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2014 Preview: New York Yankees


Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2014 season. Next up: The New York Yankees

The Big Question: Does $471 million in offseason commitments put the Yankees back in the playoffs?

The Yankees added Jacoby Ellsbury,Brian McCann, Carlos Beltran and Masahiro Tanaka this offseason, with total salary commitments of nearly $500 million. That’s a lot of talent added, and every bit of that talent fills a need for the Yankees and represents a good baseball signing, even if one can question whether it will work out for them financially in the long term. Of course, why we care about the money side with the Yankees is an open question. But it’s also an open question as to whether all of those commitments make the team better in the aggregate, because there are a lot of problems here too.

The infield, as I noted in my video preview of the Yankees, is a tire fire. Or a dumpster fire. If he’s healthy, Mark Teixeira should be OK, but we don’t know if he’ll hold up. Derek Jeter and Brian Roberts up the middle are serious defensive liabilities even if they’re hitting, and a full-blown disaster if they’re not, and each of them have durability questions too. Kelly Johnson may hit well in Yankee Stadium, but his ability to hold down third base is seriously questionable. Brendan Ryan has an amazing glove, but he can’t play more than one position at a time and he can’t hit a lick.

The bullpen has questions too. David Robertson should be fine taking over for Mariano Rivera, but the rest of the arms there aren’t exactly intimidating. While Joe Girardi has been pretty good at making the most with what he is given in the Yankees pen, he doesn’t have as much here — or at least as much proven here — as he’s had in the past.

There are other “ifs” too, including “if CC Sabathia rebounds,” “if Michael Pineda returns to rookie form” and “if Masahiro Tanaka is as good as people think he’ll be.” Many of those “ifs” will break right for the Yankees as none of their uncertainties are the type which couldn’t, quite reasonably, turn out in the team’s favor. But all of the uncertainties puts a lot of pressure on McCann and the outfield which, while definitely team strengths, can’t afford to miss expectations.

Maybe all of that adds up to good playoff odds in another division, but in the AL East, I think it tips things in favor of the Yankees being on the outside looking in this October.

What else is going on?

  • Let’s focus on that big strength for a minute: the outfield. Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury would be starting center fielders for most teams, so having both of them out there at once is going to make Yankees pitchers happy. Beltran’s offense is quite welcome, and the fact that he can be the DH whenever he’s even mildly tired — with Alfonso Soriano and Ichiro spelling him — makes for an optimal situation.
  • Michael Pineda missed each of the past two seasons recovering from shoulder surgery and has yet to throw a regular season pitch for the Yankees after they acquired him from the Mariners for Jesus Montero in January of 2012, but he is now officially the 5th starter. If he’s anything close to what he was in 2011, he’ll provide a big boost to the rotation.
  • CC Sabathia being anything close to what he was before 2013 would be an even bigger help. Only five starters who qualified for the AL ERA title last year had a worse ERA than Sabathia’s 4.78. His velocity is down and he is trying to remake himself both physically — he’s noticeably thinner this year — and as a pitcher, having added a cutter to his repertoire. In people’s minds he’s still the Yankees’ ace. If he can return to being one in reality, it’s another big boost for this team.
  • Joe Girardi’s Yankees have been really good about not getting sucked into the media firestorms that always seem to visit the Bronx during the baseball season. They tend to say and do the right things and let the media bleat. Still, with A-Rod gone all year and no other obvious source of friction on the horizon, the team may be able to relax a bit more this season than they have in the past few years. One can’t quantify that, of course, but it’s hard to see how a little less time being on guard can’t help.

Prediction: The Yankees should be fun to watch — all that new talent in pinstripes will ensure that — but the Rays and Red Sox have more overall talent and far fewer question marks. I feel that makes the Yankees no safer a bet than Third Place, AL East.

World Series umpiring crew announced. Hi, Joe West!

