Yankees Setting Up for Contention In 2015?

As everyone is aware, the New York Yankees failed to make the playoffs in Derek Jeter’s farewell 2014 season, which was very disappointing to a great number of people. One of the few times in their storied franchise history that the Yankees went consecutive seasons without making the playoffs, things are currently in somewhat of a lull for the Bronx Bombers.

Now that Jeter is officially retired, and with the loss of their 2014 closer, David Robertson, to the White Sox via free agency, many are beginning to wonder just how much of a competitive team the Yankees will be in 2015. After finishing twelve games back of first in the American League East last season, they have a lot of ground to make up, but a division title Tanakaisn’t seemingly as far out of reach as it would appear.

Some of the Yankees offseason pickups last year failed to produce in 2014, due to either injury or a down statistical season. From Masahiro Tanaka to Jacoby Ellsbury to Carlos Beltran to Brian McCann — if those players can get back to their normal selves next season, combined with the already good bullpen of Dellin Betances and recently signed Andrew Miller, things should be better in 2015 for the Yankees.

But that’s without any changes whatsoever.

The Yankees, however, have in fact made a few tweaks to their roster that could have a big impact on their season success throughout the 162 game stretch.

Beginning with a trade that saw promising young shortstop Didi Gregorius coming to New York to take over the vacant spot left by Jeter, the Yankees would appear to have a long term “replacement” for the long time Captain.

Though Gregorius won’t be able fill the enormous legacy of Derek Jeter — no one could ever do that — he will give them a little added thump in their lineup and defense at the position. Another such player being Chase Headley, who the Yankees signed to a 4-year, 52 million dollar contract on Monday.

There’s a slight issue in the signing that everyone is pointing out, however: Headley plays third base. With the Yankees still owing third baseman Alex Rodriguez — who was out all last season due to a PED suspension — over 20 million a season for the next few years, it would be hard to envision them filling A-Rod’s place at the hot corner with a bargain priced third baseman. But it appears that the Yankees are doing just that.

Although the Yankees could move Headley around from time to time as the season progresses, it lines up that A-Rod is headed for merely a designated hitter role in 2015. After hitting 31 home runs to go along with 115 RBI’s back in 2012, chase-headleyHeadley hasn’t been that MPV-type of player since, but really impressed the Yankees after coming over from the Padres last season, hitting .262 in the 58 games with them to finish out the year.

If Headley can be solid at third base, and if Rodriguez can provide any sort of offensive production at the plate, the Yankees should be in good shape next year. But, where exactly would they fall if the season began tomorrow?

For me, I see them being like they were last season — a team that could potentially win a lot of games, but has to have a lot of things go right for them to post those type of collective numbers they’re capable of.

As stated earlier, if the Yankees can get full, healthy seasons out of Masahiro Tanaka, Brian McCann, etc., their overall production will increase naturally.

Another team in the division that should see their production increase due to several key moves is the Blue Jays. Signing veteran catcher Russell Martin, and trading for All-Star third baseman Josh Donaldson, the Blue Jays could be a very competitive team in 2015. Though I feel they still need another year or two to put everything together, you never know for sure how a team will fare.

Even so, I feel the Red Sox are the team that has done more than enough to put themselves in line to win the American League East division. Signing Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez a few weeks ago, and adding much needed starting pitching in Justin Masterson, Rick Porcello and Wade Miley, Boston has put together a very solid team after their disastrous 2014 season.

Just the opposite, the Orioles have seen their team taken apart. Losing breakout slugger Nelson Cruz, veteran outfielder Nick Markakis, and dominant reliever Andrew Miller (to the Yankees), Baltimore certainly has some work to do before the start of the season in April. (The Rays also fall into that category, in my opinion.)

So, with such a packed division, seeing that every one of the teams in the east could potentially make big runs towards the division title, it should be fun to see how things play out. If I had to predict things right now, though, I feel confident in saying that the Yankees are setting themselves up to break their postseason drought in the coming year.

Red Sox Down, But Not For Long

No matter how you look at it, the Boston Red Sox are having a poor season. Despite a great deal of anticipation surrounding the team for 2014 after winning the World Series last year, the Sox currently hold the last place position in the American League East division. With a better win-loss record (13 games under .500) than only the Astros and the Rangers in all of the American League, the Red Sox have lost all their hope for the 2014 season being a memorable one — memorable in a good way, that is.Red Sox

Any remaining hope that the Sox did have was diminished last week just before the trade deadline when they made several trades that sent some of their key players off to other teams. Most significantly, Jon Lester being sent out to Oakland in exchange for Yoenis Cespedes, who should provide some pop to a struggling Red Sox outfield, was a big blow to the team.

