The retirement in successive seasons of Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter marked the end of an era in Yankee baseball. The days of splashing lucrative deals at any All-Star with a pulse seem to have passed--for now. In the infield, the Yankees are doing the best they can to get younger on a budget. They will still trot out Mark Teixeira at first base, Brian McCann at catcher, and the much maligned Alex Rodriguez at designated hitter. The 31 year old McCann had an OBP under .300 for the first time in his career in his Bronx debut. He did lead the team in home runs (23) and RBI (75) though. McCann can no longer be a full season catcher, but it will be tough to get at-bats at first or DH. Garrett Jones will most likely spell Teixeira on his day off and if healthy I can't see Rodriguez ceding his at-bats to anybody. However, Rodriguez is no lock to stay fit and Teixeira hasn't been sufficiently ambulatory for three years. Tex still hit for power (22 home runs) and walked frequently when in the lineup, but even asking him to hit .250 at this stage of his career seems unreasonable. A-Rod is trying to rebound from a year long suspension. Stephen Drew will reprise his role of underperforming, out of position second baseman. Coming over at the trade deadline from Boston, Drew butchered the transition to second at both the plate (.150 BA) and in the field (5 errors in 46 games). He will be on a very short leash this year being on a one year contract. One slump should spell curtains. Didi Gregorious has the unenviable task of replacing Yankee God Derek Jeter at shortstop. Most Yankee faithful feel that the 25 year old Dutchman is just a stopgap until the eventual arrival of Troy Tulowitzki or Starlin Castro. While those remain fantasies, the reality is that they shouldn't have high expectations for their current shortstop. Gregorious is a non-factor with the bat and is no more than adequate in the field. The player on the left side of the infield that should come with lofty expectations is Chase Headley. The former Padre has been out of his prime form for several years now but showed signs of life (33 point boost in his batting average) after his trade. A full season of Yankee Stadium's short right field porch will be heaven after eight years in the Grand Canyon known as Petco Park. GM Brian Cashman is hoping as much when he brought Headley back on a 4 year, $52 million deal this offseason.
The outfield is rich in postseason experience and speed. The lone plodder of the bunch is Carlos Beltran. HIs speed has all but evaporated and he endured a subpar season at the dish. He slashed a career low .233/.301/.402 (AVG/OBP/SLG) in his first season in the Bronx. He has two years left on his deal and may be forced to play the majority of his time in the outfield with a crowded infield/designated hitter situation. Garrett Jones could provide relief for manager Joe Girardi if Beltran continues to decline. In center field, $153 million man Jacoby Ellsbury heads into the second of a seven year contract with the club. His speed is still viable (39 SB) and he regained his power stroke (16 HR) that seemed to be gone forever his final two years in Boston. Left field is Brett Gardner's yard. He seems to be focusing more on putting balls out of the yard. His seventeen 2014 home runs nearly doubled his career home run total. His stolen bases have suffered but if this new found ability to hit the balls out of the park is real, it'll be worth it. Chris Young returns as the utility outfielder. He did well in a cup of coffee with New York last year after stinking out the joint with the crosstown Mets.
The starting pitching staff looks good on paper but is tied together with dental floss. Masahiro Tanaka was a revelation in the early portions of 2014, winning 13 games with a 2.77 ERA and making the All-Star team. A partially torn elbow ligament derailed his promising rookie campaign. Doctors have declared him fully fit but the fear still lingers. That fear is even greater with the second and third starters, Michael Pineda and CC Sabathia. Pineda, fresh off two lost seasons, was limited to just 13 starts in 2014. Sabathia was only able to manage 8. The difference was when healthy, pine tar aside, Pineda dominated opposing hitters to the tune of a 1.89 ERA and 0.83 WHIP. Sabathia's short season produced the worst ERA (5.28), WHIP (1.48), and winning percentage (.429) of his career. The back of the rotation is shakily in the hands of Nathan Eovaldi and Adam Warren. Eovaldi has really good stuff, but his pitch to contact style is not conducive to success at Yankee Stadium. Warren was a valuable asset as a relief pitcher for New York in 2014, pitching to a 2.97 ERA in 69 appearances. He is Joe Girardi's fifth starter this year but hasn't started regularly since Triple-A. The Yankees are going to need a lot of luck to get this five through 2015 in one piece.
The bullpen takes a big hit with the departure of Mariano Rivera's replacement David Robertson. I for one think that his replacement, Dellin Betances, is more Rivera than Robertson. Betances made the All-Star team as a set-up man last year, striking out a ridiculous 135 batters in just 90 innings. He works low in the strike zone and throws serious heat, two things needed to be successful in Yankee Stadium. Two new additions, Andrew Miller and David Carpenter, will be the bridge to Betances. Miller had the chance to take closer gigs on lesser teams but chose the challenge that New York offers. He is a strikeout machine from the left side (15 K/9 in 2014) and makes the lives of both lefties and righties miserable. David Carpenter comes with less of a pedigree than Miller but with just as good of stuff. He pounded the zone in Atlanta and though he gives up his share of hits, he doesn't add to his baserunner tally with walks. Keep an eye as well on the Chase(n) brothers, Chase Whitley and Chasen Shreve. Top prospect Luis Severino could make an impact out of the pen at some point as well in 2015.
If everything goes right for the Yankees, they could challenge for the AL East title. If not, they could be towards the bottom of the American League as a whole. My prediction for the 2015 Yankees cuts down the middle of these two extremes. The Yankees aren't used to losing and mediocrity might as well be 0-162 to Yankees' brass and fans. So I guess in their eyes I am predicting them to go 0-162.
LAST YEAR'S RANKING: #7 (DOWN 9)
PREDICTED RECORD: 82-80
PREDICTED ALL-STAR REPS: Jacoby Ellsbury (outfielder), Dellin Betances (relief pitcher), Andrew Miller (relief pitcher)
Trevor Utley lives in Juneau, Alaska. Send all hate mail there.
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