Saturday, April 4, 2015

The ultimate 2015 New York Yankees preview

The 2015 New York Yankees are just two days away from stepping foot in Yankee Stadium for Opening Day. Now that virtually all of the roster spots have been decided, I’m ready to provide my expectations for the upcoming season. Throughout February and part of March, I profiles players individually and through clustered posts which you can find listed here.

For this article, I’ll run down my perception of the club in the following categories; position players, rotation, bullpen, bench, prospects, coaching staff and management/ownership. I’ll wrap up the piece with my estimate for the Yankees’ final record of the season. Buckle up!

Position Players


Projected Lineup

  1. Jacoby Ellsbury – CF
  2. Brett Gardner – LF
  3. Carlos Beltran – RF
  4. Mark Teixeira – 1B
  5. Brian McCann – C
  6. Chase Headley – 3B
  7. Alex Rodriguez – DH
  8. Stephen Drew – 2B
  9. Didi Gregorius – SS

The Yankees’ offense seems to be full of offensive comeback player of the year candidates doesn’t it? Beltran, McCann, Teixeira, Rodriguez and Drew each have something to prove. How many of them can fulfill the promise?

Brian McCann (left)
I’m much higher on McCann’s chances of producing at the rate he was signed to do. I expect now that McCann is mostly acclimated to handling the rotation, he can spend a bit more time concentrating on his hitting.

While McCann was bit by the infield shift quite often last season, I do feel that he is someone who can be encouraged to try to make some adjustments to beat it. I don’t mean by bunting or completely changing his approach at the plate, but he still has enough raw power to try and drive the ball to left field if opponents are giving it to him. He showed signs of trying to do this in the spring and it will go a long way to benefiting him in my opinion.

Teixeira is a different story, but I feel he can be better than 2014; chalk it up to a wild-card hunch. He seemed to try to power some balls to the opposite field this spring and he’s in great shape. I don’t like hearing Teixeira say he plans on drilling balls to the wall or over it like it’s so simple to do. He has to prove he can do it, and then the Yankees will have to accept he’s a .250 hitter at best, not someone who is going to even flirt with hitting in the .280s. But if he can reach a home run total in the mid-20s with 90+ RBI, the Yanks would be happy.

After McCann and Teixeira, the bounce-back candidates proliferate the lineup. Beltran, who missed a good part of the 2014 season with an elbow injury which required bone spurs to be removed in the offseason, is one of the most important being the first part of the middle of the order.

Beltran had a rough spring and seems like he is still trying to figure out his timing. He’s not hurt, so that’s a plus, but how long will it take for him to get going? A worse thought is what if he cannot? Without Beltran moving over Jacoby Ellsbury or Brett Gardner, McCann and Teixeira will not have as good a chance to drive them in.

Speaking of Ellsbury and Gardner, it remains to be seen if the Yankees are using them in the right order at the plate. I wrote earlier this spring that Gardner might be more comfortable in the leadoff role and his statistics in the spot far outpace those in other areas of the lineup. At the same point, Ellsbury is a more versatile hitter; he can bat first or second in the lineup and even proved he could handle hitting third in Beltran’s absence last season.

Gardner has had a terrible spring and coming off an awful finish to the 2014 season, there should be some concerns. Ellsbury has had a shortened spring due to an oblique strain which hopefully will not linger and cause a stint on the disabled list.

After the first five batters of the lineup, the rest is anyone’s guess.

Chase Headley begins his first season of a four-year contract after coming to the Yankees via the San Diego Padres last July. Headley had been wallowing in San Diego and seemed to find some rejuvenation in his bat upon his arrival in the Bronx last summer. His defense, always a plus, remained top of the line, but once he began to show some offensive prowess, the Yankees began to deliberate about his worth for the future and the two parties agreed to remain together.

Headley takes over third base from Alex Rodriguez who returns from his yearlong suspension for his part in the Biogenesis performance-enhancing drug scandal. Rodriguez will be the everyday designated hitter. At the outset of spring, there was little confidence in what A-Rod could offer the Yankees after missing 17 months of baseball. Despite the challenges, the 39-year-old has performed admirably and maybe more importantly has stayed out of the limelight.