While Cespedes is a fantastic player, and will undoubtedly help the Sox moving forward, Lester was an ace, and aces are extremely valuable. A team simply isn’t the same after loosing such a valuable asset, and it will certainly show.

But Lester wasn’t the only Red Sox pitcher who changed uniforms. Also getting sent packing were John Lackey and Jake Peavy, who brought back Allen Craig and Joe Kelly, and a couple of minor league prospects, respectively.

Though David Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia, Mike Napoli, and breakout Brock Holt, have been big parts to the Red Sox team this year, coming through big in games, there have been too many injuries to have the Sox make any sort of run towards making the playoffs. Last season everything seemed to go right every single day of the year, but this season things are just the opposite, with players not being able to get on a roll.

With a mere 51 games left to their season, the Red Sox are beginning to look to the future for signs of better things to come. And, fortunately for them, they have an unbelievable amount of young talent set to contribute to the Sox as soon as the 2015 season, leading many to envision big things for them next year.

Consisting of Mookie Betts, Henry Owens, Blake Swihart, Garin Cecchini, Allen Webster, Anthony Ranaudo and Christian Vazquez, all of which are age 24 or younger, the Sox have seven of their top ten prospects currently at Triple-A or in the major leagues, leaving them with numerous options to help improve their ball club shortly down the road.

Two of those multiple options were just recently promoted to Triple-A, in Henry Owens and Blake Swihart, however, they are arguably the most talented of any players in the Red Sox farm system.

052414_6847-MOwens holds a 15-4 record between Double-A and Triple-A this year, with an ERA of 2.47, after an outstanding Triple-A debut on Monday night. Swihart is hitting an even .300, with a career high 12 home runs and 55 RBI’s to this point in the season.

Though it isn’t likely that either one will be a September call up, seeing that the Red Sox are out of things, both could play huge roles in a resurgence for the Red Sox in 2015.

As far as Mookie Betts, Garin Cecchini, and the remaining, previously mentioned prospects go, all have seen some major league time at some point this season, and while none of them blew people away by posting amazing stats, they each are expected to have bright big league futures.

Once the Red Sox’ top prospects begin to reach the big league level and stick, combining their talents with the likes of the always consistent David Ortiz, newcomer Yoenis Cespedes, and star second baseman, Dustin Pedroia, the Sox should begin to see things turn around.

With there being rumors that the Red Sox could potentially resign Jon Lester this coming offseason to a deal for 2015 and beyond, despite 2014 being a down year, next year could wind up being the year the Red Sox begin to see that expected major turn around to their overall team. If all goes as predicted (given, that hardly ever happens), 2015 could turn out to be a very special season.

Tanaka, Ellsbury Proving Me Wrong So Far In 2014

I have to admit it. I’m impressed.

When I published a post a few months ago about why the Yankees shouldn’t sign Masahiro Tanaka, I didn’t expect him to adjust to Major League Baseball so quickly. Given, the main point I was trying to make was that the money spent on Tanaka would be better used to sign other, cheaper free agents, I didn’t necessarily buy into the dominant pitcher that Tanaka was being hyped as. masahiro-tanaka

Even after going 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA in Japan last season, I wasn’t convinced with everything that supposedly came along with Tanaka, and fully expected him, wherever he wound up, to struggle a little bit, having never pitched a game at the big league level.

But that hasn’t happened.

If anything, though he’s had his struggles at times, Tanaka has been better than his previous seasons in Japan, currently sitting in the top five among American League pitchers in the strikeout category, with 51 through 42.2 innings pitched. Only recording more strikeouts than innings pitched once in his seven year career in Japan, Tanaka is off to as good of a start as anyone — Yankees fans most of all — could’ve hoped for.

Moving to 4-0 with a 2.53 ERA after Saturday’s win against the Rays, Tanaka looks to continue stretching his winning streak without a single loss out as the season goes on. Although it’s very unlikely that Tanaka will remain perfect for the entire length of a second straight season, his performance each and every start will be a key factor in what kind of season the Yankees have.

However, even with the great pitching outings, Tanaka isn’t winning games on his own. The Yankees have been good, for the most part, up and down the lineup, with several players getting big hits in big spots to provide some run support. And that includes Jacoby Ellsbury just as much as anyone, who has been tremendous as their leadoff hitter.

