Feb 20, 2014; Tampa, FL, USA; New York Yankees infielder Derek Jeter (2) fields a grounder during morning practice at George M. Steinbrenner Field. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

2013 MLB Team Previews: New York Yankees

Credit: David Manning-USA TODAY Sports

New York Yankees

2013 in Review

Oh, the irony!

Alex Rodriguez lit up the printing presses. Derek Jeter missed 145 games. CC Sabathia‘s earned run average gravitated towards 5.00. If anything could go wrong, it did for the New York Yankees in 2013. Ironically enough, they still finished with a better win-loss record than 15 other clubs in Major League Baseball.

A record of 85-77 might be acceptable in Miami, Toronto or San Diego, but not in the South Bronx. But then again, the make-up of the roster for the greater part of the season looked comparably weak as compared to the other MLB clubs that won just as many games. Lyle Overbay and Vernon Wells accrued more at bat’s than Jeter, A-Rod, Curtis Granderson, Mark Teixeira and Kevin Youkilis. If that doesn’t make your spine tingle, I don’t know what will.

Then again, maybe the performance of Phil Hughes will make your spine tingle. He posted a 4-14 record to coincide with his 5.19 ERA. As stated, Sabathia wasn’t his usual self either. Hiroki Kuroda and Andy Pettitte pitched well, as did Ivan Nova in 20 starts. Mariano Rivera made 2013 his last season, tallying 44 saves to finish his career with an MLB-record 652 saves. As bad as things were in 2013 for the Yankees, they could have been much worse. Just ask the Philadelphia Phillies.

2014 Preview

Key Departures: RHP Mariano Rivera (retired), LHP Andy Pettitte (retired), RHP Phil Hughes, RHP Joba Chamberlain, 2B, Robinson Cano, 3B Alex Rodriguez (suspended), CF Curtis Granderson, OF Vernon Wells, 1B Lyle Overbay

Key Additions: RHP Masahiro Tanaka, C Brian McCann, CF Jacoby Ellsbury, RF Carlos Beltran, 3B Kelly Johnson, 2B Brian Roberts, LHP Matt Thornton, IF Scott Sizemore, RHP Andrew Bailey

Offense

Quite frankly, the 2014 Bronx Bombers will look nothing like they did in 2013. Shortstop Derek Jeter, center fielder Brett Gardner and first baseman Mark Teixeira are reportedly healthy. Alfonso Soriano is back to slug it out as the designated hitter. Free agent acquisitions Jacoby Ellsbury, Carlos Beltran and Brian McCann will provide enough pop to hit for 50 HR collectively. They will also lighten the burden of replacing Robinson Cano in the lineup.

Starting in place of Alex Rodriguez at third base will be Kelly Johnson. Since 2010, Johnson has averaged 20 HR annually. He provides enough pop to help offset Rodriguez’s ban. Then again, his three-year AVG of .227 is less than enthralling. Since he struggles against right-handed pitching, it’s likely he will be spelled out of the lineup by the like’s of Scott Sizemore or Eduardo Nunez. Neither of those two carry a big stick like Johnson though.

Brian Roberts has the tall order of compensating for the departure of Robinson Cano at second base. However, Roberts missed 456 games since 2010. While with the Baltimore Orioles, Roberts struggled with a multiplicity of health issues. Herniated discs in his back, concussions and groin strains besieged his final four years with the O’s. Therefore, expecting much out of the 36-year-old is near-sighted.

Despite having an average age of 34 years old, the Yankees Opening Day lineup is intimidating. They have a fluid composition of hitters that will impose their will on opposing pitchers as they strive to win one last World Series for their captain Jeter.

Defense

The Yankees ability to swing and mash will be offset, albeit minimally, by their dreadful defense. Derek Jeter is no Ozzie Smith at shortstop. As good as he has been, the captain of the Yankees is more likely to allow runs than save them at this point in his career. The same can be said for Brian Roberts at second base.

On the hot corner, Kelly Johnson and whomever he splits with will be more detrimental than not as well. In right field, Carlos Beltran’s age is catching up to his glove and range.

Mark Teixeira has posted respectable numbers defensively though. So has Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury.

At catcher, Brian McCann is more offensive than defensive minded. He has the ability to throw out base-runner’s but more likely than not, he can be expected to post a negative Stolen Bases Runs Saved (rSB).

The manufacturing of this roster was not built with defense in mind though. As a group, they are likely to fare worse than a club like the Tampa Bay Rays. However, they will offset whatever defensive deficiencies they have with their prowess at the plate.

