Monday, February 10, 2014

New York Yankees 2013 Team Breakdown

NEW YORK YANKEES:  85-77 (Tied for 3rd in the division)

Projected Lineup/Batting Order

CF       Jacoby Ellsbury
SS       Derek Jeter
1B       Mark Teixeira
C         Brian McCann
RF       Carlos Beltran
DH      Alfonso Soriano
3B       Kelly Johnson
2B       Brian Roberts
LF       Brett Gardner

Projected Starting Rotation/Key Bullpen Arms

SP        C.C. Sabathia
SP        Hiroki Kuroda
SP        Masahiro Tanaka
SP        Ivan Nova
SP        David Phelps
SP        Michael Pineda
RP       David Robertson
RP       Dellin Betances
RP       Shawn Kelley

The Yankees are a team in transition.  Except this team doesn’t believe in that.  They don’t believe in re-builds and want to contend each and every season.  Perhaps that’s why they’ve not spent resources on producing young players to take over at the major league level one day.  In addition, they are embroiled with a soap opera named Alex Rodriguez and that’s where the media focus has been.  While saving $25 million on A-Rod ‘s suspension helped the team, they still have a glaring hole at third, a potential hole at second, and are flush with veteran outfielders and card carrying members of AARP.

The batting order was difficult to fill out.  Jacoby Ellsbury, one of the many free agents signed by the Bronx Bombers this year, will lead off.  That was easy as he’s a great hitter who set the table nicely for the World Champion Red Sox at 298 with 52 SB and 92 R.  And as a lefty in that bandbox expect to see his 9 HR from last year swell closer to 15, or even 20.  But the more HR he hits, the lower you can expect that AVG, perhaps in the 270s.  He’ a good player, but perhaps not worth the 7 years and $153 million that the Yankees gave him.  Derek Jeter is back for another season at short, but likely won’t see 162 games in the field.  He missed all of last year essentially, so we are unsure what he’ll bring.  He’s a guy who can still hit 275+ most likely, but there’s never been much power and the wheels are greatly diminished.  Speaking of diminished, the Yankees may have problems at first where Mark Teixeira is going to have to do more than hit home runs.  He, too, missed all season last year and needs to return to his All Star form, as he’s likely this team’s number 3 hitter.  He can’t hit 230 with 35 HR anymore.  They can’t afford that.  I don’t know if he’s still got that 270 hitter in him, but he needs to find him, while still knocking 30 or so over the fence.  I assume that McCann will be the cleanup man, and he too will need to return to his 270/25 HR self.  He says his vision problems are fixed and believes that is what was hampering his ability to hit for average.  However, any lefty with power falls in love with the short porch at the new Yankee stadium, and I worry about McCann turning into Mark Teixiera of a few years ago, with 30 HR and a 220 AVG.  Carlos Beltran should be solid however.  He hit 296 with 24 HR last year.  I’d expect closer to 280, but another 25 HR season.  I have him 5th, but he could move up if others struggle.  Beltran is a slight injury concern, as is Ellsbury.  So the Yankees have Ichiro Suzuki as their fourth outfielder (which is all he really should be nowadays) and can also turn to Kelly Johnson in a pinch, who I currently have playing third.  But that’s not ideal.  He hit 235 last year with 16 HR.  In Yankee stadium the lefty could easily break 20, but expect another 235 from him.  He won’t be bad at third, but should platoon.  The starting second baseman for the Yankees right now, might be Brian Roberts, who hasn’t even  reached 77 games since 2009.  The Yankees might be best-served letting Johnson and Roberts platoon at second (especially since Johnson hasn’t played much third since the minors) and getting an upgrade at third.  They have Eduardo Nunez and Scott Sizemore on the bench, but neither is starting material and they will need Nunez to frequently spell Jeter at short, as he and Brendan Ryan are the only other guys they have who can play that position.  Jeter will spend some time at DH, but can’t spend too much or else Alfonso Soriano won’t be in the lineup.  The Yankees starting outfield has Ellsbury in center, Beltran in right and Gardner in left.  Ichiro can play either corner.  But Soriano can only play left, so putting him in the field means sitting Gardner down.  It will happen some, but Gardner’s the second best defensive outfielder they have left, the only other guy besides Ellsbury who can play center and the only other guy (again, besides Ellsbury) with speed.  I have him 9th with his 273 AVG and 24 SBs from last year.  If Ellsbury gets hurt, which isn’t the most unlikely possibility, he will be great as the leadoff guy, which he did last year to the tune of 81 R and a 324 OBP.  Soriano will be the primary DH (though Beltran and Jeter will make appearances there) coming off one of his best seasons in years where he hit 34 HR and had 101 RBI between the Cubs and Yankees.  They want his bat, not his glove, thought he’ll likely see some time in left.