Stephen Drew is yet another bounce-back candidate but the chances for a complete turnaround are not concrete. Drew has had the benefit of a full Spring Training and except for a few games, he has looked similar to the 2014 version of himself and very little like the 2013 version the Yanks were hoping for. Spring stats might not mean a lot but they do for guys like Drew who are trying to prove the previous season was a fluke. Drew is also learning a new position so this could be a short-lived venture if prospects Jose Pirela and Rob Refsnyder push the envelope.

Drew's double play partner Didi Gregorius could be considered another wildcard for the club. When the Yankees traded for Gregorius they had defense in mind and they might just have found someone who is ready to put it together with the stick. Gregorius has hit righties well in his short career but has had his share of trouble with lefties. He's been working on it this spring and there have been some positive developments. Gregorius won't win any batting titles but if he can eclipse a .700 OPS combined with his stellar defense the Yankees would be ecstatic.

Chase Headley
While the offense might not completely come together the Yankees are very strong on the defensive side of the ball.

The way the Yankees constructed their pitching staff, much of the defensive work should be handled by the infield with plenty of groundball inducing pitchers.

In the infield Headley and Gregorius are one of the best left side of the infields in the game. Drew was considered an above average shortstop and while he is still learning second base, he's looked more than adequate this spring. Teixeira remains one of the better fielding first baseman in the league.

In the outfield Gardner and Ellsbury cover 80 percent of the field allowing for Beltran's limited range in right. The range is beneficial because none of the players has that great of an arm.

McCann is one of the best pitch-framers in the game and was very good at limiting base-stealers last season.

The rotation


  1. Masahiro Tanaka
  2. Michael Pineda
  3. CC Sabathia
  4. Nathan Eovaldi
  5. Adam Warren
We can talk all we want about how the rotation needs to be healthy, but every team says that, right? Sure the Yankees come in with some players who have a history, but is it right to make the assumption that they will therefore suffer an injury and the season is over before it begins? The Yankees feature two of the better arms in the American League East, if not the entire league, in Tanaka and Pineda and right now they are healthy.

Masahiro Tanaka
Tanaka was excellent in his first season with the Bombers and he looked fine this spring considering how he finished 2014. He’s shifted away from a four-seam fastball, replacing it with a two-seamer which comes with decreasing velocity, but his splitter looked much like it did last season. It remains to be seen if Tanaka has completely abandoned the four-seamer, or if it was simply something he wanted to concentrate on this spring.

Regardless, it’s feasible to suggest that Tanaka can be a top of the line starter in this league, and while many will be sitting around waiting for his ulnar collateral ligament to completely tear, this observer will be unsurprised to see him handle many offenses with ease.

As for Pineda, he could be even better than Tanaka. He was pitching quite well before shoulder issues stunted his 2014 season, but was able to come back and finish strong. Pineda looked impressive this spring from the very beginning.

He put together an unbelievable 22-to-1 strikeout to walk ratio which is not too shocking considering his work last season (8.43 K/BB). Pineda has looked strong and maybe, just maybe, he has put some of his injury concerns behind him. Again, it’s about measuring performance and right now Pineda is ready to tackle the regular season.

Sabathia returns after tossing less than 50 innings in 2014 due to degenerative knee problems and ultimately season-ending surgery. Sabathia came into camp carrying more weight on his body than the past couple of seasons and in the process has been able to increase his velocity slightly.

CC Sabathia
However, Sabathia’s bigger concern is becoming completely confident in his offspeed pitches, and making sure he is locating them and his fastball appropriately. Sabathia’s stuff needs to be impeccable at this stage in his career, and if it is not, he will get drilled.

The velocity is something many will harp on but McCann is going to have to really work on keeping Sabathia’s offerings off the plate and force batters to swing at pitches outside the zone. This requires crisp movement and a wide enough disparity between his fastball and offspeed pitches. Without it, Sabathia could be in for a long season of poor performance.

Nathan Eovaldi has been better than advertised thus far in the spring. His fastball reputation precedes itself, but as with Sabathia if it is straight down the middle of the plate, it will get hit. Eovaldi arrived at camp well before many of the other pitchers to begin working on his offspeed pitches with pitching coach Larry Rothschild and it is beginning to pay off.

