The New York Yankees failed to reach the playoffs in 2008; that offseason they signed nearly $500 million worth of contracts and won the World Series the following season. They didn’t make the playoffs last season; so this offseason they went on a spending spree and once again look like a championship team.
The excitement in Tampa, Florida, where the Yankees have been conducting spring training games all month, is well understood, as they will break camp with upgrades at more than half of their everyday positions, a brand new ace starter, and several key players returning from injury.
VISUAL CONTEXT: THE NEW YORK YANKEES SPENT BIG HOPING FOR ANOTHER TITLE
At catcher, the Yankees were atrocious last year with a combination of Chris Stewart, Francisco Cervelli, Austin Romine and JR Murphy behind the plate. This season, the Yankees will have arguably the second-best catcher in all of baseball (behind San Francisco Giants’ Buster Posey) in Brian McCann. His left-handed swing at Yankee stadium with its short porch in right field is a perfect pairing.
The Yankees will welcome back Mark Teixeira at first base, who spent the majority of 2013 on the disabled list. While Teixeira isn’t a new face on the Yankees, he’s still a huge upgrade over Lyle Overbay who filled in for the all-star first baseman last season. Teixeira isn’t the player he used to be, but his fine fielding abilities and steady approach at the plate still is among the best in the game.
The Yankees lost their best player from last season in Robinson Canó, and he is virtually irreplaceable. However, the Yankees are trying to make up for the loss of Canó’s offensive production at other positions and have former Baltimore Oriole second baseman Brian Roberts penciled in as the everyday second baseman. The Yankees are also looking forward to welcoming back their everyday shortstop in 2014. Derek Jeter spent the majority of 2013 on the disabled list, but is healthy and looking to end his career on a high note. He and Roberts could form a tremendous double-play combo up the middle. And Jeter’s bat, which was sorely missed last year, will be a familiar one atop the Yankees’ order.
Third base was one of the most difficult positions for manager Joe Girardi to fill last year, with injuries to Alex Rodriguez and sub-par play from a handful of utility players. Rodriguez is suspended for all of 2014, and the Yankees haven’t brought in a long-term replacement. So it may be more of the same. Their one hope is that 32-year-old journeyman Kelly Johnson can fill the void for the year. Like many of the other Yankees’ starters, he is a lefty with power — Yankee Stadium will be a nice home for him.
In the outfield, the Yankees have arguably more options than any other team in baseball. They brought in two of the games’ best in Carlos Beltran and Jacoby Ellsbury to play right and center field, respectively. They both are left-handed hitters (Beltran is a switch hitter), and are veterans with a lot of playoff experience. They will excel in New York. In left field, the Yankees will send out one of their most reliable players from 2013 in Brett Gardner. He will provide speed and defense for the Yankees. And off the bench, the Yankees will use Ichiro Suzuki and Alfonso Soriano at designated hitter as well as to spot start in the outfield.
The pitching staff could get a huge boost from Masahiro Tanaka, the Japanese import who may end up as the Yankees’ number one starter at some point in the season. They will also get help from Michael Pineda, who appears to finally be healthy enough to pitch again and is vying for the fifth spot in the rotation.
The Yankees’ bullpen shouldn’t be that bad despite the loss of the greatest relief pitcher of all time in Mariano Rivera. David Robertson has been stellar in the setup role and should do very well in the closing spot. Girardi is also one of the best managers at handling the bullpen in-season, so there should be little concern in this area.
There is arguably no team with a more potentially scary lineup and starting rotation. The problem for the Yankees? They are still an old team and are at risk of injury every time they take the field. That is the biggest single obstacle currently in view on their trek from non-playoff team to championship winners in one season.