As with Tanaka, however, I was quick to judge the Yankees’ offseason signing of Ellsbury.

Though Ellsbury can be a big impact player when healthy, that’s the issue — he hasn’t succeeded in staying healthy very often. While most of mlb_g_ellsbury_b1_400x600his injuries in the past have been freak injuries, Ellsbury comes along with a certain form of caution, and that lead to concern from myself to just what type of player the Yankees were getting. But with the way he’s been performing for the Yankees so far this season, Ellsbury could very well lose the injury prone tag that has stuck with him for years.

Currently batting .356 on the year to go along with ten stolen bases, and hitting his first home run of the season on Saturday, Ellsbury has been a key piece to the Yankees’ team, and one of the reasons they’ve been able to get off to such a good start, currently sitting atop the American League East division standings.

The bottom line: Masahiro Tanaka is good, Jacoby Ellsbury is good, and the Yankees apparently know what they’re doing. Though I’m sure I’ll find myself doubting certain trades and signings next offseason, the performances of Tanaka and Ellsbury, along with many others, proves that you never truly know whether a move is a good one or a bad one until the season starts. Until then, there’s always the chance that you can be proven wrong.

This particular time, it appears to have happened to me twice.

Derek Jeter to Retire After the 2014 Season

Derek Jeter has said all along that when he became unable to compete at a competitive level he would call it quits. And therefore, after a 2013 season in which Jeter dealt with injury after injury, resulting in a mere 17 games played and a .190 batting average, Jeter is keeping to his word.

untitledJeter announced on Wednesday that he will be retiring after the 2014 Major League Baseball season. While the news is a bit of a shock, it’s not all that surprising.

Jeter is going into his age 40 season, and it’s no secret that as players age they just can’t perform at the same level they once could (although, it wouldn’t shock me to see Jeter record 200 hits in his final year). In addition, three (Jeter being the fourth) of the longtime ‘core four’ — Jorge Posada, Andy Pettite and Mariano Rivera — are no longer with the Yankees.

With so much change, Jeter has decided that it’s his time to go, saying in an online letter, “It’s now time for something new . . . I know it in my heart. The 2014 season will be my last year playing professional baseball.”

Jeter went on to say, “I have achieved almost every personal and professional goal I have set. I have gotten the very most out of my life playing baseball, and I have absolutely no regrets . . . Now it’s time for the next chapter . . . But before that, I want to soak in every moment of every day this year, so I can remember it for the rest of my life.”

Joining Chipper Jones, who announced his retirement before the 2012 season, and Mariano Rivera, who announced his retirement before the 2013 season, Jeter will likely receive the same type of treatment that both Jones and Rivera got — getting farewell after farewell throughout the year from fans at different ballparks around the country.

While Jeter isn’t the type of player to necessarily want that type of recognition — always putting the team’s success before his own — as Jeter said, he’s no doubt going to embrace every aspect of the coming season. It’s only fitting for Jeter to accept the fans’ appreciation when he has given them so much over his 20-year career.

Going down as one of the top players in Yankees’ history, as well as baseball history, Jeter’s current career stats of 3,316 hits, 256 home runs and 348 stolen bases, to go along with a .312 batting average, make him a sure bet to become a first ballot Hall of Famer in 2020. But more than his stats, the way Jeter carried himself every second of every day is what a lot of fans will remember. Not too many players achieve a flawless off the field career, but Jeter was one of them. That won’t soon be forgotten.

But Jeter still has an entire (barring injury) season ahead. There’s one more year to enjoy his incredible talent and class.

Enjoy it while you still can.

Pay Increase, Stat Decrease for Some In 2014

Money talks. That was proven time and time again this offseason.

As usually happens, nine times out of ten, the team that offers a player the most amount of money will acquire the prized player; no matter if that team won the World Series the previous year or finished dead last. Offer a player more than any other team and you’ll likely have him on your squad for the next year, and even beyond in some cases.

There’s no better example of that from this offseason than the Mariners landing Robinson Cano on a 10-year, 240 million dollar contract, increasing his pay from the 15 million he earned with the Yankees in 2013 all the way up to 24 million for t131212_cano_signs_lghe next 10 seasons. While the Mariners undoubtedly overpaid for Cano, no other team offered him as much, and therefore he will play 81 games (assuming he doesn’t get injured) up in Seattle in 2014.

But that could mean a noticeable statistic drop for Cano this season.