Someone with Eovaldi’s ability to throw fastballs consistently in the mid-90s and reach the upper-90s should be able to strikeout more than 6.3 batters per nine innings (his career rate). Eovaldi will certainly want to improve on the number of hits he allowed in 2014, a league leading 223, and a better mix/location of pitches along with better framing from McCann can help him with that.

Adam Warren begins the regular season as the Yankees fifth starter, outlasting several pitchers vying for the honor once Chris Capuano went down with an injury. Warren, who has pitched extensively in the bullpen with the Yankees, had only started when in the minor leagues for the club.

Warren had a smooth spring until his last performance against minor leaguers where he got knocked around a bit. Warren has demonstrated the ability to get Major League hitters out as a reliever, but will need to prove that he can deliver the same three times through the opposition’s batting order.

It will be interesting to see how the fifth starter role evolves over the course of the season with Capuano due back in late April or early May, and Ivan Nova set to make a return in late May or early June.

If the top four hurlers remain physically able and are performing well, how will the Yankees set up the final spot in the rotation?

The bullpen


A definite strength of the club is the talent and depth of the bullpen. While there is still a discussion as to who the Yankees use as a closer, it doesn’t discount the fact that whichever way they turn with it should not affect the performance of the group.

Beginning with the backend of the pen, the Yankees are going with two pitchers they acquired in the offseason, right-hander Chris Martin and lefty Chasen Shreve. Martin is a big power arm who last pitched in the Colorado Rockies organization and Shreve came over from the Atlanta Braves with David Carpenter who I will get to momentarily.

Martin and Shreve will find time in less pressure situations than others, but the Yankees like their abilities to get batters out from both sides of the plate. Neither should be considered a specialist against like-sided hitters.

Esmil Rogers, who was one of the competitors for the fifth-starter role will be the long man, and considering some of the starters will have to continue to build up to the 100-pitch mark, he could see ample time early on this spring. Rogers continually receives accolades for his stuff, but seems to have a hard time packaging it to its fullest. I believe Rogers’ rope is the shortest of the relief crew.

David Carpenter and Justin Wilson were both acquired via trades in the offseason. Carpenter came along with Shreve for Manny Banuelos and Wilson was in the Pittsburgh Pirates’ organization. Carpenter has been successful in the setup role for a couple of years and Wilson was spectacular in 2013 for the Bucs, but fell off some on 2014. As with Martin and Shreve, Carpenter and Wilson have no issues with pitching to hitters on both sides of the plate.

Dellin Betances
That leaves Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller who have been “battling” for the closer role. Many felt that this was Betances’ job to lose and it is entirely possible that he does if he doesn’t figure things out soon.

The story in camp has been Betances’ diminished velocity, but the bigger problem is that he has been very erratic this spring. It’s an issue that dropped Betances from the perch he once had as a rotation prospect. It was so bad that the Yankees moved Betances to the bullpen as a last ditch effort to get value from Betances’ huge arm.

If Betances continues to have a problem finding the plate, and getting hitters out, Miller should be a more than adequate closer. He is also a converted starter who found immense success in the bullpen, first as a lefty specialist and then last season as a full-fledged shutdown reliever.

Miller has had a much smoother spring than Betances and it is not be surprising that Yankees’ manager Joe Girardi intends to utilize them interchangeably to start the season. That announcement came Friday, and it’s not a bad thing for the Yankees.

In my view, using Betances and Miller according to the situation would be quite a difficult thing for opposing managers to navigate. If the two pitchers can understand that their roles will fluctuate and that they need simply be ready to pitch at a moment’s notice, the Yankees might have a bonafide two-man closer situation that works.

The bench


Chris Young was brought in on a whim in 2014 and finished off his season with some big hits for the Yankees in September. After a lackluster tenure with the cross-town New York Mets, Young might have found a place to contribute in the Bronx.

Chris Young
Young can play each of the outfield positions and could find some time at designated hitter if Rodriguez spells Headley at third base. Young is a quality defender and has some pop. I expect he will give Beltran a day or two off each week and is certainly the first to get playing time in the outfield if one of the regulars is hurt.

