli is called upon.

      • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Mar 27, 2014 at 5:53 PM

        I like Church, but he keeps averaging the last three or four years to get an answer he likes better. But that’s the list: 143, 128, 121, 102. The next number in that series is more like to start with nine than one.

        Spud and I were discussing Beltran, not McCann. I wouldn’t project any catcher to catch over 140 games.

  4. 18thstreet - Mar 27, 2014 at 3:51 PM

    I feel like the pitching is going to be a strength, but the offense (and infield defense) is going to struggle. Outside of the heart of the order, I see a lot of automatic outs.

    And the more that I look at Beltran’s career trajectory, I just don’t see why on earth he got paid so highly.

    • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Mar 27, 2014 at 3:59 PM

      And the more that I look at Beltran’s career trajectory, I just don’t see why on earth he got paid so highly.

      Last three years: .288/.356/.503; 136 OPS+; 10.9 rWAR (3.6/year) is not worth $15M a year?

      I think the lineup will be much like the Jays, very top heavy (as long as they don’t put Jeter anywhere near the top of the order, which they will. A lineup of Ellsbury > Gardner > McCann > Beltran > Soriano > Tex is a nice 1-6).

      • 18thstreet - Mar 27, 2014 at 4:03 PM

        It’s the trend that gets my attention:

        Some content was stripped by our security filters, but it should be possible for one of your Editors to embed the content for you.

        Source: FanGraphsCarlos Beltran

        Those links never show up, but please click on it.

      • spudchukar - Mar 27, 2014 at 4:35 PM

        Maybe, but a lefty ought to roll right through it. When will the decline come for Beltran and Soriano, soon that is for sure. And Tex looks to me like he can be one of only two hitters, a guy who gives up power for contact or an occasional power guy who is a sub .250 hitter.

        And the bottom is awful, and McCann, Beltran, Soriano and Tex will start together maybe 50-60 times, at most.

  5. 461deep - Mar 27, 2014 at 4:14 PM

    AL East looks to be a dog fight. Yankee age a big drawback with 4 starters past 36 & none under 30. Spring pitching very good but must hold-up all year. Hitting improved but loss of A-Rod, Grandy & Cano not quite made-up for. Good but not great team that will contend with around 88 wins if new additions & Jeter, Tex play near a full year. Team age will probably catch up with them after Aug 1. Right now I see Orioles as best in division with improved hitting-pitching with good players in their prime and Machado rebounding from his injury and gaining maturation.

  6. markofapro - Mar 27, 2014 at 4:28 PM

    Pitching, depth and defense wins.

    Rays lock up division in mid August.

    • spudchukar - Mar 27, 2014 at 4:48 PM

      Correcto, Oh sage one.

  7. yankeesfanlen - Mar 27, 2014 at 4:55 PM

    The starting rotation is better than usual to start the year, the additions will add offensive power (30HR is 30HRno matter the age of the hitter, and relief pitching is the same old usual problem the Universe always have.
    92 wins, whatever rank that makes them.

  8. Jack Marshall - Mar 27, 2014 at 4:57 PM

    Again I maintain that if this squad wasn’t wearing pinstripes, they would be the consensus pick for last. The odds favor Ellsbury getting a hangnail and missing three months. Injury-prone, fading, old veterans at first, second, and short. Old platoon in right (“optimum,” Craig?) A failing ace in CC, an old pitcher who had to be talked out of quitting in Kuroda; a pitcher whose never won a major league game being projected as an ace. No more Mariano. If everything breaks right, the team could sneak into third or fourth, but making them playoff contenders is just bias.

    And picking Boston as a sub-.500 team is proof of dementia.

    • 18thstreet - Mar 27, 2014 at 5:14 PM

      Hey, I’m a Red Sox fan. 12 months ago, I pegged Lackey as being worthless, Papi as being on his way to being washed up, Victorino as the craziest (in a bad way) signing of the offseason for any team, and Napoli as a DL waiting to happen. It’s 12 month later, and they’re all a year older now. It’s not crazy to think the bottom could drop out. I can definitely see a worst case scenario that lands at 78-80 wins.

  9. kevinbnyc - Mar 27, 2014 at 5:42 PM

    I would love to see them give Soriano a shot at 2nd again. He can’t be any worse physically than Roberts, and it would be a really agreeable full-circle kind of thing to it too.