Safeco Field is known for not being a home run friendly park. Cano goes from Yankee Stadium, with a short right field porch great for lefties like himself, where he blasted 25 or more home runs each of the past five seasons (given, not all of those were at Yankee Stadium), to Safeco field, where many are predicting that his numbers will fall. While I’m not saying that Cano is going to be a flop in Seattle — he’s far too good for that — I do believe that 2014 could be a slightly down year by his standards.

Curtis Granderson is another example of a player whose stats could tumble in 2014.

Although he was injured a lot this past season, Granderson launched over 40 home runs the previous two years, and while he usually doesn’t post a high batting average, he can be a big part of any team. But I’m not sure he can amass the same type of numbers at Citi Field, where he will spend the next 4 years in which he’ll take in 60 million dollars, as he did at Yankee Stadium. Like Cano, Granderson is losing the home run hitting paradise for a lefty at Yankee Stadium and is entering a pitcher’s ballpark. Moving across town, Granderson could have a good, but not amazing (like previous seasons), 2014.

Jhonny Peralta could also wind up being a disappointment.

Peralta’s drop in production won’t likely come from a ballpark change, but rather the fact that players coming of a performance enhancing drug suspension, such as the one Peralta served in 2013, don’t historically do all that well; such as Melky Cabrera in 2013. Getting an increased pay of over 9 million dollars for next year, there is a lot of controversy surrounding Peralta this coming season, as many people feel he didn’t deserve that kind of contract after he was found to have used PED’s. Nonetheless, Peralta will spend 2014 with the Cardinals, where it will be interesting to see if he performs as hoped.

But the whole increased pay leading to decreased stats doesn’t hold true for every player.

Some players could actually benefit greatly from a change in venue — Jacoby Ellsbury more than possibly anyone else.

Ellsbury will be part of the Yankees for the next 7 seasons, after signing a 153 million dollar contract this offseason. That comes out to an increase in pay from 9 million in 2013 to 21 million this season, and I believe, although the Yankees overpaid for him, Ellsbury will go a long way in helping the team in 2014 and beyond. I don’t think Ellsbury will have a season such as the one he put together in 2011, with 32 homers and 105 RBI’s, however, I do think he’ll improve from the 9 home runs and 53 RBI’s last season, with the aid of the short porch in right field. If he can merely stay healthy — that being a problem for him over his career — Ellsbury could really amass some great stats and have a big impact on the Yankees’ season.

jacoby-ellsbury-brian-mccannBrian McCann, being a lefty like Ellsbury, could also have a breakout season.

After somewhat of a down year in 2013 — though, he still hit 20 home runs, for the sixth straight season — McCann should be able to put together a great season; and that’s exactly what the Yankees need him to do. Having received a five million dollar pay raise from last season, McCann’s stats should go up a bit in 2014, and therefore he could easily turn out to be one of the top five most valuable Yankees this season. Though you never know how a player will perform, I’d say it’s a safe bet to say that McCann’s presence will be felt all throughout 2014.

Last on my list is Shin-Soo Choo, but he’s definitely not least.

Choo put together a fantastic 2013 season, and he was awarded for his efforts during the offseason, getting a 7-year, 130 million dollar contract, nearly doubling his salary from what he received last season. Choo isn’t a guy that’s going to hit you 30 or more home runs, knock in 100 runs, or steal 40 bases, but he is a natural at getting on base. Walking 112 times last season, Choo posted a .423 on base percentage in 2013, and that makes him extremely valuable to any club. Choo should once again post the same type of numbers, if not better, in 2014.

Which of these players will have to better year? Leave a comment below.

Yankees Get Tanaka On 7-Year, 155 Million Dollar Deal

Although I felt the Yankees would be better off using their money to sign other free agents to fill their bullpen and positional needs, the Yankees have decided to lock up Masahiro Tanaka for seven years, giving him a contract worth 155 million dollars. As many people around the baseball world are discussing, this is truly a lot of money for a pitcher who’s never played in the Major Leagues. 201311030731270873836-p5

Despite reportedly wanting to remain under the 189 million dollar luxury tax threshold, this deal to Tanaka blows right past that. The Yankees have now spent nearly 500 million dollars this offseason, with the biggest additions being Tanaka (155 million), Jacoby Ellsbury (153 million), Brian McCann (85 million) and Carlos Beltran (45 million). But even with all the money spent, they still have holes in their overall team.

The Yankees need at least one more good bullpen pitcher, preferably a solid closer, and have an average, at best, infield. With it uncertain how Derek Jeter will perform this season — coming of an injury plagued 2013 season — there are still a lot of questions surrounding the deal. (Now that the Yankees have passed the threshold, I suppose spending more money to acquire their needs isn’t that big of a concern.)

