2014 American League East Preview

 

I recently did a series of comparisons between the New York Yankees and the rest of the American League East, which is arguably the toughest division in all of baseball. The Boston Red Sox won it last year with 97 wins and went on to win their third World Series in 10 years. The Tampa Bay Rays won a crucial Game 163 in Arlington, TX to sneak in the playoffs and disposed of Cleveland in the Wild Card game before falling to Boston in four in the ALDS.The Yankees and Baltimore Orioles won just 85 games a year after taking it to the limit in the division race and in the Division Series in 2012. The Toronto Blue Jays, last year’s paper champions, were major disappointments and finished dead last.

This season, just about any of these five teams can make the playoffs or even win the division. The Yankees have made improvements but also have their problems. The Red Sox are the defending champions and have young talent on the way, but they did lose some important pieces. The Blue Jays and Orioles whiffed on some major free agents, but Baltimore managed to salvage the offseason with some late pick-ups.

Who will win the division? Will there be more than one playoff team out of the East? Well, as John Sterling says, “you just can’t predict baseball”, but I’ll try.

Division Champion: Tampa Bay Rays (96-66)

USATSI

The Rays have been contenders just about every year since 2008, but they have not been out of the ALDS since that 2008 season when they won the pennant after 10 years of struggle. After months of speculation, they did not trade ace David Price, so they remain serious contenders, perhaps good enough to win it all. Along with Price, they have one of the deepest rotations in the league with Matt Moore, Alex Cobb, and Chris Archer. Their offense looks to improve with a healthy Evan Longoria and a full season of Wil Myers. They also brought back Grant Balfour, who is an improvement over Fernando Rodney, so their bullpen is rock solid. They have enough to make the playoffs for the fifth time in seven seasons, and will take their third AL East crown.

Wild Card Qualifier: New York Yankees (94-68)

Associated Press

You may have heard: The Yankees are too old. The Yankees are overpaid. The Yankees are very injury-prone. The Yankees have to get younger. Big deal. The point of them losing Mariano Rivera, Robinson Cano, and Andy Pettitte has been made to death without regarding what they did do: They improved big time at catcher with Brian McCann and twice over in the outfield with Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran. Derek Jeter and Mark Teixeira are better than what they had at short and first last year.

Pitching wise, they got the best arm available in Masahiro Tanaka, who should be at least half as good as advertised. CC Sabathia has reinvented himself and the rest of the rotation looks great. Ivan Nova and Michael Pineda have looked fantastic this spring and could play a huge role moving forward. Even without Mariano, the Yankees’ bullpen has a backup plan with several pieces in the minors. The Yankees are a much better team than the one that somehow won 85 games last year. That is a fact. They will make the playoffs for the 18th time in 20 seasons.

Just A Bit Short: Boston Red Sox (89-73)

Michael Ivins/Boston Red Sox / Getty Images North America

Let’s just get this straight: Everything went right for the Boston Red Sox last season. Everything. They set themselves up to be a solid but not serious team and it all came up pay-dirt. The acquisitions of Mike Napoli, Mike Carp, Stephen Drew, and Shane Victorino all paid off big time. David Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia stayed healthy. Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz and John freaking Lackey all pitched great again, and a 38 year-old Koji Uehara became the savior for their bullpen.

This isn’t to say the Red Sox were a fluke. If anything, the 2012 season was a fluke for them. They still have a solid team that should be considered a serious threat, but they will not be as good. They downgraded significantly at catcher with a 37 year-old A.J. Pierzynski replacing Jarrod Saltlamacchia (118 OPS+ last year). They replaced Jacoby Ellsbury with Grady Sizemore. If Boston fans think Ellsbury is injury-prone, look at Sizemore, who has not played in three years and barely has any knees left. With no other significant moves this offseason, the Red Sox are counting on everything to go right again. That will not happen. They will miss the playoffs for the fourth time this decade.

Not Quite: Baltimore Orioles (80-82)

Carlos Osorio/AP

The O’s had a mostly disastrous offseason. They traded Jim Johnson to Oakland to sign Grant Balfour, but Balfour failed his physical and signed with the Rays. Thus, they’re forced to go with Tommy Hunter as their closer. It wasn’t until February where they made some serious moves. They improved their pitching with Ubaldo Jimenez and Korean Suk-Min Yoon and also brought in Nelson Cruz on the cheap after he was embroiled in BioGenesis. Their lineup looks loaded, but do they have enough pitching? Not likely.

