The Yankees missed the playoffs in 2013 for the first time since 2008. Like after the 2008 season, they opened up the money bin like no other team other than the Dodgers really can, and signed three of the best free agent hitters available on the market. They also lost one of the best available, so let’s see how the Yankees offense will shake out in 2014.
The New Batsmen
Somebody must have let Hank out of the cage and given him a checkbook, because the Yankees went bananas in free agency this season. The first domino to fall was Brian McCann, who was the top catcher on the market by far this offseason. The Yankees picked him up on a five year deal worth $85MM. I can’t even begin to explain how much of an upgrade McCann is over last year’s combination of Francisco Cervelli, Christ Stewart and Austin Romine (won’t include John Ryan Murphy in that because he was pressed into duty because of injuries and should have been in AAA). I think McCann could take every other week off and still double the production of those other guys. While McCann comes with some injury risk, he was a guy the Yankees had to have, and they got their man.
Next came Jacoby Ellsbury, the former Red Sox center fielder. The Yankees let Curtis Granderson walk this year, and were looking at an outfield of Alfonso Soriano, Brett Gardner and Ichiro Suzuki, so they made another big splash and signed Ellsbury to a seven year, $153MM deal. It’s probably a bit much if Ellsbury plays like he did in 2013 (because of the lack of power), but if he can somehow come closer to those 2011 MVP type numbers (32 homers would be nice), this deal will pay for itself. Ellsbury comes with a lot of injury risk (although his injuries have been freak things), but he provides blazing speed and excellent defense, which should make him a fan favorite for years to come.
We’re not done yet, as the Yankees then signed Carlos Beltran. To be honest, this deal should have happened in 2005…. or 2011. Beltran has always wanted to play in the Bronx, but the Yankees never seemed willing to bring him on until this year. It might be nine years too late, but Beltran can still swing the bat. He hasn’t shown too much sign of decline in his old age, although he did (on average) hit the ball a shorter distance last year than the year beforea the shorter confines of Yankees Stadium should keep him in the 20-25 home run range for at least 2014.
Let’s move with the infield, where the Yankees lost Robinson Cano, one of the best second basement in team history, to free agency and the Seattle Mariners. We covered this before, but I think the Yankees were smart to not give Cano a 10-year deal, and the Mariners were stupid for blowing their whole load on one player. Anyway, the Yankees couldn’t replace every player with a super star through free agency, so they replaced Cano with 37 year old Brian Roberts, the former Oriole. This move disappointed a lot of fans, because Roberts is getting older, and he is also among the most injury prone players in the league. He hasn’t been able to stay healthy since 2009. Can Roberts contribute with some decent production and a little speed and defense? Sure, I don’t see why not. Will he be able to stay healthy for 162 games? I wouldn’t bet on it.
The last real new face on offense is Kelly Johnson, who is penciled in as the team’s starting third baseman right now, and it seems that’s where he’s going to be, at least to start the 2014 season. The Yankees will probably need a platoon bat to pair with Johnson when a lefty is on the hill. That could be a guy like Russ Canzler, Eduardo Nunez, or someone new we haven’t even met yet. I actually think the real sleeper here is Scott Sizemore, who signed a minor league deal with the Yankees following consecutive seasons lost to torn up knee ligaments. If he can somehow stay healthy, he could push Johnson, and even Brian Roberts, for playing time. Either way, Johnson has always had a bit of pop from the left side, and could hit somewhere between 15 and 20 homers for the Bombers. He’s not ideal by any means, but he’ll have to do, at least until someone else becomes available in a trade.
The Old Guard
The rest of the lineup has some question marks in it as well. At first base, Mark Teixeira will be returning from a torn tendon sheath in his wrist, which is a pretty unpredictable injury. It’s not that it’s prone to re-injury, but rather that nobody knows how his power swing might be affected by it. I don’t think he’s quite ready to be a 30-35 homer guy again yet (if ever), but I think he’ll play his patented excellent defense and hit somewhere in the 20 home run range. He is expected to miss the first week of Spring Training games, but not much else.
The Yankees also return Alfonso Soriano to the lineup. Soriano came back over in a trade with the Chicago Cubs last year and basically went crazy, hitting 17 homers in just 53 games and almost carrying the team to the playoffs by himself (he had help from that Cano guy too). Despite his age (38), Soriano has shown no signs of decline, and can probably be expected to, if healthy, hit his customary 30 homers while approaching the 100 RBI mark. He could fall off, but there simply isn’t any evidence to support that he will. Also of note, the Yankees are also bringing back Brett Gardner, whom they recently signed to a four year, $52MM extension that will keep him with the team through the 2019 season (even longer than A-Rod will be there!). I love the extension, as Gardner will pair with Ellsbury to be make of the better outfield defenses in the league, and the two of them should run roughshod on the base paths all year long.
Finally, there’s the Captain, Derek Jeter, who will be playing his last major league season in 2014. We will have plenty more on Mr. November’s retirement throughout the Spring and the course of the season, but we obviously had to mention him here. The big question mark with Jeter is the health of his legs. After breaking his ankle in the 2012 ALDS, Jeter missed most of last year with injuries to every area around the leg. Often, guys will rehab an injury, but neglect the rest of the area (hamstrings and calves in Jeter’s case), leading to more injuries around the original ailment. Jeter says that he’s dropped some weight this year and that everything feels great, so I expect him to stay healthy and contribute all year long. I really do!
The Bench and Final Thoughts
Many fans and bloggers/media people alike felt that the Yankees did not do enough to address the infield, whether via trade or free agency. The truth is, they spent all of their money on pitching and offense, and I can’t complain too much if we have to have a stopgap and some question marks on the infield. They did bring back Brendan Ryan to back up Jeter, which is great because of his elite defense (no bat whatsoever though). They are also bringing in some guys that could be ready to step into a utility role with the team, like Dean Anna and Yangervis Solarte.
Look. The Yankees lost one of the best hitters in the league to free agency, but they also added three of the best available free agents. When you couple that with the returning Soriano, and the now healthy Mark Teixeira, this team is significantly better on offense than the overachieving bunch of guys from 2013. They added power, with Beltran and McCann, and speed with Ellsbury. I think my ideal lineup would look a little something like this:
1. Gardner – LF
2. Jeter – SS
3. Ellsbury – CF
4. Soriano – RF/DH
5. McCann – C
6. Beltran – RF/DH
7. Teixeria – 1B
8. Johnson – 3B
9. Roberts – 2B
I still think that makes the Yankees one of the better lineups in the game if all things go right. Odds are they probably won’t, but I doubt a repeat of 2013, when everything possible went wrong, is going to happen. The Yankees have enough offense, and a good enough defense, to compete in the AL East, even if a guy or two miss some time with injury, and I expect them to do just that.
So, I’m obviously a homer, but I almost never have any Yankees on my fantasy team. It’s not that I try to avoid them. It’s mostly luck of the draw. Anyway, you can’t go wrong with McCann, Ellsbury and probably even Soriano at this point (averaging 33 homers the last two years). Beltran’s health is always a concern, but I don’t think you can go wrong there either. Teixeira will take a big of a bigger leap of faith because of that bum wrist, but if he’s healthy he should be a good option for homers, RBI and OPS. Gardner intrigues me as well. He and Ellsbury might go nuts not he base paths this year. Also, he’s starting to show a little more doubles power lately. He could be a good fourth outfielder for your team.
Featured image courtesy of: Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images
- http://riveraveblues.com/2014/02/2014-season-preview-power-sources-99788/ (back)
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