Playing Pepper 2015: New York Yankees

It’s one of the annual traditions here at C70 At The Bat, our trip around the majors in blog form.  Since 2009, I’ve been asking bloggers from other teams about what’s going to happen with their squad in the coming season.  It’s always fun to see what the opposition is thinking and how optimistic some of their most devoted and intelligent fans are.  This year, the Pepper series is brought to you by Out of the Park Baseball 16, coming soon for PC.  Preorder this outstanding baseball simulation today!

New York Yankees
84-78, second in the AL East

In the last two years, the Pittsburgh Pirates have made the playoffs while the New York Yankees have not.  If this doesn’t prove that baseball’s status quo ain’t what it used to be, I don’t know what does.  I imagine that it’s hard to believe for long-time fans that it’s been since 2009 since the club has hoisted the trophy at the end of the season.  That’s not necessarily a big gap unless you are the winningest franchise in the history of Major League Baseball.  Then it gets a bit concerning.

To talk to us about whether that drought will be ending soon, I’ve again lined up a large batch of great bloggers.  First up, we have Cecilia from Why I Like Baseball.  Cecilia’s been doing this a long time, right at 16 years now, which is like 100 in blogger years.  You’ll find her on Twitter @whyilikebb.  Next we have Gary, who is the lead Yankee writer over at Double G Sports.  Gary’s Twitter info is @GPhillips2727.  After that, we get Chris from Yankees Unscripted, whom you’ll find over on Twitter @Chris_Carelli.  (Chris has been a great help during some of the Baseball Bloggers Alliance issues of recent months, so I felt that deserved a shoutout!)

The good stuff just keeps coming as Derek follows.  Derek writes at Pinstripe Pundits and you’ll find him on Twitter @derekalbin, the blog @PS_Pundits.  We finish with a couple of great female baseball minds in Lisa from Subway Squawkers and Stacey from It’s About The Money.  Lisa’s at the same Twitter locale that her partner-in-blogging crime Jon is (@SubwaySquawkers) and you’ll find Stacey on Twitter @StaceGots.

C70: What are your thoughts on the team’s offseason? Did they do what they needed to do?

WILB: I honestly have no idea. There are too many question marks. Not only whether there will be any production coming from A-Rod’s direction, but everyone else, too. Will Mark Teixeira ever be healthy again? Will Didi Gregorius make it? When is Brett Gardner going to lose a step? Not to be a pessimist: it’s just there are a lot of questions that can only be answered by seeing how it all plays out.

DGS: I think a lot of people are underestimating what the Yankees did this offseason. No, there were no flashy moves or big-time splashes, but it is hard to argue this team didn’t improve. They are younger and drastically better defensively and should have what will be a top-five bullpen in the majors. The only other move I would have liked to see would be another cheap, high-risk reward type pitcher, someone similar to Scott Baker.

YU: The Yankees did what THEY wanted to do. That’s to say that their actions have baffled some fans, but made this one particularly happy. The offseason mantra was to avoid lavish nine-figure spending, work to get younger and maintain the key pieces of their farm system. They succeeded in each aspect. Now, will the Yankees reach the postseason? Read on.

PP: The offseason was fine. I like the acquisition of Nathan Eovaldi, it’s hard not to dream on his power fastball. Hopefully Pitching Coach Larry Rothschild can work some magic. Additionally, it’s going to be fun watching Didi Gregorius’ defense at shortstop, which is something Derek Jeter obviously lacked. The big question is if Didi will hit, particularly against lefties, but I’d like to believe there’s some upside with the bat. Honestly, he doesn’t even need to hit that much if his defense is as advertised. I’d be happy with a triple-slash of .250/.315/.370 as long as the glove holds up. Bringing back Chase Headley was important, especially with Martin Prado being dealt in the Eovaldi trade. Bolstering the bullpen was key too, as Andrew Miller, David Carpenter, and Justin Wilson should be able to make up for David Robertson‘s departure. The one thing that I wish they did a little more about is the rotation. I think I speak for all Yankees fans when I say that I’m worried about Masahiro Tanaka, CC Sabathia, and Michael Pineda staying healthy. Unfortunately, Hiroki Kuroda was pretty dead set on returning to Japan considering the money he passed up to stay here, and Brandon McCarthy got a contract too rich for the Yankees, which is really strange to say.