Even the defense has some holes on this roster.  The infield is a mess.  Brian Roberts hasn’t played in years.   Kelly Johnson hasn’t played third since the minors.  Scott Sizemore is probably the best defender of the triumvirate, assuming Brian Roberts has diminished some from his prime, and his best position is third base.  He may be a late defensive replacement at third because the expectation is that they will let Brian Roberts play second (which defensively will be fine until he gets hurt, which he always does) and Kelly Johnson play third.  Johnson came up as a third baseman in the Braves organization, but hasn’t played there since making it to the majors, being blocked by Chipper Jones.  He was in left field before moving to second, and he’s mainly played second since then, with occasional corner outfield assignments.  So his third base defense will likely be rusty.  Eduardo Nunez plays short and third, but he has been known to make a fair number of mistakes in the field.  He will be the primary backup for Jeter at short, so his playing third will be limited as we expect Jeter to DH a fair amount.  Jeter is probably one of the better defenders on this team now, which is good except that his range is vastly diminishing as he gets older.  Brendan Ryan is in the mix and can play second, third and short, but his bat is the worst of all of them.  The best defender in this infield is Mark Teixeira who is a Gold Glover.  Luckily the outfield is strong with Gold Glover Ellsbury in center and Gardner, a natural center fielder, in left.  Beltran is not the Gold Glover he used to be, but is better than average in right.  And he’s still got a great arm.  Ichiro is the 4th outfielder, and he’s a stud in either corner.  Putting Soriano in the outfield will hurt them, so expect that only when Jeter DHs (and not every time) and don’t be surprised if they replace him defensively late in games.  Brian McCann is an underrated defensive catcher.

Despite all those offensive issues, the Yankees real issue going into the offseason was the starting rotation.  C.C. Sabathia was nowhere near an ace last year with a 14-13 record and 4.78 ERA.  He’s older now with a ton of innings on that left arm, so it’s no surprise.  He’s lost velocity, and has to learn to locate better, or else he’s going to get hammered.  He’s working on it.  Hiroki Kuroda is 39 and the number 2 starter for the Yankees this season.  Despite that, he had a team best 3.31 ERA.  Re-signing him was key.  And the Yankees got it done.  The issue after re-signing Kuroda was that young Ivan Nova was the number 3 man.  He had one of his best seasons pitching to a 3.10 ERA last year but it came on only 20 starts due to injury.  Andy Petite retired.  David Phelps had an ERA near 5.  Adam Warren has 3 career starts to his name and Michael Pineda hasn’t played in about 2 years.  That’s what the Yankees were looking at if they couldn’t add another quality arm to this starting rotation.  And there would be no help coming from the minors.  The Yankees have the worst farm system in baseball and there’s no relief in sight.  They needed serious help in their starting rotation.  Which is why they pursued Masahiro Tanaka so intensely.   And they got him.  They offered him the most money with a 7 year deal worth $155 million.  Last year he went 24-0 with a 1.35 ERA in Japan.  So we’ll see how he does here in the big leagues.  His stuff looks good, but he is still a risk.  They had to overpay him to ensure he came here, especially after the rules changed to cap the posting bids at $30 million (you know, so everybody would be allowed to negotiate with the free agent).  They Yankees cried foul, but that’s a tough sell for even the most cynical human on the planet.  And they still got their guy the old fashioned way, by outbidding the other teams just once, not twice, which is the way past Japanese stars were handled.  The Yankees are calling Tanaka a number 3 starter to take off some of the pressure, but he’s really the ace of this staff now.  And he’s never thrown a pitch in the major leagues.  On paper, C.C is number 1, Kuroda 2 and Tanaka 3.  That let’s Nova be 4, which is where he should be.  The number 5 guy will be Phelps, unless Michael Pineda gets healthy and takes the job away.    The bullpen isn’t in as bad of shape, but there are questions there as well.  Mariano Rivera has retired, so the Yankees have lost the best closer of all time.  David Robertson was an All Star setup man, and he will have the first chance to replace the legend.  Not an easy thing to do.  If he falters people will be all over him.  But I think he’ll be fine.  The rest of the bullpen looks iffy.  We don’t know who will setup.  Vidal Nuno is a good bet.  But he’s only pitched 5 games in the majors, 3 of them starts.  Dellin Betances will make his long anticipated appearance with the team this year, but not as a starter.  Last year in 6 games in relief he had an ERA over 10.  Stalwarts Boone Logan and Joba Chamberlain are gone.  They are now looking to Shawn Kelley and Preston Claiborne to fill those key bullpen roles.  Kelley is serviceable and Claiborne will be in his second year.  I’m not saying they will struggle, but they are unproven to this point.