Garrett Jones came over from the Miami Marlins with Eovaldi giving the Yankees a true power source from the left side off the bench, and maybe more importantly a real first baseman to back up Teixeira, something the Yanks did not have in 2014 and it left them entirely exposed.

Jones’ left-handed swing is tailor-made for the short porch in right field at Yankee Stadium. He could find some time in right field as well.

With the recent injury to Brendan Ryan, the Yankees acquired Gregorio Petit from the Houston Astros to potentially be the infield utility man until Ryan returns. Neither Pirela nor Refsnyder was considered an option and I’ll get to them later in the article.

The backup catcher role might not be decided until Saturday with John Ryan Murphy and Austin Romine the competitors. Murphy went into camp seemingly the favorite, but he’s done little with the bat to pull completely away. At the same time, Romine, who is out of options, has also shown little from the offensive side of the ball to push the club into keeping him around.

There have been some teams inquiring about Romine, but what the Yanks will get in return is minimal. I believe they’ll stick with Murphy and hope he finds his stroke as the season begins.

Update: 4/4/15, 4:30 p.m. - The Yankees announced that Murphy will be the backup catcher and Romine was designated for assignment. The Yankees have 10 days to trade Romine.

Impact prospects


There are many young players that made a great impression this spring who could be knocking on the door as early as this season. Over the course of the next two to three seasons, the Yankees could very well see a complete transformation of their club with a slew of young players ready to contribute.

Rob Refsnyder
I discussed Pirela and Refsnyder who played exceptionally well this spring and gave management something serious to think about as the season progresses. If they are hitting the cover off the ball and Drew is producing like last season, the Yanks might have to consider a change.

Players like lefty reliever Jacob Lindgren and right-handed starter Bryan Mitchell could see some time in the Yankees.
Ramon Flores and Slade Heathcott also had exceptional springs and could potentially fill a bench role or more if one of the Yankees’ outfielders has an extended injury.

Other young players – Greg Bird, Aaron Judge, Jake Cave, Luis Severino and others – will take this season to continue to develop. Each of them has promising futures, hopefully in the organization, and if not, can be used as a critical piece to obtain a player who can immediately contribute to the Yankees success.

The coaching staff


Girardi has done some of his better work the last couple of seasons despite the fact that the club did not reach the postseason. He was able to generate more wins than was to be expected based on the Pythagorean runs scored estimations in each of the last two years. Girardi has had to shuffle through plenty of injuries and less than expected performances as well.

Manager Joe Girardi
This year might be more of the same. Many projection models show the Yankees winning anywhere from 80-82 games. Vegas lines have them with an over/under of 81.5 wins. Girardi, in part, has been able to add five-plus wins the last couple of seasons and if the Yankees perform to the anticipated metrics, he might need to do the same in 2015. The AL East is no longer the powerhouse division in baseball, and because each of the other teams has their own set of issues, winning 87-90 games could be enough for the division title.

Girardi’s best work comes with managing the bullpen and with solid contributors top to bottom, he might not have to go to the magic binder as much as he’s had to in the past. That said Girardi tends to get a little too happy with certain relievers and wears them down early on in the season. This happened to Warren last year and it took much of the summer for him to get back on track after overuse in April and May.

Similarly, Girardi and Rothschild will have to keep a close eye on the rotation the first few times through the cycle in an effort to bring them along without overtaxing them right away. Pushing them hard in April could be costly in September.

What will separate Girardi from other managers this season is how he gives time off to the aging veterans on the club. Can he juggle the expected maladies for Teixeira, A-Rod and Beltran? He’s going to need to work in scheduled off days in order to keep them as fresh as possible.

In addition to the days-off schedule, Girardi is going to have to be vocal with management where it concerns the playing time of underperforming players. There needs to be some sort of timetable set for a player like Drew who is coming off one of the worst seasons by anyone in recent memory. If Drew is dragging the lineup down and the offense is not clicking otherwise, Girardi is going to need to make the request for Pirela or Refsnyder depending on how they are performing in Triple-A.

Girardi’s staff is a good one. Rothschild is still one of the best pitching coaches in the business. Rothschild should be able to help Sabathia regain his form and the Yankees are hopeful he can assist Eovaldi become the pitcher who pays out on his upside potential.