SS: Well, given that the most important thing they needed to do was to part ways with GM Brian Cashman, and instead Hal Steinbrenner gave him a contract extension and a raise, the answer is a resounding “No!”

The Yankees also needed to figure out what it is they are doing for the future. Are they rebuilding? Are they in win-now mode? It’s hard to tell what they are doing, and unless you have a smart front office, the way the Giants, Cardinals, and Red Sox do, I can’t see how their plan will be successful at anything other than mediocre, boring games and no playoffs.

Cashman seems to use the money left on the contracts for CC Sabathia, Mark Teixeira, and most notoriously Alex Rodriguez as a crutch to excuse why they didn’t go after any top free agents this offseason. But while they do owe $68 million this year for those three players, they also added $56 million for 2015 in payroll last offseason with the additions of Jacoby Ellsbury, Masahiro Tanaka, Brian McCann, and Carlos Beltran, and the contract extension last year for Brett Gardner takes up $12.5M in 2015. At least CC, Tex, and A-Rod got them their only World Series title since 2000. All the players they added new money for have real question marks.

Even the moves the Bombers made this past year are more costly than you think. Since the Yanks had to pick up a portion of Martin Prado’s contract when trading him, that two-month rental cost nearly $10M. Giving Stephen Drew and Chris Capuano $5M each never made sense in the first place, and makes even less sense given that Drew appears to be done, and Capuano cannot stay healthy. And only the Yankees think that Chase Headley was worth “Johnny Damon in his prime” money – four years, $52 million. If the front office had just been smarter here, and given rookies a chance of making the team instead, they would have had the money for Yoan Moncada, who instead signed with the Red Sox. (Actually, even if they had to spend above their budget, not getting him is inexcusable!)

IATM: I’m one of those people who believe the Yankees’ offseason wasn’t that terrible. I know others will probably disagree with me. And yes, there were some guys I was disappointed in losing – David Robertson, Brandon McCarthy and Martin Prado among them – but I can see what the long-term goal is. As for doing what they needed to do? Not really, but this team isn’t designed to win it all in 2015 and that’s fine with me. If they’re setting themselves up for a better future, three years of missing the playoffs is perfectly acceptable to me.

C70: Will Alex Rodriguez be able to capture any of his past form after a year off?

WILB: I think the best we can expect is that A-Rod will be hot and cold with some potential long cold streaks, but hopefully a hot streak or two when the team really needs it. When it comes to A-Rod, though, I still believe if the Yankees could keep him off the field and out of pinstripes, they would. Honestly, I think a much much more important question to the Yankees’ success is whether CC Sabathia can recapture his form after surgery.

DGS: Yea, A-Rod missed all of 2014, but it has actually been 2 years since he played anything close to a full major league season. He’s 40 years old, coming off of two hip surgeries and is off PEDs (at least you would think so at this point). With Chase Headley around he is likely to play little time in the field and the Yankees can’t really afford to have an everyday DH with so many injury prone veterans. As for the at-bats Rodriguez does get, the question that needs to be answered is can catch up on a fastball coming in at 95? If he is not producing, don’t expect the Yankees to keep Rodriguez around for long.

YU: I highly doubt it. I’ve written about it fairly often. It is difficult for a 39, going on 40-year-old baseball player to be successful even without missing significant time. Rodriguez spent 17 months away from the game and he played in just 44 games in 2013. It’s going to be extremely hard for him to regain the form he had in 2013, let alone what once made him an offensive force.

PP: A-Rod has looked pretty good in Spring Training, but take that with a grain of salt. There’s no doubt he has the baseball acumen and talent to perform, the question really is if his body will allow it. If his hip starts bothering him again, his season could go down the drain pretty quickly. Hopefully, as the primary designated hitter, he’ll have less wear and tear compared to playing third base full-time.

