Monday, February 16, 2015

Purple Haze and Positivety Pinstripes

           With pitchers and catchers set to report within days there's plenty of reasons to be pessimistic about the upcoming 2015 Yankee season; coming off back-to-back lackluster non-postseason years in a row and no big splashes made during this winter, but there have been changes to the AL East and quiet maneuvers to the Yankee roster that should give fans a reason to smile, and if that doesn't work they can always use a ton of purple haze to get ready for the season.

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           The Yankees had feelers out for Max Scherzer, but they wisely backed off and he ended up signing a ridiculous $210 million contract with the Washington Nationals. Some of the money from the Nationals will be deferred in which they'll be still paying Scherzer through the year 2028. In addition James Shields was up for grabs, but his price tag was also too high for Cashman and "Big Game" (actually "little game") decided upon the San Diego Padres; who with a new revamped outfield are looking like real contenders in the NL West. Unlike last offseason when the Yankees unleashed the checkbook to bring in Beltran, McCann, and Tanaka, Cashman's winter has been more crafty and cost-effective. Plus, the front office and A-Rod had a chance to meet and mend fences (to a degree). The result from both sides is that there is an overhead agreement that like it or not, they're going to have to put up with eachother for the remainder of that contract, so they should just move on and forget about the squabbling that went on 2013/14. Though the Yankees made it clear they'll likely withhold the bonuses guaranteed in the contract for surpassing certain homerun milestones due to the existence of PEDs A-Rod has been linked to in recent years. Wisely, the A-Rod camp has not issued a statement regarding that detail, but it might surface later on. Before Spring Training officially starts, A-Rod will hold a press conference to address his latest round of lying.

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            Even with A-Rod a shell of himself (or himself on PEDs), its a semi-potent bat the Yankees will have in the lineup that they didn't have in 2014 and only had for half of the 2013 season. So drawing away from the usual temptation to be negative about the upcoming season, here's 7 Reasons Yankee fans should feel positive about it:

1. Invasion of Youth:

Brian Cashman shipped out the likes of Francisco Cervelli, Martin Prado, Manny Banuelos, Shawn Kelley, and has turned his back on aged free agents like Hiroki Kuroda with the end result of gathering youthful Major League quality players to the roster. The Yankees resigned Stephen Drew to a 1-year deal to play second base, he's only 31, and they inked Chase Headley for four years and he's only 30. Besides, there's Jose Pirela from the farm system who can play multiple infield and outfield positions, and he's 26. With Jeter gone, the Yanks plan on using 25 year-old Didi Gregorius at shortstop.

Compare that to begin last season the Yanks had 35 year-old Brian Roberts at 2B (who's career was shot and he was eventually released), Jeter at 40 playing shortstop with a rehabbed ankle, and Kelly Johnson, only 31, but was terrible defensively at 1B/3B and the Yanks traded his disappointing bat away to get Drew from Boston. 

Other notable youthful pick-ups from Cashman has been in the pitching department:

Nathan Eovaldi - Starter - Age 25 (throws 97 mph)
Andrew Miller - Reliever - Age 29 (lefty)
David Carpenter - Reliever - Age 30
Chris Martin - Reliever - Age 28
Chasen Shreve - Reliever - Age 24 (lefty)
Justin Wilson - Reliever - Age 27 (lefty)

At some point by the middle of the season the Yankees should have starter Ivan Nova back from his Tommy John rehab and he's only 28 and he's proven he can have success in the big leagues....more often than not.

The roster still has A-Rod and Beltran which pushes up the team's age average and youth isn't always a guarantee that the team will be better, but Cashman has done a good job of bringing the age of the roster down when a couple of years ago it seemed like everyone was pushing 40!

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2. Better Infield Defense:

With Gardner and Ellsbury patrolling the majority of the outfield, not too many balls dropped in, but 2014 was a butcher shop for the infield defense. The 2015 squad should be better equipped to field grounders and a healthier Teixeira at 1B is going to be key.

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C   - McCann was at least worth his weight in gold with his defense and handling the pitchers.
1B - Teixeria rusty from rehabbing wrist surgery and missed a portion of the season.
2B - Brian Roberts (injury plagued his whole career and range was limited).
SS - Jeter was rehabbing from a crack in his ankle and was 40 years old.
3B - Kelly Johnson was horrible at third base and was even worse at first.

C   - No reason why McCann can't be just as good defensively one year later.
1B - Look for Teixeira to be sharper defensively and offer more production at the plate.
2B - Stephen Drew is actually a SS, but he proved he can switch to 2B and a full spring training (unlike last year) should make him a better hitter at the plate than the Yanks experienced in 2014.
SS - Gregorius' hitting is suspect, but he can play the position, which is traditionally all a team can ask of their shortstop.
3B - Chase Headley's bat may not be what it once was, but he flashed Gold Glove abilities for the Yanks last season, and at 30, there's no reason why he can't be just as good.

3. More Power:

A few years ago there was a ridiculous complaint that the Yankees "hit too many homers"; last year there was something real to complain about that the Yanks weren't hitting any homers, or doubles, or anything of that matter. The offense was absolutely pathetic for such an offense-friendly ballpark. Part of the reason was that there were some new faces, there were plenty of nagging injuries which kept guys out, and there was the losses of Cano (signed with Seattle) and Rodriguez (suspended for 2014).