In the Cellar, Again: Toronto Blue Jays (78-84)

The Blue Jays were supposed to be great last year after acquiring Mark Buehrle, Jose Reyes, Melky Cabrera, and R.A. Dickey, but they were anything but, finishing dead last. They whiffed during free agency, specifically on Ervin Santana. They have a very deep lineup featuring Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion, but can their pitching go from an Achilles to a strength? Their bullpen is solid, but their rotation is old and thin. They will finish  dead last again in 2014.

Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

My MLB Predictions for the 2014 Season

Derek Jeter (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

As winter dies and spring is born, baseball once again rises from the ashes like the legendary phoenix. The 2014 season had already really begun last weekend in Australia as the Los Angeles Dodgers took two from the Arizona Diamondbacks at the Sydney Cricket Ground, but it gets into full swing this week. The Dodgers again are in the spotlight tonight in San Diego against the Padres for the Sunday Night game on ESPN. Everyone else kicks off Monday and Tuesday.

There are a lot of running storylines for the 2014 season, none bigger than the last ride for the captain of the New York Yankees, Derek Jeter. It’s also commissioner Bud Selig’s last year as well (thank the Lord Almighty). But there’s also the new era of instant replay and the rise of a new generation of superstars, many from abroad.

Many teams have improved, some got worse, some stayed the same. Baseball has reached probably its highest level of parity in history, so just about any team can win it all. But only 10 teams can play in October, and only one can become World Series champions.

AMERICAN LEAGUE:

Eastern Division:

Tampa Bay Rays 96-66

New York Yankees*: 94-68

Boston Red Sox 89-73

Baltimore Orioles: 80-82

Toronto Blue Jays: 78-84

Why: The AL Beast is probably the toughest division in baseball, producing a wild card team every year since 2006. Even with questions in their lineups, New York and Tampa Bay have two potentially dominant rotations.

Central Division:

Detroit Tigers: 95-67

Kansas City Royals: 90-72

Cleveland Indians: 78-84

Chicago White Sox: 71-91

Minnesota Twins: 66-96

Why: Even after dumping Prince Fielder, losing Jose Iglesias, and trading Doug Fister for basically nothing, Detroit remains the most talented team in the Central. The young Royals will continue to get better and will have a go for their first playoff appearance in almost 30 years.

Western Division:

Texas Rangers: 97-65

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim*: 91-71

Oakland Athletics: 89-73

Seattle Mariners 72-90

Houston Astros: 57-105

Why: The Rangers will finally get it together and avoid another September collapse with acquisition of Prince Fielder. The Angels will finally live up to the billing thanks to resurgence from Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton (and the continued brilliance of Mike Trout) and will beat out a tough race for the second wild card. 

NATIONAL LEAGUE

Eastern Division:

Washington Nationals: 97-65

Atlanta Braves*: 93-69

New York Mets: 82-80

Philadelphia Phillies: 68-94

Miami Marlins: 65-97

Why: The Nationals’ rotation is deep and downright terrifying, and Bryce Harper will lead the way in a breakout season for the 21 year-old. Atlanta will survive this injury catastrophe  and will make it back to the postseason without Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy. The Mets could use this season as a bridge to a very bright future.

Central Division:

St. Louis Cardinals: 98-64

Cincinnati Reds*: 95-67

Pittsburgh Pirates: 85-77

Milwaukee Brewers: 76-86

Chicago Cubs: 61-101

Why: St. Louis remains a deep club, probably the deepest in the majors at just every facet of the game. The Reds could have an answer to their leadoff woes in the form of Billy Hamilton, and they have some of the best pitching in the game. Pittsburgh takes a bit of a step back, but their future remains bright thanks to Gregory Polance, Gerrit Cole, and of course, Andrew McCutchen.

 Western Division:

Los Angeles Dodgers: 102-60

San Diego Padres: 84-78

San Francisco Giants: 81-81

Arizona Diamondbacks: 76-86

Colorado Rockies: 68-94

Why: The Dodgers should easily run away in this weak division. Resurgence from Matt Kemp will make them even more dangerous come playoff time.