ST. LOUIS, MO - SEPTEMBER 12: Manager Joe Maddon #70 of the Chicago Cubs is ejected from the game in the ninth inning by umpire Joe West #22 at against the St. Louis Cardinals Busch Stadium on September 12, 2016 in St. Louis, Missouri.  (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
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Major League Baseball has announced the umpiring crew for the World Series. John Hirschbeck is the crew chief. It’s his fifth World Series assignment, third as a crew chief.

A surprising name on the crew is Joe West. It’ll be his sixth World Series overall, but first since 2012. There had been chatter for several years that Major League Baseball was making a more concerted effort to get its best umpires into the World Series more often while minimizing the appearances of its weakest umpires. Most assumed West’s absence from the Fall Classic in recent years, despite his seniority, was a function of that. Maybe they’re still making merit a priority and maybe West has just improved? I’ll leave that for you to judge.

Anyway, here is the lineup of umps for Game 1. They will rotate after that, of course. If the series goes six games, Cowboy Joe will be calling the balls and strikes:

Home plate: Larry Vanover
1B: Chris Guccione
2B: John Hirschbeck
3B: Marvin Hudson
LF: Tony Randazzo
RF: Joe West
Replay Official for Games 1-2: Sam Holbrook (with assistance from Todd Tichenor)
Replay Official for Games 3-7: Larry Vanover (with assistance from Todd Tichenor)

World Series Preview: Forget the curses. Buckle up for a close Fall Classic

CLEVELAND, OH - APRIL 5:  General view of Progressive Field  prior to the start of the Opening day game between the Cleveland Indians and the Toronto Blue Jays at Progressive Field on April 5, 2012 in Cleveland, Ohio (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but it’s been a long time since either the Cubs or the Indians have won the World Series. Indeed, the last time either franchise stood as baseball champions, the concept of writing contrived articles trying to contextualize how long it has been since either franchise won the World Series had yet to be invented!

Those were dark times, indeed. It was a time when superstition stood prominent over reason and we were so backwards that we believed in black magic and curses and things. So glad we stand now, at the vanguard of human history, not believing in such nonsense any longer.

OK, I guess a lot of people still like that stuff. We’ll allow it for now, we suppose, and we’ll do our best to bite our tongues when someone who is smart enough to know better decides that curses about goats and 60-year-old trades and comparative anachronism have more to do with who will win the 2016 World Series than the relative merit of a bunch of guys born in the 1980s and 1990s do. Enjoy baseball however you need to.

In the meantime, we’ll be over here thinking about this year’s Fall Classic as a competition between two excellent teams who themselves are not likely thinking about history.

Let’s break ’em down:


The Cubs had the second best offense in the National League, but I prefer not to count the Coors-inflated Rockies’ offense against the Cubs. They scored 4.99 runs a game and hit 199 homers on the year. While that was a nice show of power, their real offensive strength was getting on base, leading the NL in on-base percentage at a .343 clip. The Cubs take their walks and bash the heck out of the ball. Other than the pitcher’s slot and, when he’s starting, the curiously and perpetually-slumping Jason Heyward, there are no easy marks here.

The Indians offense a bit of a different beast. They too were second in their league in run scoring, but were far down on the AL home run list. They were third in average, fourth in OBP and fifth in slugging. It was a pretty balanced attack overall, with good totals in most categories. Their key advantage over the Cubs — and everyone else in baseball for that matter — is on the base paths. The led the AL in stolen bases and had the lowest caught stealing percentage. They likewise shine when it comes to taking the extra base, going first-t0-third and that sort of thing. Not that they’ll have to rely on small ball, however: Cleveland has hit 11 homers in the postseason to the Cubs’ 12.

As is always the case, the DH rule will work to the AL team’s disadvantage. The Indians have the home field advantage but in 2-3 games in Chicago, they will have to sit either Carlos Santana or Mike Napoli while the pitcher bats, playing the other at first base. The Cubs, meanwhile, can add any bat they choose while in Cleveland. Some have suggested that maybe Kyle Schwarber will be that bat. Even if it’s not him, though, the NL team never loses a key player in the AL park.