Baseball’s seminal franchise isn’t in a great spot right now.  They wanted desperately to keep their salary number under $189 million for this one season, so they wouldn’t get killed by the luxury tax and could see it reset in 2015.  They didn’t make it.  However in a move that makes no logical sense, they went just over $189, then decided to stop spending when they have clear holes in their starting lineup.  It’s the worst of both worlds.  If you stay under, fine.  That’s what I think they should have done.  But they went over, which isn’t surprising.  But what is a surprise is their refusal to continue to field a good team, now that there is no benefit to keeping their salary below a certain point.  Go out there and get Stephen Drew.  Or add Ervin Santana.  They needed to do a lot or a little, and somehow they’ve done the worst possible thing, spend too much money but still leave the team in bad shape.  It was just about impossible to do that, but the Yankees are special.  The good news is that Alex Rodriguez says he’s done with his lawsuits and will serve his suspension.  So that saves them about $25 million and a headache this year.  But they still have holes at second and third.  They have 4 outfielders making a decent amount of money, and another making $21 million to stay at home (Vernon Wells).  They owe a ton of money to Alfonso Soriano, C.C. Sabathia and Mark Teixeira not to mention the new deals with Brian McCann and Jacoby Ellsbury.  And they have another year of Kuroda at about $16 million.  This team is irrevocably flawed, with no help coming from the minors.

The Yankees have been trying to flip Gardner for a starting pitcher.  New Yorkers say to send him to Cincinnati for Brandon Phillips and Homer Bailey.  I don’t know what fantasy world they live in that makes that a good deal, but Brandon Phillips is one of the best second basemen in the game and Bailey is a talented young pitcher.  Gardner is a good player.  I wouldn’t do a straight up trade for one of those guys, much less both.  And though the Reds considered sending Phillips over for Gardner to cut salary, the Yankees nixed the deal.  I have no idea why, but my only guess is that the Reds asked the Yankees to take on too much of the contract.  They want to save money, and he’s butted heads with the front office in the Queens City.  If I’m the Yankees I make that deal all day long, but they must realize they will eat a lot of the contract.  Brett Gardner is a nice player, but Brandon Phillips is one of the best middle infielders in baseball.  They have to give up more, and that means paying more of his contract.  Some people say that the Yanks should just attach some prospects to make the deal sweeter.  If the Yankees had any prospects that anyone wanted, they would be on the big club right now.  I don’t think it’s a bad idea to flip Gardner for a pitcher, but it won’t be a top of the line guy.  And if they do that, the rotation will be stronger, but still not deep and the Yanks will have holes at second and third still.  Perhaps the Yankees can take a shot on Stephen Drew to play third, and maybe back up short as well since he’d be the best defender in that infield.  But that’s more money to spend, and the Yankees don’t have it.  Or they do, but they don’t want to spend it.  So while there are adjustments they could make, they will inexplicably not make them, despite the fact that they have gone over $189 million already.

This team has a number of flaws and plays in a division with the defending champs, the talented young Rays and the up-and coming Orioles, not to mention the Blue Jays who could surprise this season.  I think C.C. will struggle early on, Tanaka will at some point have some issues adjusting, Kuroda will show his age and the rest of the rotation to show what they are, which is not quite league average.  The bullpen will likely see some issues, specifically in middle relief.  And while this offense will score runs, I don't think they score as much as they need to with holes in their infield and all the age the Yankees have between their starters.  I don’t like what’s coming out of the Bronx this year.  I have the Yankees finishing with 80-85 wins, which in this division could put you in last place.  And that’s where I have this team finishing.

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