PLAYOFFS:

AL Wild Card: New York over Los Angeles

ALDS: New York over Texas (3-1), Tampa Bay over Detroit (3-2)

ALCS: New York over Tampa Bay, 4-2

NL Wild Card: Cincinnati over Atlanta

NLDS: Washington over St. Louis (3-2), Los Angeles over Cincinnati (3-1)

NLCS: Los Angeles over Washington, 4-3

World Series: New York Yankees over Los Angeles Dodgers, 4-2

Why: Two big market superpowers will collide for the first time since 1981. The Dodgers have the star power to stand out in a loaded NL. The Yankees have enough pitching depth and a good amount of seasoned veterans to make up for the losses of Robinson Cano, Mariano Rivera, and Andy Pettitte. Also, don’t underestimate the Jeter factor this season. This may be a homer pick, but I think the Yankees will be serious contenders this year and send the Captain out a champion for the sixth time.

AWARDS:

American League:

MVP: Mike Trout (Los Angeles)

Rookie of the Year: Masahiro Tanaka (New York)

Cy Young: David Price (Tampa Bay)

Manager of the Year: Ned Yost (Kansas City)

Comeback Player of the Year: Derek Jeter (New York)

National League:

MVP: Joey Votto (Cincinnati)

Rookie of the Year: Gregory Polanco (Pittsburgh)

Cy Young: Clayton Kershaw (Los Angeles)

Manager of the Year: Fredi Gonzalez (Atlanta)

Comeback Player of the Year: Matt Kemp (Los Angeles)

Enough With the Silly Comparisons Between Jason Collins and Jackie Robinson

BART YOUNG/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES

Jason Collins has played in the NBA for 13 seasons and he has averaged 3.6 points per game on 41% shooting and 3.8 rebounds per game. The seven footer has played for six different teams in the last six years, including a second go-around with the New Jersey/Brooklyn Nets. I bet you didn’t even know who he was, even if you’re a basketball fan, until April 29, 2013.

That’s the day that Collins came out as a homosexual, becoming the first open, active person in sports, disputably. Since then, he threw out the ceremonial first pitch at Fenway Park, received phone calls from the President, and he was invited to the State of the Union by the First Lady. He has returned to the NBA after signing a 10 day contract with the Nets, and his jersey is somehow the current top seller in the league. The media attention itself has been much.

Maybe because of the Brooklyn parallels, but he has been hailed as this generation’s Jackie Robinson by the talking heads on ESPN and MSNBC by becoming the first openly gay player in the NBA.

Wait, what?

REED SAXON/AP

Yup, there are plenty in the media that have gone on to compare Collins’ coming out to Jack Roosevelt Robinson breaking baseball’s color barrier in 1947. Honestly, this comparison is really silly, and downright insulting to Robinson. It brings down everything Robinson went through and stood for quite a bit. Yes, Collins has had plenty of courage to come out and try to play in the NBA, and it is very significant, but his experiences aren’t that similar to Robinson’s.

It’s one thing if Collins came out in the 1980s or even the 1990s, but this is the 21st Century, and we as a society in the western world have become more accepting of gay people. Collins’ revelation has been applauded everywhere from Kobe Bryant to George Takei. The media has covered him positively and his return to the NBA was a top story on SportsCenter for days. But let me ask: How much is Collins REALLY contributing to the LGBT movement by just coming out and playing in the NBA?

Jackie Robinson hit .311 in a ten year career in Major League Baseball, winning NL MVP in 1949. He helped the Dodgers win their only World Series championship in Brooklyn in 1955. He could have played even longer in the big leagues, but he, like every other African American player, was outright BANNED from playing because of a gentlemen’s agreement. Collins has been nothing more than a career scrub who has played for six different teams. His numbers make Kwame Brown’s look like Shaquille O’Neal’s.

hollywood.com

Maybe you think their respective career numbers don’t really matter as much, and you may be right. But the other problem is this: Jackie Robinson faced discrimination that was very, very real at the height of the Jim Crow era. Despite being an All-American in several sports at UCLA and serving in the military in World War II, Robinson was, at first, denied to play in Major League Baseball, like every African. His entry into the game was very controversial. Fans would spit on him, shout slurs at him, send him death threats, and that was just at the ballpark. Throughout the country, he wasn’t even allowed to stay in hotels or dine with his team. His own teammates petitioned to Leo Durocher and Branch Rickey to get him off the team or request a trade for themselves. Many of the teams, particularly the Philadelphia Phillies, threatened to refuse to take the field.

Just watch last year’s film 42, starring Chadwick Boseman as Robinson and Harrison Ford as Branch Rickey. It may not be totally accurate, but it’s a great depiction of what America and baseball were like in 1947.