The Cubs have had the deepest rotation in baseball all season long. Jake Arrieta won the Cy Young last year and Kyle Hendricks and Jon Lester will likely both finish in the top three this year. John Lackey has been less-than-stellar this postseason, but he certainly is capable and experienced. The Cubs had the best pitching in the NL this year and it wasn’t particularly close. And that’s before you remember that they have Aroldis Chapman waiting to lock things down late.

As with offense, Cleveland’s pitching is a varied attack. Corey Kluber is an ace and has seemed to find another gear this postseason. Beyond him, however, things get kinda interesting due to injuries and inexperience. Trevor Bauer’s cut finger and the stitches thereon are question marks, but he’s had several days off now and should be OK for Game 2. Josh Tomlin, the Indians’ third starter, has had his moments but he is homer-prone. The X-factor for the Indians may be rookie Ryan Merritt, who was strong in Game 5 of the ALCS against the Blue Jays. The Cubs aren’t as weak against lefties as a lot of teams, but they are more vulnerable against southpaws than righties, so Meritt’s slow junk which has not been heavily scouted as of yet might give them some trouble.

The real key for the Indians pitching, of course, is the bullpen. Particularly Andrew Miller, who manager Terry Francona has shown he will call on at virtually any time and whom he will ride for a couple of innings even on back-to-back days. With a couple of days off built in for postseason travel and the “there is no tomorrow” vibe of the World Series, look for Tito to call on Miller and closer Cody Allen early and often and look for the Indians pen to shorten games in a manner not seen in baseball for a long, long time. That is, if the Indians can snag early leads. Either way, Cleveland’s bullpen is clearly superior to Chicago’s. They’ve struck out 41 batters in 32.1 innings this postseason, with Miller being damn nigh untouchable.


A lot of the Indians’ improvement this season over last came by virtue of an improvement in their defense. Depending on which measure you use, Cleveland’s D was either excellent or merely good, but they were top five or ten by most metrics. The Cubs, meanwhile, were fantastic with the leather by every measure, leading all of baseball in both defensive efficiency and Defensive Runs Saved. If you’ve been reading this site for a while you know that we’re somewhat skeptical of a lot of defensive stats and aren’t super conversant in others. We do, however, give respectful, holistic nods to what both the stats and they eyeballs tell us and it’s hard to argue that Chicago has not been superior defensively in 2016. Neither team is likely to make major mistakes or blunders, but if one does, it could make a big difference because the odds of both teams showing up with iron gloves are extremely low.


Two of the best in the business go at it in this series. Joe Maddon has gotten more press than Terry Francona over the past couple of years, but Francona has built a Hall of Fame resume leading the Red Sox to two World Series titles and leading the Indians back to the postseason this year. Each are willing to be unconventional at times — Francona’s aggressive use of the pen has been notable this year — and neither shoot themselves in the foot. There are a lot of moving parts to a baseball game and any number of ways a team can win or lose, but it’s not likely that one of these teams prevail because either manager out-managed the other.


There is a consensus that this is the Cubs’ World Series to win. I tend to think they will as I tend to think they’re the better overall team, but it’s by no means a given. Partially because no possible outcome in any World Series is a given in light of the small sample size of games. The 1954 Indians won 111 games in a 154-game season and got swept out of the World Series, after all, and there are countless other examples of favorites losing and putative teams of destiny failing to fulfill theirs.

But it’s also the case that these two teams aren’t as unevenly matched as some have suggested. As we see above, the Cubs have the better offense, but the allegedly small-ball Indians have socked homers this postseason. The Cubs have a clear rotation advantage, but the Tribe’s bullpen has been a total game-changer. The Indians run like mad and could pressure those Cubs starters in ways no one has pressured them thus far in October. Each club has a fantastic manager. Anything can happen in a seven-game series and the Indians seem better prepared to give the Cubs fits than either the Dodgers or the Nationals did in the NL playoffs.

But if I have to pick one, I’ll go with the crowd and pick the Cubs. I think it’ll take everything they have however, and if the Indians do win this thing, it will by no means be an historic upset. For now, though: Cubs win in seven games.