    • spudchukar - Mar 27, 2014 at 9:12 PM

      I would too. I would pay big bucks to see it. The record for errors by a second-baseman in a game would be obliterated.

  10. autmorsautlibertas - Mar 27, 2014 at 9:25 PM

    Boston is full of bums. They got lucky last year. The Rays look good and will contend. The Yankees have improved and will make the playoffs. The Red Sox will play to their talent level, and will be watching the playoffs on television.

  11. scoobies05 - Mar 27, 2014 at 9:57 PM

    Jack I have been saying that for the whole off season. the Yankees have no one in their prime with the possible exception of ellsbury if he’s healthy. McCann is very good but he won’t be getting better. Tex is in decline, Roberts was let go by my birds, Jeter is coming over a major injury, and Johnson is average to slightly above. their infield defense will be awful. beltran and soriano are still good but aging. and name a reliable starter. Tanaka looks good but who knows. same for pineda. cc is slowing down. if you put twins uniforms on this team they would be predicted to finish last…in the al central

  12. buddaley - Mar 27, 2014 at 11:58 PM

    The Yankees won 85 games last year. I thought they would be lucky to win 75. These players got the most PAs at their position: C: Stewart (.566 OPS); 1B: Overbay (.688); 3B: Nix (.619); SS: Nunez (.629); LF: Wells (.631); RF: Ichiro (.639); DH: Hafner (.679). Also getting more than 100 PAs were Adams (.537); Romine (.551); Reynolds (.755: OBP of .300); Youklis (.648); Almonte (.576). Only Cano, a superstar, and Gardner (a very good player) could be considered legitimate major league regulars in that group. Terrible hitting overall and weak fielding at some spots.

    The rotation was better, although Sabathia and Hughes were pretty bad and Kuroda faded after an excellent four months. The bullpen was a strength and should be ok again this year although I think a bit weaker.

    This year’s team is almost certainly better. While the downgrade at 2B is dramatic, the upgrades at catcher and in two outfield spots as well as DH is equally dramatic. And while there are serious questions about Teixeira, Jeter and K. Johnson, they have been legitimate major leaguers and there is a legitimate chance they are also improvements over Overbay, Nunez and Nix-at least offensively.

    Chances are the rotation is also improved with Tanaka.

    All that said, I think basing ones projection on improvement over last year’s 85 victories is fallacious. I don’t know how they did it, and I don’t believe in a NY aura or any other such nonsense. (I do think Girardi was manager of the year.) But I think the projection has to be on a low to mid 70 win team, and given both the question marks, age and injury possibilities and obvious weaknesses such as infield defense, the addition of some star quality in McCann, Ellsbury, Tanaka and Beltran (to some extent) cannot overcome those deficiencies.

    My guess is they add 10 wins or so to last year’s true talent and wind up with 82-87 wins, not enough to get to the post-season.

    • spudchukar - Mar 28, 2014 at 9:59 AM

      The problem is Pythagoras suggests that the 85 wins should have been closer to the 75. I say 77 in 2013, and only better if the rotation lives up to all the hope, and all starters maximize their innings.

  13. dirtyharry1971 - Mar 28, 2014 at 9:24 AM

    Well looks like a pack of morons commented on this thread, When July comes and reality sets in you will not see these losers make another post, FACT!!

    1. Yanks
    2. Rays
    3. Boston
    4. O’s
    5. bluegays

    • spudchukar - Mar 28, 2014 at 10:07 AM

      The problem is when July comes, so does the Yankee swoon. Easy early schedule, and before the aging bodies fall apart, it is possible to see the Yanks hovering just north of .500, but the inevitability of age takes hold as the dog days of summer take their toll, and the Bombers wilt and sink in the quicksand of a 162 game season.

      You’ll be looking up at the youthful O’s and Jays, and far far above you and barely visible to those ever clouding fuzzy eyes will hover the Rays. Those won’t be rays of hope DH, but a glint of what the future in the Al East looks like.

  14. scoobies05 - Mar 28, 2014 at 12:49 PM

    thanks to dirty Harry for adding intelligent and insightful comments

  15. history301 - Mar 31, 2014 at 5:26 PM

    Like every year, predictions are fun, yet rarely accurate, so with that in mind, I’m saying; Go Yankees!!! Number 28 is on it’s way. It just might not be this year, but then again, it could. We have a few games to play first.

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