Jason Collins has come out in a time where LGBT people have become more accepted. Yes, there certainly is homophobia in this country, as we’ve seen time and time again, but it isn’t the level it used to be. The times, they are a-changing. Nobody in the NBA has stopped Collins from continuing his career. You’ll find a lot of sports fans that will not consider a player’s sexuality a big deal. Yes, there certainly are those bigots out there, many who will throw their slurs at him. But most fans are more concerned if a person can play ball. Collins can’t, as you see by his career numbers.

If he was any better of a player than he is, he probably would have signed with a team before now. The fact that he is a marginal player at best was the reason why teams didn’t sign him for seven months, not homophobia. He has been accepted in his locker room and embraced by Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, his teammates in Boston and now in Brooklyn. The First Lady invited him to Capitol Hill. The Red Sox had him throw out the first ball. His jersey is the top seller in the NBA!

AP

The real story should be just how he has been accepted, and that is reflective on how our country has progressed in the last 20-30 years. But he is not Jackie Robinson because he has not gone through what Robinson went through, not even close.

In order for LGBT to make an turning impact on sports, they have to be a star. If Robinson was a marginal player, he would have been out of the league after a few years. The fact that he became an all-time great player was one of the biggest reasons baseball and in fact the entire country began to change in the 40s and 50s. Jason Collins is not that guy, a true star athlete coming out would really change things.

If you really want to make comparisons to Jackie Robinson, look to the NFL, where homophobia is certainly alive amongst teams. The Missouri defensive end Michael Sam could be that guy, as we’ve already seen questions of how his outing will affect locker rooms. Like Collins, he has been supported by his peers, the media, the elite, and many others. If he blossoms into a star, he, not Jason Collins, could very well be the guy who becomes this generation’s Jackie Robinson. His success in the NFL would be the true turning point in sports.

My Top 10 NFL Quarterbacks of All-Time

I based this list on several factors all on an equal level. Winning, performance in the clutch, skill, talent, stats, impact on the game, championships, star power, and legacy.

10.  Steve Young (Tampa Bay Buccaneers/ San Francisco 49ers)

Young is one of the most influential QBs in the game. Until his time there weren’t many left-handed passers (there still aren’t), and there weren’t many quarterbacks who scrambled as much as he did. He is the all-time leader in rushing TDs by a QB, but he was also a fantastic passer, averaging about 30 total TDs a season from 1992 to 1998 and had a career 96.8 passer rating. And of course, he set a Super Bowl record six touchdowns in 1995. Just imagine if he wasn’t stuck in Montana’s shadow for so long.

9. Otto Graham (Cleveland Browns)

Before football was America’s number one pastime, Otto Graham was one of the most game’s most dominant players and as much of a winner as anyone who ever played the game. In his 10 years in the AAFC and the NFL, he won seven championships. His career 9.0 yards per attempt rate still is an NFL record, even in today’s era of high octane offense.

8. Roger Staubach (Dallas Cowboys)

Roger the Dodger was one of the greatest leaders the game has ever seen. He spent five years in the Navy after being drafted before finally joining America’s Team in 1969 at 27 years old. He is one of just two players to win the Heisman, NFL MVP, and Super Bowl MVP. His .750 winning percentage as starting QB is second all-time, as he led the Cowboys to so many impossible comeback victories and to two Super Bowl championships. His 83.4 passer rating was second all-time when he retired.

7. Brett Favre (Atlanta Falcons/ Green Bay Packers/ New York Jets/ Minnesota Vikings)

Favre was the ultimate gunslinger and the Iron Man of football. He holds countless records, including wins, touchdowns, yards, and completions. He played in every single game for over 18 years, a time spanning 297 straight starts, 321 including the postseason. The thing holding Favre back were his untimely turnovers, including in both the 2007 and 2009 NFC championship games. After leading the Packers to victory in Super Bowl XXXI, he never won another championship. Still, he was one of the game’s greatest stars.

6. John Elway (Denver Broncos)

Elway gets a bad rep for losing three Super Bowls in the 1980s by lopsided scores (39-20 to the Giants, 42-10 to the Redskins, and 55-10 to the 49ers). But, he had zero help during those years, and carried the Broncos to victory for years practically by himself. Elway was one of the most complete quarterbacks the game ever saw. He was extremely accurate, powerful, athletic, and he was often unstoppable with the game on the line. At the end of his career, he finally got the help he needed in the form of Terrell Davis and finally became a champion. He won got his Super Bowl and won another in his last season, retiring as the winningest QB in NFL history.

