Wednesday, September 24, 2014

New York Yankees: 7 positives in a negative season

The New York Yankees wake up Wednesday one game away from elimination from the postseason. A single Kansas City Royals' win or a lone Yankees’ loss over the next five days will seal the deal. Yet, in an otherwise negative season, there were seven positive occurrences the team can point to as they begin to look toward the 2015 season.

Tanaka delivers

Masahiro Tanaka was sought after by virtually every team in the league and the new posting system gave each of them a shot of securing his services. The Yankees were able to nab the Japanese hurler with a seven-year, $155 million contract (plus the $20 million posting fee). The only thing that slowed Tanaka down was a partial tear of the UCL in his right arm which he recently returned from after more than two months on the shelf.

Tanaka was well on his way to competing for the American League Rookie of the Year Award, as well as the Cy Young Award before his injury. On the season, Tanaka owns a 13-4 record with 139 strikeouts and just 19 walks in 134.1 innings pitched. Not only was Tanaka able to translate his repertoire from Japan, he was cool as a cucumber on the mound and extremely humble as praise was given him.

Greene shows depth of arms

With the multitude of injuries to the Yankees’ rotation, they needed some help from within the organization. Shane Greene came to the rescue. In 14 games (13 starts) spanning 75 innings, Greene has shown that he can hang in the big leagues, proving the Yankees had more depth in their farm system than they’ve been given credit for.

Greene (5-3, 3.24 ERA) averages a strikeout per inning and almost a 3/1 strikeout to walk ratio. Greene has also shown the ability to shake off bad innings, or starts and the ability to bounce back. He’s demonstrated poise on the mound and he’ll likely play a big role with the team in 2015, assuming CC Sabathia and Ivan Nova are out for extended periods to begin the season.

Pineda trade finally paying off

Michael Pineda came to the Yankees in 2012 in exchange for catching prospect Jesus Montero. We were able to witness the reason why he was coveted by the Yankees this season, albeit for a short period of time.

Pineda has been fantastic virtually each time he has stepped to the mound. In 12 starts, he’s 4-5 with a 1.93 ERA and 0.86 WHIP. He’s walked just 7 batters in 70 innings and held them to a .205 average. Pineda, provided his shoulder stays strong, could formulate a very intimidating 1-2 punch with Tanaka for the Bombers next season.

Betances and Robertson solidify bullpen

Dellin Betances and David Robertson became one of the best tandems to close out games in all of baseball. Betances has been the Yankees fireman and lights-out lockdown eighth-inning pitcher for much of the season. Betances established a new Yankees’ record for strikeouts by a reliever (135 and counting). His .148 batting average against and 0.78 WHIP are extraordinary in 90 innings of work.

Robertson, who was in a tough position taking over for Mariano Rivera, handled the closer role as well as could have been expected. His numbers might not be as shiny as Betances’ but Robertson was extremely effective. He’s nailed down 38 of 42 save opportunities and struck out 92 hitters across 62.1 innings. There isn’t a team out there who wouldn’t sign up for those numbers even if Robertson requires some Houdini magic at times.

Ellsbury stays healthy

When the Yankees signed Jacoby Ellsbury to a seven-year, $153 million deal in the offseason, many pundits pointed to his proclivity for being injured. It was a good argument and for certain, this signing could hurt during years 5-7, but for year number one, Ellsbury was able to stay on the field for 149 games as of this writing.

He’s been productive at the plate (.271/.328/.419, 16 HR and 39 SB) and played solid defense. He didn’t quite hit for as much power as some expected, but he was active on the bases as he needed to be with the Yankees' floundering offense. For much of the season Ellsbury was the best offensive player in the lineup as he bounced from the leadoff spot to the number three hole without sacrificing performance.

Deadline deals pay off

Yankees general manager Brian Cashman has been under fire from some of the fans this season, but it’s hard to suggest he did not do well with his mid-season trades. He swapped Vidal Nuno for Brandon McCarthy, nabbed Chase Headley for Yangervis Solarte and Rafael De Paula and snagged Martin Prado for Peter O’Brien and a player to be named later. He also dealt Kelly Johnson for Stephen Drew and well, three out of four good moves is certainly a positive.

McCarthy has reinvented himself with the Yankees, giving them a reason to look at him as a replacement for Hiroki Kuroda who has hinted at finally retiring. McCarthy is 7-5 with a 2.89 ERA and an eye-popping 6.3 K/BB ratio since his move to the Bronx.

Headley has also found some life after coming from the San Diego Padres. Headley’s OPS has gone from .651 while with the Padres to .744 as a Yankee. His defense at third base has been better than they’ve received in years. With Alex Rodriguez due back in 2015, Headley might be a wise choice to man third while giving consistent at-bats to A-Rod as the designated hitter. Headley has also shown he can handle first base duties, and with Mark Teixeira’s ailments, it’s worth considering a contract offer for Headley this offseason.

Prado might be the best of the deals simply because he is under contract for the next two seasons at a reasonable rate and O'Brien is far from a can't miss prospect. The Yankees can play him at second, third or in the outfield and his bat proved to be a lightning rod for the Yankees down the stretch. Unfortunately Prado required an appendectomy and missed the final handful of games. But, if he resembles the .877 OPS player he was in pinstripes, the Yankees might have found a key member of the 2015/16 teams.

The Captain’s farewell tour

I, for one, have not tired of the Derek Jeter farewell tour. I was extremely surprised Jeter was able to play in as many games as he has this season (141 heading into Thursday's game). While his numbers (.255/.303/.312) pale in comparison to his career averages, he’s been an exemplary leader and still exudes confidence each time he steps on the field. This final homestand has been the icing on the cake, seeing Jeter rap out three doubles and homer while driving in six runs so far.

The tributes have been great and the endless highlight reels never get old for me. I’m grateful to have seen him play for the last 20 seasons and he will be deeply missed. My only regret, and likely his as well, is that the Yankees will probably not participate in the postseason. One more ring would have been great.

So, there you have it. The 2014 season will be forgotten by many as soon as it concludes, but not all was lost amid the inconsistent offense and countless injuries.

Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference and FanGraphs.

Christopher Carelli is a freelance sports writer and sports media strategist. 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.