The Yankees’ rotation may surprise you in 2016

I’m going to get back into this blogging business, and I’m really excited about the New York Yankees this season. A lot of “experts” don’t seem to be buying much stock into the Bronx Bombers this season, most likely a typical reaction to their inactivity on the free agent market. But you know what? I do think they’re going to surprise people this year.

Why do I think that? First off, there is a pretty high ceiling for this pitching staff. Their bullpen somehow got even better, and their rotation could fall into place if everything goes right. A lot of “ifs”, however, as pretty much everyone comes with a “Handle With Care” label. Three of their right-handers have dealt with elbow injuries, one finally put together a full season after being held back by a shoulder tear four years, and their oldest starter has been dealing with a degenerative knee.

When they did pitch, the Yankees’ starting pitching was a mixed bag in 2015, as they finished 19th in ERA, 11th in fWAR, and 16th in FIP. However, their peripherals suggest they should have had more positive results. As a team, they don’t walk many batters (4th lowest BB/9 in the majors), they’re above average at getting outs via strikes (7.51 K/9), and they keep the ball mostly on the ground (4th in MLB at 48.3%, 6th in grounders to flyball rate at 1.56). The Achilles’ is their home ballpark, as Yankee Stadium had the. Factoring out home runs, the Yankees’ rotation ranked 7th in the majors in FIP-, which suggests possible positive regression, as batted ball trends are rarely constant year-to-year.

Maybe they won’t lead the majors in ERA, but there is a high risk, perhaps high reward feeling surrounding this team’s rotation going into 2016. If all goes right, there’s a good reason to buy into their odds to get back into the postseason.

Our Hiro: Masahiro Tanaka (2015: 12-7, 3.51 ERA, 112 ERA+, 3.98 FIP, 8.1 K/9, 5.2 K/BB)

Last year was an endless media circus surrounding Masahiro Tanaka and his $155 million elbow. The old-timers in the New York tabloids constantly called for the Yankees to make Tanaka get Tommy John surgery, despite the dissenting opinions from several team doctors, trainers, and Dr. James Andrews himself. Tanaka spent all of May on the DL with a forearm strain related to the UCL problem, but returned to pitch more innings and starts than he did the previous year when he first sustained the injury. Despite inflated home run rates (1.46 HR/9), Tanaka finished with the lowest WHIP (0.99) in the American League and earned the start in the Yankees’ brief playoff appearance.

Now, the Yankees’ hopes rely on Tanaka once more, but the ace is right on schedule again after having a bone-spur removed from that right elbow. He is looking to start on Opening Day again, and has set his goal to throw 200 innings this season. If he manages to keep the ball in the park more consistently, he’s easily one the AL’s elite pitchers.

Big Mike: Michael Pineda (2015: 12-10, 4.37 ERA, 90 ERA+, 3.34 FIP, 8.7 K/9, 7.4 K/BB)

The 6’7″ Pineda has been an enigma in his career in Pinstripes. After missing all of 2012 and most of 2013 with a shoulder injury, Pineda impressed in a 13-start cameo in 2014. His 2015 season was about of a mixed bag as you can get. He had an impressive 7.34 K/BB rate, but was absolutely killed by the home run ball. Despite a 3.34 FIP and 2.95 xFIP, Pineda finished with a 4.37 ERA. His slider at times was very flat, which made him more hittable despite his restored velocity.

Pineda certainly has potential to be a dominant No. 2 starter, the only question is consistency. That question of consistency could be answered as he tries to finally master a third-pitch, his changeup. He began using it more last season, and it resulted in a much higher groundball rate (48.2%) than in his previous two big league seasons (39.1% in 2014 and 36.3% in his rookie year in 2011). Normally, a low-walk rate, a high groundball rate is a recipe for success, so for Pineda it depends on more consistent movement and velocity on his plus-pitches.

