2014 Preview: New York Yankees

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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.

Morris, Trammell, humbled and emotional at being elected to the Hall of Fame

Associated Press
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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla — Jack Morris and Alan Trammell met the press 18 hours after learning that they were elected to the Hall of Fame. Trammell was still humbled. Morris was still emotional, breaking up numerous times as he answered reporters questions. When Morris did manage to compose himself, he said a couple of pretty interesting things. Even some funny things.

“I want all the writers to know, I’m not mad at any of you,” Morris said, addressing the baseball writers, who for 15 years failed to vote him into the Hall of Fame. Morris, who at some points over his time on the ballot was, in fact, quite cranky about not being elected, struck a more conciliatory tone this morning, admitting that he did not fully understand the baseball analytics upon which many voters relied in judging him more negatively than he was judged during his playing career. There was a suggestion in his tone that, perhaps, the voters had a point about his relative place in the game and that he understood that now a bit better than he might’ve a few years ago. Not that he’s too hung up on it. “Now that I’m in, I don’t have to worry about any of it,” Morris added.

Trammell never came particularly close to election when he was on the writer’s ballot while Morris only fell a couple of votes short. One could be excused, however, if one thought that he’d thought more about what he’d say on the occasion of his election than Morris did.  “To be part of a dream team, you can’t envision that. As a young boy, all I wanted was to become a major league baseball player,” Trammell said. “And now to be a Hall of Famer . . . it’s indescribable.” For Morris part, he said that he had a lot of practice over the years in responding to reporters asking him about not being elected and that he was prepared to do so again this week. He seemed genuinely surprised that he made it as evidenced by his emotional, off-the-cuff responses to questions.

Both players were asked about their longtime manager Sparky Anderson and both talked warmly about him while acknowledging his often tough love.

Morris said Sparky made him a ballplayer. Trammell said that he and the other young Tigers players who broke into pro ball in the mid-to-late 70s thought they knew what they were doing but that “Sparky showed me I didn’t know squat.” He said that he could field well when he was young but that his hitting lagged. Trammell would, of course, turn into an excellent offensive shortstop, and that a lot of that was due to Anderson’s motivation. “He batted me ninth and I didn’t want to bat ninth . . . he told me when I hit it looked like I was swinging a wet newspaper.” Morris said that he thought of Anderson as “a father and older brother in one.” He said Sparky would make him angry but that he’d never be the pitcher he was if it wasn’t for him.

Trammell, as expected, was asked about his longtime double play mate Lou Whitaker, who was also on the Veterans’ Committee Ballot but who did not gain induction despite a Hall-worthy resume.

“We’re linked together, as we should be,” Trammell said. He said that it has long been his dream to be inducted at the same time as Whitaker. “The dream didn’t happen that we’d go in together this year, but I’m hoping that someday it does happen.” Trammell said. “I’m entitled to my opinion and my dreams.”

Finally, both Morris and Whitaker were asked about Marvin Miller, the groundbreaking and history-making union chief who, once again, was denied election.

Trammell said he’s thankful for Miller and hopes the young players recognize what he did. He says he’d be shocked if Miller is not inducted one day. Morris echoed those comments. “There’s a whole generation of players who have no idea who he was or what he did . . . I’ll always be a strong supporter of him.”

Each player then left the stage and began to be swarmed by reporters in small group sessions. It’s just the beginning of a seven-month whirlwind between now and July 29, when each will be inducted to the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.