Sunday, April 5, 2015

Age and Health are key Questions for 2015 NY Yankees

For the first time in a very long time all the hype in New York City has little to do with the Yankees. The Mets have dominated the headlines in the Big Apple with the return of Matt Harvey, and expectations that are through the roof, with the Mets actually talking playoffs.  Meanwhile, the Yankees are toiling in low expectations, haunted by years of bad contracts, injuries and age; the Bronx Bombers are a shadow of who they once were.

The biggest story heading into 2015 is the status of one Alex Rodriguez.  The known steroid-user marks his return to the big league club after a year away from the game via suspension. While A-Rod had a solid spring training, all of the questions regarding his durability and effectiveness as a full-time DH will be questioned once again. Rodriguez is 39-years-old, expecting him to be the big time hitter he once was is futile at this point.  If Rodriguez is even half the hitter he once was, even without the 'Roids in his bloodstream, that is about all the Yankees can hope for.

Ironically, this is the same player with whom the Yankees have tried to get rid of the past year. The Yankees have gone from trying to find a way out of the contract, to trying to bury all and any achievements Rodriguez accomplished in his career. The relationship between both parties is strained, yet they need one another to make 2015 a success for both parties. This alone is the drama within the drama that will tell the tale of the 2015 Yankees.

New York owes Rodriguez $61 million over the next three years, including $27 million this year -- the result of a bad contract negotiation in 2007 when A-Rod held the Yankees hostage for more money.

But it is not just A-Rod whose contract is killing this franchise. The Yankees have two more years left on CC Sabathia's eight year, $186 million deal, three years left on Mark Teixeira's eight year, $180 million contract, and two years, $30 million left on Carlos Beltran's deal. In other words, the Yankees have so much money tied up in aging All Star's they can't even breath.

Remember Sabathia is coming off a injury plagued 2014, and has not looked good at all in spring ball. If he is not the old CC, or at least a glimmer of the pitcher he used to be, Sabathia's contract will be impossible to swallow.

Teixeira has been bothered by hand injuries for a couple years now and has not played in 130 games in four years, and hasn't seen the 30 homer plateau since 2011. In the last three years combined Teixeira had only 49 home runs, 158 RBI and is hitting a measly .229. In other words he might be  done.

There are even concerns about the Yankees current ace Masahiro Tanaka, who last season pitched with a partially torn UCL in his right elbow. He opted not to have Tommy John's Surgery, but no one can tell how long that elbow will hold up before a real emergency happens. Keep in mind, there are already reports that Tanka's velocity is down as the season begins.

This is the price the Yankees are paying for years of throwing around big money at every super-star, every off-season. The Yankees over the last decade have spent more time on trying to compete with the Red Sox at the major league level, rather than build a solid minor league system. Now that the Yankees are seeing their stars age poorly, and they have nobody coming up to make an impact at the major league level.

This is why many wonder if the Yankees are even capable of winning 85 games this year. When was the last time anyone thought that?

The rotation around Sabathia and Tanaka is filled with questions as well. Aside from the health of the two veterans, the Yankees will have questions about how effective and durable Michael Pineda will be this year. Will Pineda ever reclaim the ace-like stuff he once had with Seattle? We are still waiting for that answer three years later. Nathan Eovaldi  had a great spring with an 0.66 ERA, but he's routinely been a guy who struggles. Finally, Adam Warren is basically a throw in into the rotation just to fill a spot.

If there is a silver lining of hope for the Yankees it starts with their new Short Stop, Didi Gregorius. The position that everyone thought would be a problem last fall when Derek Jeter retired, Gregorius brings a nice combination of youth (he's 25) and speed that this team desperately needs. Gregorius didn't let the moment of replacing Jeter ruin his spring training. He hit .271, drove in six, scored four runs, and had a stolen base. Gregorius has much better range at short than Jeter did the past few years -- so if there is one guy who is going to be a nice fit, it might be Didi.

Yankees fans can also have some confidence that both Jacoby Ellsbury and Brian McCann are two veteran players who should have even better seasons in their second year in the Bronx. Both are still in the prime of their careers, and put up some solid numbers in 2014; expect more this year.

The other positive for the Yankees this year, might be their bullpen. Led by Dellin Betances, who had a stellar year as New York's eighth inning man, he assumes the roll of closer this year from David Robertson. It is anyone's guess how he handles this roll once the real games begin, but the Yankees expect he will do well here. He has the make-up for it. Behind Betances the Yankees have veterans Andrew Miller and David Carpenter, 27-year-old Justin Wilson and his lifetime 2.99 ERA and Esmil Rogers who was once a starter for the Rockies and Blue Jays. In other words the Yankee pen might be the biggest strength of this team in 2015.

Scenario: The Yankees are in a unique situation, they are getting old and have a ton of questions, yet the AL East is nothing to write home about. The Orioles, Red Sox and Blue Jays each have their own fair share of questions coming into 2015, and the Rays are completely rebuilding. The Yankee will need to get some incredible performances out of A-Rod, Teixeira and Beltran to bail out what might be a stagnant offense, and they must get quality outings out of a weary starting rotation. If that happens the Yankees could find themselves in the wild card hunt.

Prediction: 84 - 78, 3rd AL East. Same record as last season. The Orioles will win the East because they have the pitching. Boston will come in second, because they have some younger players who can push them ahead by a game or two. There are just too many issues in the Bronx to expect anything more than 84 wins this season and no playoffs.

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