Nasty Nate: Nathan Eovaldi (2015: 14-3, 4.20 ERA, 94 ERA+, 3.42 FIP, 7.1 K/9, 2.5 K/BB)

On a hot June night in Miami, the former Marlin got just two outs and gave up 8 runs. The fireballer’s ERA stood at 5.12. Around this time, Eovaldi began crafting his split-finger fastball, and his four-seam fastball started to reach the upper 90s regularly in the dog days of July and August. In his next 12 starts, he didn’t lose, pitching to a 2.93 ERA as opponents batted just .235 against him. Eventually, his season was cut short in the final month owed to an elbow injury.

The story of Eovaldi’s Major League career is that he gives up hits. Lots of them. However, the majority of them are singles, and Eovaldi is great at not getting hit hard (2.01 groundball to flyball rate, 52.8 groundball %, 0.58 HR/9 rate in 2015). Hitters had a .337 average on balls in play, which resulted in a 4.20 ERA on the year despite a 3.42 FIP and 3.2 fWAR.

Armed with the highest average fastball velocity in the American League, Eovaldi is looking to finally break out this season. There’s certainly no questioning his talent, stuff, or his demeanor on the mound, it’s just a matter of putting it all together: that mix of stuff and luck.

The Kid: Luis Severino (2015: 2.89 ERA, 137 ERA+, 4.37 FIP, 8.1 K/9, 2.6 K/BB in 62.1 IP)

After blazing through the minors last season, the Yankees’ 22 year-old pitching prospect gave them much-needed help in the rotation in August and September. His stuff is absolutely legit: a fastball that regularly hits the upper 90s, a slider that can hit 90 mph, and a changeup that still needs development but has a late drop.

But we probably need to simmer down our expectations for now, as the Yankees will set an innings and pitch count limit for the Dominican right-hander. Over the course of his 11-start debut last year, his FIP was a high 4.37 due to a propensity to the long ball and limited outings. The Yankees will take it easy on the

Redemption: CC Sabathia and Ivan Nova

Lastly we have the back-end, and it leaves much to be desired. Sabathia led the team in innings, but continued his long and ugly decline into old age in 2015 before checking into an alcohol-rehabilitation facility upon the conclusion of the regular season. The 35 year-old former ace is currently favored to fill the No. 5 spot over Nova, but velocity continues to trend downwards and his home run rates continue to rise. With a knee brace now on his leg to combat his declining condition, keeping people off base to limit his homers to solo shots and remastering his signature slider is pretty much his only hope this season.

After returning from Tommy John surgery in June last year, Nova struggled to re-discover the consistency he enjoyed in 2013. After pitching to a 3.10 ERA in his first seven starts last year, he struggled late in the season and was removed from the rotation in September. The 29 year-old regained his pre-surgery velocity, but the movement in his pitches simply wasn’t there. After a full, regular offseason, Nova looks to regain form in whatever role he can be provided. He could very well fill the Adam Warren-role as the spot starter and long man for the team, and with the injury risks all over this rotation, he should have the ability to win his chance throughout the season.

Luis Severino represents the Yankees’ future, which they expect to be bright

Credit: Charles Wenzelberg/New York Post

It appears that a new era will dawn on the New York Yankees tonight, as 21 year-old Luis Severino will make his Major League debut under the bright lights of the new House. In the middle of a pennant race. Against the hated Boston Red Sox.

The young Dominican right-hander will likely be unfazed by the challenge, as he’s already improved with each successive promotion.

Armed with a fastball that touches 97 mph, a deceptive change-up, and an improving slider, Severino went 7-0 with a 1.91 ERA in 61.1 in Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre after pitching to a 3.00 ERA in 14 previous starts in Double-A Trenton.

“We are really, really excited for him,” Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said. “It shouldn’t be miscast, either. We’ll let him get his feet wet and see what he can do. He is a really exciting cat. I think he could have a very good career, but he is still young and he is still developing.”

Despite warts in the Yankees’ rotation, they stood pat at the Trading Deadline last week. Perhaps it was on purpose.

Severino’s rise has an even greater meaning for the Yankees organization. He is the latest chance for them to prove that they can successfully develop a successful starting pitcher from within to become part of their franchise’s core.