Back healthy and PED-free (supposedly) and with a familiarity of what life is like in Yankeeland, these players should be better at the plate in pinstripes for 2015:

- Brian McCann
- Carlos Beltran
- Mark Teixeira
- Alex Rodriguez
- Chase Headley
- Stephen Drew

The addition of Garrett Jones, who came over in the Prado deal, should offer more punch off the bench which the Yanks didn't have much of last season. Jones can also give Beltran a rest out in RF and Teixeira some days off at 1B.

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4. Pitching and Pitching:

One of the few strengths the Yankees had last season was their starting pitching and relief work out of the pen. This coming with the fact CC Sabathia and Ivan Nova were both lost to the season and Michael Pineda and Masahiro Tanaka missed a few months with various injuries. The word from Yankee camp is Tanaka is expected to as effective and durable as he was at the start of last season when he was perhaps the best pitcher in baseball, despite the slight tear found in his elbow which caused him to miss time.

Most of the starters will have to be monitored closely by Girardi, but the upside is that there is a good possibility that by sometime in July the Yankee starting rotation could look like this:

1. Masahiro Tanaka
2. Michael Pineda
3. CC Sabathia
4. Ivan Nova
5. Nathan Eovaldi

There's alot of "if's" and question marks to be overcome, but all in all that's quite a formidable rotation with CC at 34 years old and everyone else in their 20's.

The other strength, the bullpen, took a hit with the loss of David Robertson to free agency, but if there can be life after Mariano, there can be life after Robertson, plus bringing in Andrew Miller and some of the other arms Cashman collected, with Adam Warren being a year wiser/stronger; points to a bullpen that should be just as good. Dellin Bentances displayed the mental makeup to get big outs in the 7th and 8th innings, so there's little reason to doubt that he can close games if he happens to fall into that role after Spring Training lets out.

5. Left Out:

Last season the Yankees saw longtime rivals Jon Lester and David Price get shipped out of the division once Boston and Tampa began unloading their most valuable assets. Being AL East rivals the Yankees used to see these tough lefties about ten times a season in total and success against them was far and few between.

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With Lester playing for the NL Cubs, the Yanks may never see him for several years and may only bump into Price occasionally as he is now with Detroit. Facing these lefties ten times a season as the Yanks have been doing in recent years can be difference from being a 90 win team that gets a Wild Card slot to only being an 82 win team that's left out in the cold,

6. Bolting from Baltimore:

Tampa Bay seems to have an endless supply and good young pitching, so they'll always be in the conversation, but the arrival of Joe Maddon turned that franchise around for the better and his departure to Chicago is certainly going to leave a stain on the Rays. Maddon always seemed to push the right buttons or put on a defensive shift at the precise time to get a big out, and its difficult to expect another manager to step in and be that slick.

Boston is in a semi-rebuilding stage, same as the Yankees, and if their best starter at this point is the fragile Clay Buchholz, they're really in no better position than the Yankees. They made a headline move by signing Handley Ramirez and he'll get his fair share of homers at Fenway, but this is now his third team and he's not known to be the most durable, intelligent, or dedicated player out there and Boston fans will turn on him quick if he plays with the same laid-back style he displayed in Miami and Los Angeles - two places where nobody cares, or in Miami's case, don't even go to the ballpark.

Toronto is a non-factor until they actually prove something since 1993.

That really leaves Baltimore as the true obstacle that stands in the Yankees path to the AL East crown. The Orioles reached the division crown last season due to their beating up on pitiful AL East opponents like the Yankees, plus they got an MVP caliber year from Nelson Cruz, who left to play for Seattle, and got shutdown bullpen work from Andrew Miller, who was nabbed by the Yankees. The Orioles also lost longtime stalwart Nick Markakis, now with the Atlanta Braves. There's also the natural sophomore "let down" to be expected when a team reaches a goal and then is forced to duplicate or repeat it the following year. Of course, Buck Showalter is a great manager and will try to avoid any let down of that nature, but alot of things broke right for Baltimore last season and to expect a repeat of those conditions and to make up for losing Cruz might open the door for the Yankees to slip in and steal the crown from them.
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           As ugly as things seemed last season for the Yankees, they finished with 84 wins and were realistically in the Wild Card hunt until at least mid-September. The World Series Champion San Francisco Giants finished only four wins better at 88. The Yankees were so injury-bitten even the backups to the backups were on the DL, so the law of mathematics has to lean towards that NOT happening in 2015 and the younger players Cashman has brought in should have this team more durable come August and September - when there is that final push for a postseason spot.

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7. Switch It Up:

           The 3 biggest keys to the Yankee season will be healthy returns of Tanaka and Sabathia to lead the rotation, and a solid Teixeira playing solid defensive at 1B and sending 25-30 balls over the fence for the middle of the lineup. Speaking of which, the lineup can have numerous switch-hitters, and going back to the 50's, 60's, 90's, and 2009 - the Yankees are traditionally at their strongest when there's multiple switch-hitters in the lineup, ie Mantle, Bernie, Posada, Davis, Swisher, and Teixeira.

Here's how the middle of the lineup can challenge opposing managers:

1. Ellsbury - Left
2. Gardner - Left
3. Beltran - Switch
4. Rodriguez - Right
5. Teixeira - Switch
6. McCann - Left
7. Headley - Switch
8. Drew - Left
9. Gregorius - Left

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           .......but if the season gets ugly again, at least they'll be the distraction of retiring the numbers of Pettitte, Posada, and Bernie in Monument Park.....

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