SS: I am actually pretty optimistic about A-Rod, given his glorious spring so far. He seems in a good place, both mentally and physically. He has handled all of the hubbub about his return much better than expected. And remember that his 2013 OPS in just a month and a half of a season was still better than the entire team’s was in 2014.

Another thing Alex has going for him is the soft bigotry of low expectations. All he needs to do is be halfway decent, stay halfway healthy, and not embarrass himself, and many fans will be on this side. There is a real “sticking it to the man” edge to rooting for Rodriguez this year, given how much the media and the Yankees management despise him. The irony is that the team’s biggest marketing asset, as far as putting fannies in the seats and getting people to tune in, is the very person they are claiming they can no longer market in their refusal to pay those home run milestone incentives.

IATM: Will he put up MVP type numbers? No, but I do not think he will embarrass himself like some people are expecting/hoping for. I can see 15-20 HRs if he stays healthy.

C70: What’s the strength of this team?

WILB: The strength is that there is going to be talent spread throughout: some offense, some starting pitching, some bullpen, and that they will continue to address weaknesses as opportunities come up. Cashman will leverage any asset they have (money, prospects) to improve what he’s got.

DGS: There are two; the bullpen and the defense. Instead of adding run producers to their lineup, the Yankees made it a priority to add run-preventers. After showing he was a stud in the field, Headley is back at the hot corner for a full year. Few can pick it as well as Didi Gregorius at shortstop. Stephen Drew brings a shortstop’s range and arm to second. Most of the holdovers, Brett Gardner, Jacoby Ellsbury, Mark Teixeira and Brian McCann, can all get it done defensively.

The pen meanwhile should be one of the best in baseball. Dellin Betances will presumably be the closer after a breakthrough 2014 season setting up the departed David Robertson. Andrew Miller, one of the nastiest relievers in the game, will take Bentances’ old role. Behind them are a slew of pitchers including Adam Warren, Justin Wilson and David Carpenter who will team up to turn Yankees games into six inning contests.

YU: The bullpen. The Yanks have two elite relievers (Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances) at the back end and it doesn’t matter which one closes. Behind them they have a solid foundation of arms (Justin Wilson, David Carpenter and Adam Warren if he is not named a starter) plus a slew of young and live arms (Chasen Shreve, Jacob Lindgren and Danny Burawa to name a few) ready to make an impact in the big leagues when the time comes.

PP: The bullpen. Dellin Betances, Andrew Miller, David Carpenter, and Justin Wilson is a pretty ridiculous back-end to the ‘pen. Adam Warren and Esmil Rogers are solid middle relief guys, and then there’s a bunch of nasty relief prospects waiting for the call, particularly lefty Jacob Lindgren, who was the Yankees’ first choice in last year’s amateur draft. Last season, Lindgren fanned 46.2% of batters and induced 71.4% grounders from Rookie Ball through Double-A.

SS: The bullpen – ever since Joe Torre left and stopped ruining people’s arms with overuse, the bullpen has been fantastic. Cashman does a great job finding good arms, and Girardi does a great job keeping them healthy and using them in the right situation. Even the absence of David Robertson will not make much a difference to it.

I could say the starting rotation in this category, but there are too many question marks there for me to feel very confident.

IATM: The infield defense has a chance to be really, really good and the bullpen is definitely a strength, again, as long as people stay healthy.

C70: What player do you expect to make the greatest strides this year?

WILB: I think Brian McCann is going to blossom. I think it took him a year to figure out the American League but now he’s got it.

DGS: Nathan Eovaldi is going to surprise. Once one of the game’s top prospects, the 25-year-old struggled mightily in 2014 with the Marlins, racking up 14 losses while allowing the most hits in the National League. However, Eovaldi does have nasty stuff and Yanks’ pitching coach Larry Rothschild is working on adding a splitter to his repertoire. Potential is a dangerous word, but Eovaldi has plenty of it. He just has to harness his talent and working with Rothschild should help speed that process up.