Rotation and Bullpen

Expectations are high for a starting rotation returning with some serious question marks. Ace CC Sabathia shed weight during the winter but many question as to whether or not that will hurt his velocity. His velocity has already been in decline though. His fastball has dropped 3 mph since 2010. Therefore, a further decrease in velocity should be expected for the 33-year-old lefty.

Despite turning 39 in early February, Hiroki Kuroda still resembles a top-of-the-rotation MLB arm. Since coming to America, Kuroda’s ERA has never surpassed 3.76. Over the last four seasons, he has averaged 14 wins per annum. Sooner or later, Kuroda has to take a step backwards. Then again, nothing indicates that he will. His velocity has dipped at a comparable rate age-wise. That is nothing alarming. Additionally, his Fielder Independent Pitching (FIP) is right on par with his ERA, highlighting the fact that he is a good, durable pitcher. Until something changes there, we can expect more of the same from the near 40-year-old righty.

The latest Japanese-import to arrive with high expectations is Masahiro Tanaka. If his $155 million contract isn’t enough to invoke hype, then maybe his numbers in Japan are. Last season, he led the Rakuten Eagles to a championship after posting a 24-0 record. Tanaka comes to the Yankees equipped with an array of pitches. His arsenal may slim down as he works with the pitching staff but expectations are high nonetheless.

Ivan Nova and David Phelps will round out the rotation. Nova is looking like a breakout candidate while Phelps doesn’t do anything special. Michael Pineda is likely to replace Phelps in the rotation at some point. Pineda is a candidate to begin the year in Triple-A in order to build him up for the season since he hasn’t pitched in the majors since 2011.

David Robertson is the heir apparent to Mariano Rivera. Robertson will lead a bullpen of shaky arms though. Shawn Kelley, Dellin Betances, Matt Thornton, Preston Claiborne, Andrew Bailey and Cesar Cabral round out a less-than-flattering bullpen.

Projected Starting Lineup

  1. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  2. SS Derek Jeter
  3. RF Carlos Beltran
  4. 1B Mark Teixeira
  5. C Brian McCann
  6. DH Alfonso Soriano
  7. LF Brett Gardner
  8. 3B Kelly Johnson
  9. 2B Brian Roberts

Projected Starting Rotation

  1. CC Sabathia
  2. Hiroki Kuroda
  3. Masahiro Tanaka
  4. Ivan Nova
  5. David Phelps

Prospect to Watch

Catcher Gary Sanchez is the best prospect not named Masahiro Tanaka. He is an important piece to the Yankees because of various factors. With DH Alfonso Soriano set to depart into free agency following 2014, a move for Brian McCann out of the backstop is plausible. This would open the door for Sanchez at catcher. But what about catcher prospect J.R. Murphy? Despite being likely to start the year at Double-A, Sanchez could eventually leapfrog Murphy. Sanchez hits for more power. Murphy seen 16 games in the majors late last season. He is more polished but not as equipped as Sanchez. Another variable for Sanchez is that he is offered as trade bait in order for the Yankees to acquire better pitching. Either way, Sanchez will factor heavily into the Yankees plans moving forward.

Best Case Scenario

If anything is likely, it’s that the bats in the Yankees lineup will perform up to par or better. Looking back, this is arguably the strongest lineup the Yankees have had since 2011 despite their cumulative age. As for the pitching, Tanaka can not disappoint. If he struggles and looks more like Kei Igawa than Yu Darvish, this team will be in trouble. Kuroda can’t take a step in the wrong direction either. If Sabathia returns to his pre-2013 form, as anticipated, things will go smoothly. The bullpen has to hold up their end of the bargain. Replacing a legend like Mo Rivera is never easy but Robertson has the tools to make it a seamless transition. If this is the case, the entire AL will be put on notice early on.

Worst Case Scenario

The bullpen is the likeliest of all components to falter first. If this happens, the team could be stuck in neutral, spinning their wheels. The starting pitching could struggle as well. The stalwarts of the rotation – Sabathia and Kuroda – cannot disappoint. If they do, everything else will tumble like a house of cards. Regarding the field, if age catches up to any of the Yankees and Ellsbury gets hurt again, the 2014 season could deteriorate quickly. In a loaded AL East, the Yankees have very little margin for error.

Prediction

92-70 (1st in AL East)

Tags: Philadelphia Phillies

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