5. Tom Brady (New England Patriots)

Brady is Montana reincarnated. Simply put, he is a winner and one of the most clutch quarterbacks in history. He has won games at a higher rate than any QB in history with a .775 winning percentage. Who would you rather give the ball to with the game on the line than him? Tied with John Elway for most Super Bowl starts and the all-time leader in postseason victories, he is a ring shy of possibly becoming the all-time greatest. What holds him back is the fact that the Patriots have not won the Super Bowl in the last 10 years, despite two further appearances and five AFC championship games. Still, he is place in the top five is well deserved.

4. Peyton Manning (Indianapolis Colts / Denver Broncos)

The fallout from his recent devastating loss in Super Bowl XLVIII may not be truly measured for a while, but Peyton deserves his place in the top five. Yes, he may underwhelm a bit in the postseason, but the numbers he has put up in his entire career would have been unheard of 20 years ago. He’s very close to becoming only the second QB with 500 TD passes as well as surpassing Marino and Favre in several passing categories. Had he won few weeks ago, he could have been very close to #1. Let’s not forget to mention that HE, not Montana, not Marino, not Favre, not Brady, is the all-time leader in 4th quarter comebacks and game-winning drives.

3. Dan Marino (Miami Dolphins)

He may have never won a Super Bowl, but Marino revolutionized the game more than any player since Unitas. Because of him, the NFL changed into the pass heavy league it is today, as he put up numbers that were considered astronomical at the time. His 1984 season is still one of the greatest seasons by a QB, as no one threw for as many yards and touchdowns before, and none for another two and a half decades would break those numbers.

2. Johnny Unitas (Baltimore Colts / San Diego Chargers)

Johnny U was one of the most important figures in the history of the game. The most prolific passer of his time, he helped football surpass baseball as America’s new past-time. It all started in 1958, as he led Baltimore to the NFL Championship over the New York Giants at Yankee Stadium. He was the first quarterback to win 100 games in his career, a testament to his longevity in a brutal game. The first true dominant quarterback in an era dominated by defenses and rushing attacks, Unitas set several NFL records that stood for decades.

1. Joe Montana (San Francisco 49ers / Kansas City Chiefs)

Joe Montana is the greatest quarterback of all-time because he was everything you expect  from the position. He had the arm, he was accurate, he had the intangibles, he was a great leader, and he never made mistakes (zero interceptions in the Super Bowl), But most of all, he was arguably the most clutch athlete who ever lived, putting up so many highlight comebacks like “The Catch” in the 1982 NFC Championship and the 92-yard drive in Super  And can you really argue against 4-0 in the Super Bowl? How about three Super Bowl MVPs? Montana stands as the greatest.

Derek Jeter Stands Alone in the Post-Strike Baseball World

Derek Jeter announced that the 2014 season will be his last. He will retire after spending his entire career with the New York Yankees, winning five World Championships, seven American League Pennants, 14 division titles, and just two seasons out of the playoffs.

The first Yankee to join the 3000-hit club, Jeter has more base-hits than any shortstop in history. A 13 time All-Star, he is the only player to win the World Series MVP and All-Star Game MVP. When all said and done, he could be top six in base-hits and top 10 in runs scored.

His #2 will likely be retired at the end of the season, joining his life-long friend Mariano Rivera and the other Legends in Monument Park. The only question is if the Yankees can win their 28th World Series Championship this year, to do it for the Captain.

Derek Jeter never won an MVP. He never hit 30 home runs in a season. He has just one 100 RBI season. Just twice he had a season with an OPS over .900. He was never the greatest defensive player at the position and sabermetricians always decried him as one of the most overrated players in the game. Over his time, there were shortstops who had better years than him.

But this is what defines him: Like Mariano Rivera, he has stood the test of time. In the post-strike era of baseball, an era ravaged with PEDs, Jeter has been consistent year in and year out. He didn’t have to be a 30 HR/100 RBI/.900 OPS kind of guy to be great. He was simply consistent;  in him you knew what you would get year in and year out.

Quite simply, his overall brilliance makes him the absolute greatest player of the last 20 years. In an era in which the game has been haunted by greed, lying, cheating, and corruption, Derek Jeter stands alone in time.