Since the debut of Andy Pettitte 20 years ago, the Yankees have continuously been unsuccessful at developing consistent starting pitchers from the farm system. In general, many of their top prospects have not panned out much at all.

It’s a consistent failure that has caused the team to underachieve, as they’ve won just one World Series since 2000 despite spending over $1 billion in player salary since. It’s a pestering failure that has caused the Yankees to miss the playoffs the previous two seasons. It’s a constant failure that has put them at a disadvantage against every other team that has managed to develop and hold onto top flight starting pitchers.

It’s not like they haven’t tried, however.

Just eight years ago, the Yankees had not one, but three top pitching prospects for whom they had sky high hopes for, just like they have now for Severino. However, Joba Chamberlain, Phil Hughes, and Ian Kennedy all turned out to be major disappointments.

Chamberlain struggled with his control and was permanently banished to the bullpen. He’s now in the Toronto organization after being let go by the Yankees and Detroit. After a brief success in the 2010 season, Hughes lost his fastball and his ability to keep the ball in the park, thus forcing him to retreat to wide open Target Field in Minnesota, where he has pitched better. Kennedy enjoyed brief success in Arizona, winning 21 games with a 2.88 ERA in 2011, but has mostly been a mediocre starter due to a lack of a plus fastball.

Really, the only productive starting pitcher the Yankees have developed in the last two decades is Ivan Nova, who has been either superb in some seasons or just bad in others.

The main issue is arguably the innings limit the Yankees are regularly obsessed with when handling their pitchers, rookie or veteran. They fiddled too much with Joba and Hughes’ inning count in their first go-arounds as Major League starters, and they paid the price.

The Yankees hope to find the formula for success in Severino. Despite an unusual delivery that hardly involves his lower body, he has all the goods to become a top of the rotation starter.

Now, it’s different. Despite having a reputation for moving their prospects through the system slower than most organizations, they’ve moved Severino up very quickly, and he has responded.

Despite previously setting an innings cap at 150 for Severino for the year, Cashman stated after announcing Severino’s call to the majors that the training wheels are off. They’re letting him take flight.

“There’s risk in throwing some of the young guys in the Atlantic Ocean and saying, ‘Time to swim,’” Cashman told Chad Jennings last week. “But that’s also something we’re not afraid of in some guys’ cases. We do like this team, and we have benefited from the use of a lot of the young guys throughout this season. We still look forward to these guys hopefully contributing to us.”

Without an innings limit, Severino could place himself into the Yankees’ plans for the rest of THIS season, not just next year. With holes in the rotation, he has the chance to become part of the Yankees’ quest to get back into the playoffs for the first time since 2012, and also be apart of a possible deep run in October.

Are the Yankees on the verge of running away with the American League East?

Brian McCann and Alex Rodriguez have lead the Yankees to a commanding lead in the American League East (Photo: The Associated Press)

Brian McCann and Alex Rodriguez have lead the Yankees to a commanding lead in the American League East (Photo: The Associated Press)

The New York Yankees are en fuego. The rest of the American League East is going down in flames. This week’s sweep of Baltimore may have been a death kneel for the rest of the division.

That’s the simple explanation as to why the Yankees have built a surprising 5 1/2 game lead in the division after going 7-2 in their last three division series, capped by a three-game sweep of the Baltimore Orioles. They are now 12-4 in the month of July with everyone else in the East sinking. According to FanGraphs, the Yankees have a 79.3% chance of winning the division and even a 26.4% of winning the American League pennant and going to the World Series (higher than Kansas City, Los Angeles, and Houston)

New York has returned Jacoby Ellsbury and Andrew Miller from the disabled list to bolster their already dangerous lineup and bullpen respectively. They are second in the majors in runs scored and fifth in wRC+. After six innings, they are 39-2. After seven, 44-2. After eight, 50-0. All thanks to their sturdy bullpen. They are just another piece from becoming serious World Series contenders.

