Masahiro Tanaka will help, but the Yankees need much more than him to be a contender

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The offseason distorts things. The wintertime focus on individual player signings and the underlying optimism everyone seems to have about the prospects of their local nine often makes us forget that, in baseball, one player cannot make the difference between winning and losing. Heck, sometimes even three players don’t. Just ask Albert Pujols, Josh Hamilton, C.J. Wilson and thousands of disappointed Angels fans these past couple of seasons.

Which isn’t to say that Masahiro Tanaka was a bad signing for the Yankees. Anything but. The Yankees had serious issues in their rotation and Tanaka was, by far, the best pitcher available on the open market. Tanaka’s presence will dramatically improve the Bombers’ rotation even if his numbers pale compared to the video game stats he posted in Japan this past season.

But before Yankees fans clear their October calendars in favor of watching a deep playoff run, they need to remember that, despite the nearly half a billion dollars the Steinbrenners have devoted to free agents this offseason, their local nine still has a lot of holes.

Mariano Rivera is gone and, though David Robertson is one of the best relief pitchers in the game, one does not simply replace the greatest of all time. Maybe more to the point, with Robertson moving in to the closer’s role, the rest of the bullpen is thrust into flux. Lefty Matt Thornton was a nice pickup, but New York could really use another solid reliever.

The infield could be a much bigger problem. Heck, if things break bad it could be a hot mess. Mark Teixeira’s wrist, which kept him out of the entire 2013 season, is already giving him some problems, with MLB.com reporting earlier this week that he’s likely to have a late start to spring training as a result. Derek Jeter is back, but he is no safe bet to be healthy and/or effective at his advanced age. His fill-in — Brendan Ryan — is a slick fielder but worthless at the plate. And he may be covering second base anyway if Brian Roberts, imported from Baltimore, is unable to shake the durability issues he’s had for the past several years. Finally, while everyone is happy that A-Rod is gone, third base is a question mark. Kelly Johnson hasn’t played much third in his career., and he may need to cover first base if Teixeira is gimpy.

That sound you hear is Stephen Drew’s agent clearing his schedule to take meetings with Brian Cashman. Or, if Cashman is smart, it should be.

Even before the Tanaka signing, the Yankees addition of Brain McCann, Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran made them better. But there’s no escaping the fact that this was an 85-win team last year which arguably overachieved to get even that far (their Pythagorean expectation was 79 wins). To compete with the defending world champ Red Sox and the always pesky Tampa Bay Rays, the Yankees needed to improve significantly.

There is no question that the Tanaka signing is a significant upgrade to the rotation. But to the extent anyone says it “buys the Yankees a championship” or anything close to it, they’re ignoring the fact that an awful lot has to go right for this team, as currently constructed, to even be assured of the playoffs. They’re a reliever, an infielder (or two) and a couple of bounceback years from some aging veterans away from printing playoff tickets.

Sometimes all of those things break just right. They’re not the sort of things people wager a lot of money on, however.

Giants nearing deal with Cameron Maybin

Cameron Maybin
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The Giants are finalizing a minor league deal for free agent outfielder Cameron Maybin, according to Andrew Baggarly and Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic. The team has not confirmed the signing, but it’s in keeping with their stated goal of adding more veteran presence and outfield options to their roster in advance of the 2019 season.

Maybin, 31, appeared in back-to-back gigs with the Marlins and Mariners in 2018. He slashed an underwhelming .249/.326/.336 with four home runs, 10 stolen bases (in 15 chances), a .662 OPS, and 0.5 fWAR through 384 plate appearances for the two clubs, a clear improvement over his totals in 2017 but still shy of the career numbers he posted with the Padres all the way back in 2011. It’s not only his offense that has tanked, but his speed and defense in center field, all of which he’ll try to improve as he jockeys for a roster spot in camp this month.

The Giants’ outfield has been largely depleted of any kind of consistent talent lately, especially taking into account the recent departures of Hunter Pence, Gregor Blanco, and Gorkys Hernández. Even with the acquisition of, say, All-Star right fielder Bryce Harper, there’s nothing standing in the way of Maybin and fellow veteran signee Gerardo Parra grabbing hold of full- or part-time roles this year, though they’ll need to outperform candidates like Chris Shaw, Steven Duggar, Drew Ferguson, Mac Williamson, Austin Slater, Craig Gentry, Mike Gerber, and others first.

In a previous report on Friday, Baggarly revealed that a “handshake understanding” had been established with several veteran players already this offseason, all but guaranteeing them regular starting opportunities over the course of the season. How those agreements will be affected by spring training performances remains to be seen, but at least for now, the Giants appear prepared to give their newest players a long leash as they try to get back on top in the NL West.