There have been plenty of shortstops that have put up better numbers than Jeter, but only he has been there for all these years. Back in the 90s, the four best SS in the game were him, Alex Rodriguez, and Nomar Garciaparra and Rey Ordonez. A-Rod and Nomar won MVPs and batting titles and Ordonez’s defensive play reminded many of the recently retired Ozzie Smith. Jeter ended up with the rings, but many had him third behind those three.

Eventually, however, Jeter won the day. Only he has beaten Father Time and the temptation of drugs. A-Rod moved to third when he joined the Yankees and is now disgraced forever thanks to the steroid issue. Nomar kept getting hurt and was sacrificed by the Red Sox to break the Curse. Rey Ordonez couldn’t hit and was out of the league few years later.

Even in the latter part of the past decade, upcoming shortstops were placed above the Captain. But those guys like Troy Tulowitzki and Hanley Ramirez have had their injuries and have yet to establish their own greatness.

Many stars have been better than Jeter, but almost all have had their tragic flaw (steroids!!!! and others I guess) or fell off. Jeter hasn’t.

Moreover, the Captain has done it all without drama off the field, just on it. Unlike Alex Rodriguez and many others, he never has been suspected of using performance enhancements drugs. He has never gotten into any legal trouble (save for a minor tax residence issue). He has always held his own with the media, reflecting his calm demeanor on and off the diamond. He has been a stand-up citizen in the community, always giving back through his Turn 2 Foundation.

When Derek Jeter plays his final game, it will be one of the saddest days in sports history. It will truly be the end of an era, not even just for the New York Yankees. For he defines everything that a baseball player should be. The era after the 1994 strike should be known as the era of Derek Jeter, for he stands alone after all these years.

How Much Better Are the Yankees Compared to Last Year?

The 2013 edition of the New York Yankees had one of the worst offenses in franchise history. They hit just .242 as a team and put up their lowest run total in a non-strike year since 1991.

This winter, the Yankees have had more roster turnover than any other offseason in decades. Robbie Cano and Alex Rodriguez are gone. Derek Jeter is the last of the Core Four. New faces are here, including the fierce bulldog catcher Brian McCann and Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran, who will man a newly rebuilt outfield.

But how much better are they? Let’s take a look. These projections are from FanGraphs.com so they probably won’t entirely be accurate, especially in January.

Infield-

2013 results:

1B Lyle Overbay- .240/.295/.393/.688, 87 OPS+, 14 HR, 24 2B, 59 RBI, 0.0 WAR

2B Robinson Cano- .314/.383/.516/.899, 145 OPS+, 27 HR, 41 2B, 107 RBI, 6.0 WAR

3B Jayson Nix- .236/.308/.311/.619, 71 OPS+, 3 HR, 9 2B, 24 RBI, 0.7 WAR

SS Eduardo Nunez- .260/.307/.372/.679, 86 OPS+, 3 HR, 28 RBI, -1.4 WAR

2014 projection:

1B Mark Teixeira- .247/.341/.465/.806, .350 wOBA, 26 HR, 78 RBI, 2.3 WAR

2B Brian Roberts- .251/.314/.379/.692, .306 wOBA, 25 XBH, 29 RBI, 0.7 WAR

3B Kelly Johnson- .231/.311/.393/.704, .311 wOBA, 38 XBH, 53 RBI, 1.4 WAR

SS Derek Jeter- .281/.339/.376/.715, .317 wOBA, 23 XBH, 49 R, 1.3 WAR

Thoughts: Last year, it was just Robinson Cano and a load of nothing with Alex Rodriguez, Jeter, and Teixeira hurt. This year, Cano and A-Rod are gone, but Jeter and Teixeira are back. Only question is how many games Jeter can actually play at short, because the dude is going to be 40 in June. Brendan Ryan is a fantastic backup. As long as his wrist is healthy, Tex should have no problem eclipsing 25 homers, really should get to 30 and closer to 100 RBI. He’s still only 34.

Now, the real problem is second and third. Replacing Cano is impossible, but how many games can the Yankees get out of Brian Roberts? He’s played just 192 games in the last four seasons. Kelly Johnson has played just 16 games at third in his career. But hey, third base was already a blackhole last year and Johnson is certainly an upgrade over the likes of Jayson Nix and the rest of that revolving door.