YU: Brian McCann. I think now that he has a full year under his belt with a majority of this rotation, and he’s acclimated to the way he’ll be pitched to in the American League, McCann will figure out a way to produce the power numbers many felt he could last season. A 30-HR season is not out of the question. He’s in very good shape, seems ready to try to beat the shift when the opportunity presents it and appears confident in his overall approach at the plate.

PP: I’ll go with Eovaldi. He’s been working on a splitter that he first started to throw at the end of last season as he tries to improve his ability to finish off hitters in two-strike counts. Plus, he’s getting a huge upgrade in terms of pitch framing (from Jarrod Saltalamacchia to Brian McCann). Finally, Pitching Coach Larry Rothschild has a pretty good reputation of improving pitchers, particular in the strikeout department.

SS: Dellin Betances is the closer of the future. I expect him to take over the role for good this year. He was my favorite Yankee to watch in 2014, and I think he will be the same for 2015.

IATM: I have a feeling Brian McCann is going to get over his first year slump and have a much better sophomore year in pinstripes. We saw glimpses of it last season and I think he’s the one who has a “break out” year.

C70: What’s your projection of the team’s record and where will they finish in the division?

WILB: That’s going to depend more on whether certain other teams collapse than the Yankees’ own strengths/weaknesses.

DGS: This team’s season is entirely based on health, so it is tough to project. With that said, on paper, this is a team that is better than most people think, one that could win between 85-88 games. Will that be good enough to win the division in a much-improved AL East? Maybe, maybe not, but it is not unreasonable to call this team a playoff contender.

YU: I’m forever the optimist, but I’m not unrealistic. The Yankees can win 87 games this year with a significant downward possibility if the rotation’s health becomes an issue and they struggle again on offense. I don’t see them getting into the 90-win area without everything going right, but it may not be necessary given the many issues with each of the other American League East teams. A postseason berth can be in the cards for the Yankees at 87-75.

PP: I’ll say 86-76 and 2nd place, which is probably a tad optimistic.

SS: Sadly, I think this will be the year where they go below .500 for the first time since the early 90s. I can’t see them winning more than 80 games, and I think they will finish in fourth place. I also think, unfortunately, that this is the year the crosstown Mets have a better record than the Yanks.

IATM: I really don’t know how they’re going to finish. Some years I’m really in tune with the team and can predict the exact number of wins – I did it last year and in 2007 – but there are other years when I’m going in blind so to speak. Do I think they’re going to be as terrible as the experts believe they’re going to be? No. I think their final standings in the division will rely on a lot of different factors – other teams’ health included. I think it’s a crapshoot.

C70: What do you like best about being a Yankees fan?

WILB: I never have to feel like the front office wants to win less than I do.

DGS: The Yankees always expect and want to win, and their teams reflect that. Fans may not think so this year, and there were certainly times where the front office could have gone the extra mile (Moncada, Scherzer, etc.), but this 2015 team should be able to contend if they can avoid the injury bug. It won’t be easy, but where’s the fun in easy? It will be a long season, a fight. Yankees fans should enjoy the ride.

YU: Content. As a writer, they are forever providing content. Not a day goes by where I worry about what to write about concerning the Yanks. More to the question, as a fan you want your team to be competitive each and every year. The Yankees have provided this without fail for over 20 years.

PP: The history. There have been so many great moments and players in the franchise’s history, which is something I greatly appreciate.

SS: The memories and the tradition and the rings – I became a Yankee fan in the late 70s, and rooted for them through good times and bad. Unfortunately, until the current Yankee regime changes, I think all we as fans will have is nostalgia for a time that is no more.

IATM: I like how everyone else hates us. I actually thrive on that and as Taylor Swift aptly sings, “Haters gonna hate hate hate hate hate hate.”

My appreciation to all of these wonderful bloggers for taking the time out to answer these questions.  There’s one thing for sure, no matter how the Yankees’ season goes, it’s not likely to be boring!

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