After spending nearly two decades as perennial winners and World Series favorites, the New York Yankees are no longer the standard-bearer in MLB. The team has missed the playoffs for two straight years, and they might not play postseason baseball for a third straight season.
The Yankees went 84-78 last year, posting their worst record since 1992. They’re projected to do even worse in the upcoming season, having been given an over/under win total of 81.5 wins. Half of the league has been given better than the Yankees' 33/1 World Series odds, and their projected win total is equal to that of the Mets, who haven't had a better record than their cross-town rivals since 2000.
Can the Yankees prove the experts wrong and compete for a championship in 2015? Below is a preview of the team’s upcoming season.
Unlike a year ago, the Yankees didn’t make any splashes in free agency. New York added younger players like Masahiro Tanaka, Jacoby Ellsbury and Brian McCann in the 2014 offseason, and they’ll be keys to the team’s success in 2015. This past winter, most of New York's additions were ancillary ones, replacing players that didn’t contribute much last season.
The infield is almost completely different from the one that started on Opening Day 2014. The most glaring difference comes at shortstop with Didi Gregorius replacing Derek Jeter. At second base and third base, Stephen Drew and Chase Headley will be in the lineup over Brian Roberts and Kelly Johnson.
Alex Rodriguez is set to play for the first time since 2013, though he won’t spend much time at third base. The three-time MVP will be the team’s starting DH, and he’ll likely see some time at first base.
The Yankees will have a new closer for the third straight year, signing Andrew Miller after letting David Robertson go to the Chicago White Sox in free agency. Manager Joe Girardi will decide between Miller and last year’s setup man Dellin Betances to be the team’s ninth-inning reliever.
Injuries forced the Yankees to use 13 different starting pitchers last year. With Hiroki Kuroda going back to Japan, New York traded Martin Prado to the Miami Marlins for right-hander Nathan Eovaldi. Ivan Nova is still recovering from Tommy John surgery, putting reliever Adam Warren into the rotation.
Looking at the Yankees' lineup might give the indication that they’ll be one of the best offensive teams in MLB. A-Rod, Mark Teixeira, Carlos Beltran and Brian McCann have combined to make 31 All-Star teams, while Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner led the team in WAR last season. But New York ranked just 20th in total runs last year, and they might not be much better in 2015.
The Yankees’ biggest names are past their prime, and New York will likely be in trouble if they rely too heavily on their aging veterans. Rodriguez made his MLB debut 21 years ago, and he’ll be playing his first meaningful baseball in 18 months. He won’t have the aid of performance-enhancing drugs, which seems to have helped him for much of his career, and the 39-year-old hit just .244 in 2013.
Teixeira made his debut nine years after Rodriguez, but he hasn’t been able to stay healthy since 2011. He’s missed 225 games over the last three years, and he hasn’t posted a batting average higher than .256 since 2009. The first baseman did hit 22 home runs last year and he could help the Yankees if he’s able to provide them with some power, but last year's .398 slugging percentage is not an encouraging sign.
Beltran had the worst season of his career last year. In 109 games, he hit just .233, posting a .703 OPS. He’s owed $30 million over the next two years.
There are some reasons to be hopeful for New York’s lineup. It’s hard to believe that McCann won’t do better than the .286 OBP he posted in his first season as a Yankee, and Rodriguez is hitting over .300 with three home runs in Spring Training. Ellsbury and Gardner combined to hit 33 home runs and steal 60 bases in 2014.
Questions in the Rotation
Despite their rash of injuries, the Yankees’ rotation was actually decent in 2014. Starting out the 2015 season with their top guns healthy, New York has a chance to have an above-average pitching staff.
When Tanaka and Michael Pineda were healthy last season, they gave New York a top one-two punch in baseball. Tanaka was terrific until he got injured in July, throwing a quality start in his first 16 appearances. Pineda was unhittable for most of his time on the mound, pitching to a 1.89 ERA and a 0.83 WHIP. He went at least five innings and allowed no more than one earned run in nine of his 13 starts.
But the Yankees can’t rely on their top two pitchers to remain healthy. Tanaka has a partially torn UCL, which will likely lead to Tommy John surgery at some point in his career, possibly as early as this season. Pineda missed more than half of last season, and he missed the entirety of the 2012 and 2013 seasons.
C.C. Sabathia was once one of the most consistent pitchers in baseball, but he hasn’t been good since 2012, and his knee injury will likely prevent him from ever returning to his previous form. Adam Warren has a 3.47 career ERA, and it’ll be interesting to see how he performs as a starter. Eovaldi could be a solid No.5 starter, though his career 4.07 ERA in the National League might not translate well to the AL East.
Projected Lineup Starting Rotation
C Brian McCann Masahiro Tanaka
1B Mark Teixeira C.C. Sabathia
2B Stephen Drew Michael Pineda
SS Didi Gregorius Adam Warren
3B Chase Headley Nathan Eovaldi
LF Brett Gardner
CF Jacoby Ellsbury
RF Carlos Beltran
DH Alex Rodriguez
Chris Young Dellin Betances
Garrett Jones Andrew Miller
John Ryan Murphy David Carpenter
Jose Pirela Chris Martin
Prediction: The Yankees can be very good if they stay injury-free. Having a healthy rotation could give them one of the best pitching staffs in the league, and Rodriguez has played as well as New York could have expected this spring. But the Yankees have one of the oldest teams in baseball, and they won’t be able to rely on their veterans. With teams like the Boston Red Sox and Toronto Blue Jays likely improving in 2015, the Yankees could find themselves near the bottom of the division.
Predicted Finish in AL East: Fourth Place
Predicted Wins: 78