Outfield:

2013 results: 

LF Vernon Wells- .233/.282/.349/.631, 72 OPS+, 11 HR, 50 RBI, -0.8 WAR

CF Brett Gardner- .273/.344/.416/.759, 108 OPS+, 52 RBI, 24/32 SB, 3.2 WAR

RF Ichiro Suzuki- .262/.297/.342/.639, 75 OPS+, 25 XBH, 20/24 SB, 1.1 WAR

2014 projection:

LF Brett Gardner- .260/.342/.381/.724, .322 wOBA, 68 R, 26/35 SB, 1.8 WAR

CF Jacoby Ellsbury- .276/.334/.417/.751, 15 HR, 86 R, 35/47 SB, 3.8 WAR

RF Carlos Beltran- .277/.343/.473/.816, 21 HR, 68 R, 73 RBI, 1.9 WAR

Thoughts: Other than Gardner, the Yankee outfield was also an unmitigated disaster. It got some huge upgrades with Ellsbury and Beltran. I think these projections are bearish on Gardner. He is clearly one of the most undervalued players in the game, at least 3-4 wins in each of his last three full seasons. Beltran will be great. If Ellsbury is healthy, he should be fine and show off the power stroke he had in 2011 and manage to steal bases with ease. Honestly, this OF is fantastic.

Catcher and Designated Hitter:

2013 results:

C Chris Stewart- .211/.293/.272/.566, 57 OPS+, 10 XBH, 25 RBI, 0.5 WAR

DH Travis Hafner- .202/.301/.378/.679, 85 OPS+, 12 HR, 37 RBI, -0.4 WAR

2014 projections:

C Brian McCann- .255/.334/.452/.786, .340 wOBA, 24 HR, 80 RBI, 3.7 WAR

DH Alfonso Soriano- .238/.293/.434/.727, .315 wOBA, 23 HR, 76 RBI, -0.1 WAR

Thoughts: Going from Chris Stewart to Brian McCann is like the Yankees just got the reincarnation of Yogi Berra. Catcher was one of the biggest blackholes they had. McCann has been arguably the second best catcher in baseball in the last nine years. Soriano will be Soriano: Hot streaks and cold streaks and home runs and strikeouts. He’s still better than Hafner and any right-handed bat the Yankees had before he returned to the Bronx in the July trade with the Cubs.

Bench:

2013 results: A revolving door of garbage. Last year’s team featured scrubs like Reid Brignac, Eduardo Nunez, Brent Lillibridge, Ben Francisco, Kevin Youkilis, Austin Romine, and more.

2014 projections: The Yankees’ bench again looks to be an Achilles’ heel, especially in the infield. You have Brendan Ryan, who can’t hit but is a stellar shortstop. Eduardo Nunez can’t hit, can’t field, can’t throw. As long as McCann is healthy, any of a trio of backup backstops including Francisco Cervelli, Austin Romine, or J.R. Murphy should be fine.

Starting pitching:

2013 results:

CC Sabathia- 211 IP, 14-13, 4.78 ERA, 85 ERA+, 3.76 xFIP, 7.5 K/9, 2.7 K/BB

Hiroki Kuroda- 201.1 IP, 11-13, 3.31 ERA, 122 ERA+, 3.60 xFIP, 6.7 K/9, 3.5 K/BB

Andy Pettitte- 185.1 IP, 11-11, 3.74 ERA, 108 ERA+, 3.88 xFIP, 6.2 K/9, 2.7 K/BB

Phil Hughes- 145.2 IP, 4-14, 5.19 ERA, 78 ERA+, 4.39 xFIP, 7.5 K/9, 2.9 K/BB

Ivan Nova- 139.1 IP, 9-6, 3.10 ERA, 130 ERA+, 3.68 xFIP, 7.5 K/9, 2.6 K/BB)

2014 projections:

CC Sabathia- 207 IP, 3.87 ERA, 3.56 FIP, 7.4 K/9, 2.5 BB/9, 3.9 WAR

Hiroki Kuroda- 191 IP, 3.95 ERA, 3.66 FIP, 6.6 K/9, 2.2 BB/9, 3.4 WAR

Masahiro Tanaka- 200 IP, 3.72 ERA, 3.53 FIP, 7.3 K/9, 1.8 BB/9, 3.9 WAR

Ivan Nova- 168 IP, 4.02 ERA, 3.70 FIP, 7.2 K/9, 2.9 BB/9, 2.8 WAR

Thoughts- Obviously the 5th starter has yet to be determined. It will likely come down to between David Phelps, Adam Warren, or Michael Pineda, or even somebody still on the free agent market. I think Sabathia will bounce back and have a good enough season. I’m more worried about Kuroda, as the to-be 39 year-old has slumped towards the end of the year last two seasons due to fatigue and innings. But overall, I think this could be a very good rotation.