It’s been reported that the Dodgers, Angels, Cubs, White Sox, Astros and Diamondbacks all made runs at Tanaka, with at least one team possibly outbidding the Yankees. But ultimately, Tanaka chose the bigger stage of New York City, where he will likely begin as the second or third man in their starting rotation.

Tanaka becomes the receiver of the fifth largest contract for a pitcher in MLB history, just behind Clayton Kershaw’s 215 million over 7 years, Justin Verlander’s 180 million for 7 years, Felix Hernandez’s 7-year, 175 million dollar contract, and C.C. Sabathia’s 160 million for 8 years. That says a lot for the type of pitcher Tanaka is, but it’s somewhat risky, even for a pitcher who went 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA last year in Japan, since, as stated earlier, he has never pitched a single MLB inning.

If everything works out as the Yankees planned, and are certainly hoping for, then the signing of Masahiro Tanaka could go a long way to helping them return to the playoffs in 2014 (many people are predicting just that). But if there are any bumps in the road, you could be seeing a lot of regret in New York.

As things look now, however, the future looks to be bright.

Jacoby Ellsbury Hits the Jackpot With Yankees

Things haven’t slowed down a bit since my blog post yesterday on the latest major trades and free agent signings. Numerous deals have taken place since, including Jarrod Saltalamacchia going to the Marlins, and Justin Morneau heading to the Rockies, as well as multiple other transactions. But I’m not focused on those. The only signing on my mind at the moment is the deal the New York Yankees gave to Jacoby Ellsbury. It’s a deal that Ellsbury would’ve been crazy to turn down, and that, in my opinion, the Yankees were crazy to offer.

jacoby-ellsbury-076929823Ellsbury received a seven-year, 153 million dollar deal on Tuesday to play with the Yankees through 2020 — the third largest contract for an outfielder in MLB history. For a player who is injury prone — missing a good part of this past season, and playing in just 74 games in 2012, and a mere 18 in 2010 — this isn’t a very smart deal in the long run.

But it’s not just the health of Ellsbury that makes this a bad deal in my mind. Ellsbury isn’t a player worth over 20 million dollars a year, given his career stats.

In Ellsbury’s career best season, in 2011, he batted .321 with 32 home runs and 105 RBI’s to go along with 39 stolen bases. That’s a player worth this type of money. But considering the fact that Ellsbury hasn’t had another season even close to 2011 — his highest other seasons being 9 homers in 2008 and 2013, and 60 RBI’s in 2009 — I don’t feel he’s worth anywhere near that. The one thing you get with Ellsbury is speed, having stolen 52 bases last season, but that’s about it on a consistent basis.

In addition to the amount of money, at thirty years old, Ellsbury is too old for a contract of this length, especially given his injury history. If Ellsbury was an everyday player, playing 160+ games every season, it would go a long way in convincing me that this deal will be worth it. But for a player with a career best 158 games in a season, and an average of 113 games a season for his career (not including his rookie year), this deal is bound to disappoint both the Yankees and their fan base, who need something to get excited about.

The Red Sox really don’t lose anything by Ellsbury signing elsewhere. They have a good young prospect, Jackie Bradley Jr., who, while he doesn’t have the same speed as Ellsbury, is nearly equal in every other aspect of his game. Bradley should be able to stay healthier than Ellsbury has been able to, and will be a great asset to the Red Sox for years to come.

While the Yankees are the Yankees and seem to be sticking with their historical trend of spending money for the players they want, I feel this is money wasted. Sure, you get a slightly above average player when healthy, and an impact player, at least for now, at the leadoff spot, but this likely ends any possible run for Carlos Beltran, who is reportedly close to a deal with the Royals.

The Yankees could’ve used the money to sign a player of Beltran’s caliber (if not Beltran himself) to an outfield spot. But instead, they overpaid for Ellsbury. Nonetheless, the Yankees are supposedly still looking to lock up Robinson Cano at second base, so they have some more money to burn, apparently, even after spending a combined 238 million on Ellsbury and Brian McCann. So, who knows what they’ll do from here?

Despite my pessimism, I truly hope that Jacoby Ellsbury proves me wrong and makes this deal well worth it for the Yankees. If he can have a fully healthy next few seasons, and subsequently post good numbers as their likely leadoff hitter, the Yankees could have a decent 2014 and beyond, especially with newly acquired Brian McCann behind the plate.

But, from the way I’m viewing things, I just don’t see that happening.