The rest of the division is in dire straights. The Toronto Blue Jays are in second with pitching problems. The Tampa Bay Rays are 6.5 games back when they were in first just a month ago. The Orioles are now seven games back. The Boston Red Sox, after climbing to within 5.5 games ahead of their meeting with the Yankees at Fenway Park before the All-Star Break, have lost eight in a row and have fallen to 12 games back. The Yankees are the only team that has surged in July; the rest of the division’s pain is their own gain.

Obviously it would be foolish to call the race over, but the Yankees are sitting pretty while the rest of the division is scuffling and trying to figure out what to do before the trade deadline next Friday. The Yankees don’t need to make a move as much as everyone else does.

A sweep at the hands of the Yankees may have turned the Orioles from buyers to sellers. Now seven games back, they could look to deal several of their free agents-to be: LHP Wei-Yin Chen (2.86 ERA/4.06 FIP in 116.1 IP this season), slugger Chris Davis (21 HR, 119 OPS+, 2.8 bWAR), submarine reliever Darren O’Day (1.04 ERA and a 11.9 K/9 rate and an All-Star selection in 34.2 IP), and Matt Wieters (.683 OPS in 114 plate appearances but remains one of the best defensive catchers in the game coming off Tommy John surgery) could all be dealt in order for Baltimore to retool their scarce farm system.

Tampa Bay has also been in free-fall since the end of June. They peaked at 40-30 on June 20th, but since they are 8-19. They have an elite pitching staff led by Chris Archer, Nate Karns, and Jake Odorizzi; but the blatant lack of major league caliber hitting has finally come back to bite them. According to Marc Topkin of The Tampa Bay Times, the Rays are already listening to offers for their relief corps, particularly All-Star closer Brad Boxberger (22 saves out of 24 opportunities with a  3.18 ERA) and LHP Jake McGee (1.19 ERA in 22.2 IP).

The Red Sox will also likely (once again) become sellers; for the third time in the last four seasons they sit in dead last in the division (and the entire American League as well!). They have the worst pitching staff in the American League, so they aren’t just one move from being relevant. They have one of the best farm systems in baseball, so it would be a bad move to use it up to make a foolish attempt to climb back from a 12 game deficit in the division and a 9.5 deficit for the second wild card.

The biggest threat to the Yankees is Toronto. The Blue Jays have the most dangerous lineup in all of baseball. They lead the majors in runs scored by a significant margin and their run differential is second only to St. Louis. However, they are just one game over .500 because of poor pitching, which ranks 12th in the AL in team ERA. Their only reliable starter is Mark Buerhle (120 ERA+/3.80 FIP), so they look to be active buyers before the deadline, actively looking for whatever starting pitching they can find, even if it isn’t an ace like Johnny Cueto. Just one starting pitcher with this offense will make the Blue Jays a much more serious threat to the Yankees.

The Yankees should look to make a move. They don’t seem to be willing to trade the team’s top prospects, RHP Luis Severino and 6’7″ slugger Aaron Judge for a rental like Mike Leake or Johnny Cueto.

According to ESPN’s Buster Olney, however, they will listen to offers for their other prospects, such as 22 year-old catcher Gary Sanchez. Sanchez is an expendable piece with Brian McCann signed to a huge contract and John Ryan Murphy established as his backup.

New York should look to add a starting pitcher, as their rotation has all-around been shaky: 19th in ERA, 12th in FIP. Although Masahiro Tanaka and Michael Pineda have overall been solid, their health and consistency is still questionable. CC Sabathia and Nathan Eovaldi have pitched poorly all season, but the Yankees are still hoping for more consistency to come in the coming months.

On a more positive note, Ivan Nova has a 3.34 ERA in his five starts since returning from Tommy John surgery. He does have a 4.82 FIP due to a lack of strikeouts and command issues, so there still is some rust. His improvement will lessen the need for a trade.

While the rest of the AL East is figuring out where they go next, the Yankees have their sights set on October.

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)

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.