For the first time, the New York Yankees go into a season without having the largest payroll in baseball. With Alex Rodriguez (unfairly) suspended for the entire 2014 campaign, the Yanks saved $29 million and went on a spending spree. Brian McCann, Carlos Beltran, Jacoby Ellsbury and Japanese sensation Masahiro Tanaka were all signed to deals totaling over $400 million. With generation-player Derek Jeter entering his final year of baseball, the Yanks are poised to send Jeter out as a champion.
CC Sabathia anchors a pitching staff that struggled for consistency last year. Sabathia might be the last modern-day pitcher that makes a concrete attempt for 300 career wins. Considering the litany of injuries pitchers deal with, Sabathia has been surprisingly durable for an individual who has admitted to weight issues. In 14 years, he has been on the DL only twice, thrown over 180 innings every season, and won at least 11 games every year. Sabathia is coming off his worst year posting career-highs in earned runs (122) and ERA (4.78). But last year was lost early for the Yanks and it was difficult for manager Joe Girardi to keep his players motivated when they knew the playoffs were not happening. With Jeter back and Tanaka signing for the largest contract given to an overseas player, Sabathia showed up to camp nearly 20 pounds lighter, expressing his desire to remain healthy throughout the year. At 34 years old with 206 career wins, Sabathia is on pace to join the elite 300-wins club. The Yankees organization is driven to add championship banners to their already large trophy case and Sabathia’s perseverance is essential. Expect him to rebound and have a dominating year. Hiroki Kuroda was resigned after considering returning to his native Japan. In 2013, Kuroda was the team’s best pitcher with a 3.31 ERA and has had success pitching in Yankee Stadium. The bright lights cannot overshadow the confident pitcher. He likes throwing in big games and has earned Yankees fans’ trust. He will have a big year. Michael Pineda returns to the Majors for the first time in two years. Pineda was traded from the Mariners for Jesus Montero. While it was stated the trade did not work out for either team, if Pineda can return to resemble half of what he was in his rookie campaign, the Yanks are the clear winners. He has electric stuff with a lively fastball and devastating changeup. Pineda is good at keeping hitters off-balance but needs to avoid any prolonged visits to the DL. GM Brian Cashman said he expects Tanaka to be a solid number three starter but was only trying to downplay the signing and alleviate some of the pressure he is about to face. Tanaka, after going 24-0 for the Rakuten Golden Eagles in the Japan League, signed a lucrative deal to pitch in the Big Apple. From Hideo Nomo to Daisuke Matsuzaka, Tanaka is the greatest pitcher to come from overseas. Yankees outfielder Ichiro Suzuki knows a few things about having the stresses of having an entire nation weighing on him and can mentor Tanaka in his first MLB season. As long as Tanaka can adjust to the American culture, food and larger baseball, he is going to dominate. He baffled hitters during his record-setting year and there’s no reason that stellar performance cannot transition in MLB. The Yankees had scouted him for years after years of failures from their previous Japan signings (Hideki Irabu and Kei Igawa) and Tanaka is the real deal. He might supplant Sabathia as the Yanks ace.
The additions of Beltran and McCann are huge upgrades for a team that struggled offensively Even at his progressive age, Beltran continues to defy odds and put up solid numbers. With the aid of the famous short right field porch, expect the upper deck fans to be treated often to souvenirs from Beltran. He has one of the most pure swings in baseball and is approaching Hall of Fame consideration. Before signing with the Mets, he called the Yankees asking if they would sign him at a discounted rate. He always wanted to be a Yankee and now that he has that opportunity, expect Beltran to be motivated throughout the season. Brett Gardner shifts to the corner outfield spot for the incoming Ellsbury. The former Red Sox star pulled a Johnny Damon by shifting to the Evil Empire. He too will see a big jump in his offense with the benefit of the short right field, possibly returning to his runner-up MVP numbers. Ellsbury led the league in steals last year only adding to his offensive prowess. Alfonso Soriano rejoined the Yankees last year in a July-deadline deal. His arrival pushed incumbent Ichiro to the bench but at 38 it is hard to expect big numbers from the aging star. Ichiro does not have the same power numbers but overall is a better hitter and defender. Mark Teixeira spent much of last year on the DL as the Yankees are one injury from shifting Soriano to first so Ichiro can play every day in right field.
It was big news when the arbitrator upheld the yearlong suspension for A-Rod. But that was quickly quelled with the news from Jeter that 2014 would be his final season. It had been expected Jeter would continue to play long enough to break the all-time hits record but with this new announcement, the Yankees organization is driven to send the greatest shortstop out on top. They could not make that happen last year for Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte but Jeter is in a class by himself. The organization spent nearly half a billion dollars to bring in talent and Girardi is a master at getting the best from his players. The Yankees should win the AL East division and are serious title contenders.
All stats are courtesy of http://www.baseball-reference.com/.