Girardi has two veteran hitting coaches in Jeff Pentland and Alan Cockrell who will hopefully between them be able to work through any swing issues that arise during the season. They’ll need to work hard to prevent extended slumps.

Bench coach Robby Thomson will need to keep Girardi honest on all fronts. This role is one in which there needs to be another voice providing Girardi alternatives to what he’s thinking. Otherwise, there’s no point to having him there.

Joe Espada is the third base coach, and virtually anyone could make better sends and non-sends than Thomson managed to last season. At first base coach is Tony Pena, who filled the role as bench coach for the last few seasons. Maybe Pena can help Gardner be a bit more aggressive on the bases with some helpful tips on certain pitcher’s movements. My guess is that Pena is more valuable working with McCann and the backup catchers than anything else at this point.

In all it’s a good staff which is going to have to be completely in tune to the players in front of them if the Yankees hope to reach the postseason.

Management/ownership


GM Brian Cashman
The Yankees organization strives each and every year to put a championship caliber team on the field. The Yankees payroll will once again far exceed $200 million and while some of that money is invested in older vets, it’s still money being spent.

As the club moves into a realm where they will not spend lavishly on free agents, they have decided to try to build the franchise with wiser free agent choices, draft picks, through the international signing period and by acquiring, maintaining and developing youth in the system.

It seems to me that the Yankees are trying to build a base from which to grow and still stay involved in the free agent market where it deems fit. I also believe the Yankees are hopeful that some of the prospects pan out completely to the point where they can invest in them to stay in New York versus signing free agents who are ready to enter the downward part of their career trajectory.

As in season’s past, expect the Yankees to do what they feel is necessary to remain competitive straight through the end of the season. If that means a minor trade here or there, general manager Brian Cashman has proven to be deft at those strategies. Ownership continues to show the ability to add payroll if needed and I suspect 2015 would be handled no differently if the Yankees are in contention at the trade deadline.

Prediction


It goes without saying that the Yankees are a flawed team. But, again as we look through the rest of the AL East, the same can be said about each team. The Yanks can incur a massive downturn with significant injuries but could also truly outperform expectations with bounce-back performances from key players and a changing of the tide with their health issues in recent years.

The rotation is better as a whole than most might give them credit. The bullpen is a certain strength and the Yankees’ depth in both parts of the pitching staff will go a long way.

Runs will be at a premium, but that’s another league wide issue. A team is as good as their pitching staff and I believe the Yankees will be able to handle their opposition on more days than not from the mound.

I’m not going to assume health will derail their season, and I’m not going to presume everything will click perfectly. I predict a record of 87-75 which splits the difference of what I believe their low and high win totals might be. They could win 82 games and they could win 92; it all depends on the same factors faced by each team across the league.

How the Yankees respond to those dynamics will determine where they finish in 2015 and whether it will be enough to reach the postseason as the winner of the newly weakened AL East.

Christopher Carelli is a freelance baseball writer. Besides his work here, Christopher is a correspondent for FantasyPros, where he writes a weekly column covering the closer/bullpen situations around Major League Baseball. His baseball commentary has also been published on Yahoo Sports, the FanSided network, Sportsideo and linked multiple times on MLB Trade Rumors’ Baseball Blogs Weigh In. He is a member of the Internet Baseball Writers Association of America, the Baseball Bloggers Alliance and the BYB Hub.



3 comments:

  1. The one part of the article that is missing is "Leadership." Who takes over the reins from Jeter to lead the team? On the championship teams, there was Jeter, O'Neil, Posada, Pettitt, Clemens, etc. Can A-Rod do it?

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  2. Dale, thanks for reading and the comment. I think you nailed it with mentioning several players during the championship teams. I think this group can tout several leaders, Sabathia, McCann, Gardner, Ellsbury, Headley, Teixeira and yes maybe even A-Rod. I'm not sure any of these guys will amount to the next captain, but I also don't believe there needs to be one guy leading the entire group.

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  3. Thanks for the comment Les. The offense is probably their biggest issue, I would agree. I could see Headley hitting second, but with Drew and Gregorius, it's hard to see them moving Gardner behind them.

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