Relief Pitching:

2013 results: Mariano Rivera excelled in his final season. David Robertson continued to be one of the elite relievers in the game. Shawn Kelley was inconsistent but struck batters out at a ridiculous rate. Joba Chamberlain of course, stunk and is now gone. Boone Logan was ok but he also left. Preston Claibourne at times looked good but fell apart in the waning weeks.

2014 projections: It looks like Robertson will be the new closer for the New York Yankees. Other than that, the bullpen is currently a mystery. Matt Thornton is the new lefty specialist, but other than that? Question marks. You could have guys like Kelley, David Phelps, and P Claibourne step up. But there are also plenty of options waiting in Triple-A, such as Dellin Betances, Mark Montgomery, and Jose Ramirez. Joe Girardi’s greatest strength as a manager is his handling of the bullpen, unlike his predecessor. He always has somebody step up.

Offensive Totals:

2013 results: .242/.307/.376/.683, 87 OPS+, 144 HR, 4.01 R/G (10th in AL), 10.4 WAR

2014 projections: .256/.324/.406/.730, .320 wOBA, 159 HR, 4.33 R/G  19.4 WAR

Pitching Totals:

2013 results: 1447.1 IP, 3.94 ERA (8th in AL), 103 ERA+, 7.7 K/9, 18.4 WAR

2014 projections: 1458 IP, 3.88 ERA, 3.78 FIP, 7.5 K/9, 19.8 WAR

Now, that isn’t all that bad on paper? This Yankee lineup has a lot of potential to wreck havoc on the AL. They’re a bit more well-balanced having both Gardner and Ellsbury providing the speed. You got right-handed and switch-hitting power in the middle of the order in Beltran, Tex, and Soriano, something the Yankees were deprived all of 2013.

Also, their rotation looks a lot better this year, especially if Sabathia rebounds, Nova continues his renaissance, and Tanaka pays off.

But, this ship also can go down in flames because of age and fragility. Jeter and Beltran are not getting any younger and had recent injuries that threatened both careers. Teixeira is an old 34 coming off wrist surgery. Roberts and Ellsbury, famously, are made of glass. The bullpen could still be a big issue all season.

Granted, it’s still only January, and another free agent signing or trade (Stephen Drew?) could shake things up yet again. Things may just fall into place on their own.

Honestly, if that Red Sox team last year could win it all, there’s absolutely no reason why this Yankees team can’t simply make the playoffs.

NFL Conference Championship Picks and Predictions

Last Week: 2-2

On the Season: 152-111-1 (5-3 in the postseason)

 

AFC Championship:

Match-up: #2 New England Patriots (12-4) @ #1 Denver Broncos (13-3)

Time: 3:00PM on CBS

Line: DEN by 6 (OVER)

Score prediction: DEN 31- NE 21

Why: In Denver, can the Patriots’ 26th ranked defense stop arguably the greatest offense in NFL history? They have play-makers that could make Peyton choke, but other than that, Brady is going to have to outduel him again for him to advance to his 6th Super Bowl appearance in 13 years. I think Tommy Boy will have a great game against a swiss-cheese Denver secondary, especially with DB Chris Harris done for the year. But it’s hard to say the Pats will be able to run the ball this time. The Broncos rush defense was 8th best in the league.

 

NFC Championship

Match-up: #5 San Francisco 49ers (12-4) @ #1 Seattle Seahawks (13-3)

Time: 6:30PM on Fox

Line: SEA by 4

Score prediction: SEA 23 – SF 13

Why: CenturyLink Field has been a real house of horrors for the 49ers over the past decade. Under Kaepernick they’ve gotten dismantled last two times there. That menacing Seattle secondary will give Davis, Boldin, and Crabtree fits. Not having Harvin will be a problem for Wilson,  It could end up coming down to which young QB can make the biggest plays with their legs, but also could end up being a competition between running games, Lynch vs. Gore. I think Seattle’s homefield advantage will again be too much for San Fran.

So that’ll set up the matchup I’ve penciled in since July: Seattle vs. Denver in Super Bowl XLVIII from MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey.