Friday, January 24, 2014

Spending Spree Legitimizes Yankees Goals

The Yankees are back. But did they really ever leave?

Most Yankees fans you talk to can't wait to talk about signing the next big free agent or how they're going to get the next geezer to hit the trade market in late July. And while the past 15 years you would be right, up to about two or three years ago, that statement is about as farce as can be.

The Yankees announced they had landed prized Japanese import Masahiro Tanaka earlier this week.

Tanaka pretty much legitimizes something the Yankees have really held back on in the past, and that's spend money.

This winter the Yankees have not held back, and basically, once the Red Sox hoisted that World Series trophy at Fenway, all you heard about was how the Yankees had any, and every free agent on their radar. And they did not let anyone down.

They pretty much landed Jacoby Ellsbury to a huge contract within weeks of the Series. It wasn't long after they had Brian McCann and Carlos Beltran in pinstripes. And now the Tanaka signing has Yankees fans once again dreaming of another championship in the Bronx.

And for good reason.

In the past, I normally would say, well I just don't know about what the Yankees are doing. They're trying to buy championships instead of doing it the right way.

I've come to realize, whether you build from within, or you spend astronomical amounts of cash, i.e. the LA Dodgers, you can win by doing either.

The Yankees additions this offseason not only show the commitment the franchise has to continuing to build a winner, but it also shows new front office management is not going to change the way the Bronx Bombers operate.

At first one may have looked at the signing of Ellsbury as no more than a sign of the Yankees spending money for the sake of spending money. But I believe the additions of McCann, Beltran and now Tanaka should give the unanimous impression the Yankees want that World Series trophy back in New York, and I believe they are well on their way.

While it was probably inevitable the Yankees were going to go on a spending spree this offseason, the Championship Boston won may have been a small catalyst in pushing the Yankees to really indulge themselves this winter.

It's no secret the Red Sox found a very good formula for winning, by investing in under the radar guys who needed a short contract to reestablish themselves, i.e. Mike Napoli, Jonny Gomes, Stephen Drew, and Mike Carp were just a few of the guys that really came into their own last year. They also invested in gritty types of players who know how to win, i.e. Shane Victorino, Jake Peavy and added them to a good mix of veterans with Big Papi and Dustin Pedroia.

It could certainly be argued the Red Sox were a fluke last year. After all, how many times does a team go from dead last and the laughing stock of the east coast to the Champs in one season.

Some of those guys have moved on to bigger contracts with more money, some are still around. But the Red Sox of 2014 are going to look a lot different.

As are their rivals down the coast the Yankees.

Trying to pick who's going to win this division in mid-January is a crapshoot at this point. Hell, it may even be a crapshoot in April, and then still in July and August, but one thing is for certain, the Yankees have put themselves in the discussion as the front runners of the division.

I cannot deny my bias towards the Tampa Bay Rays and what they continue to do there. That pitching staff is always tough, and so deep, it really doesn't matter if you buy into them or not, they always find a way to remain in contention.

The Orioles always seem to start strong, but their lack of pitching depth has seen them fizzle towards the end of the season the past couple years. The Blue Jays may be the biggest enigma in all of baseball. They always seem to put a good product on the field, but it has yet to translate into them being successful. None the less, the Jays still have solid roster, and with talent like that, it cannot be discounted.

When you look at the division as a whole, you sit there and say, it is the Yankees for the taking. And yes it is. But it's not going to be a cake walk.

Joe Girardi still has to figure out third base. Despite the circus Arod brings, he still was the long term guy there, and now all of a sudden third base doesn't get you excited. Kelly Johnson is a nice player, but for what you need out of third base in terms of offensive production, it's just not going to be there. But he is a left-handed bat you can possibly see numbers inflate because of the right field short porch.

Shortstop is a glaring question mark. Jeter's health is almost deteriorating quicker than snow in Texas. Not only is his long term health in question, his short term health is somewhat of an unknown.

Is he going to be ready for spring training? If he's ready for spring training, can he stay healthy for that entire six or eight week time? If makes it out of that, how long is he going to be on the field? How many days in a row can he go before he needs a break?

All valid, and concerning questions if you're Joe Girardi. Brendan Ryan is one heck of a defensive backup, but his lack of offensive competence is precisely why he's a back up.

CC Sabbathia's stints on the DL have to be concerning. Not only the lefy getting older, he has logged major, major amounts of innings since coming to New York. The good news is, he has lost a ton of weight this winter, but will that translate to increased velocity on his fastball? He lost a lot juice on his fastball as the season wore on last year.

Can Ivan Nova take a step forward after an up and down 2013. Nova is a very good, and gritty right hander. The Yankees have definitely found something there, but they cannot afford him to keep taking steps back. It all has to be forward progress. I'm of the belief he has a very nice 2014 season. While I believe that, will it actually happen? The Yankees have very obviously had their struggles developing young pitchers in recent years.

Speaking of pitchers, what a great season Hiroki Kuroda had last year. But it doesn't take a genius to see, he dropped off majorly in August and September. His ERA went through the roof, and he had to fight and claw to make it through five innings in just about every start. Can he turn around and at age 38 log the 150-175 innings the Yankees need out of him? Also a valid question.

The Yankees had a lot of questions going into the offseason, and they have really done a great job of answering a lot of those. The outfield situation was one of great concern. Curtis Granderson moved on after a very nice couple years in New York. Robinson Cano is of course out. There were more than a couple big spots in the line up card to replace, but the boys upstairs really did a bang up job of bringing in guys to fill those spots.

The Yankees outfield wasn't viewed as completely weak going into last year, but I wouldn't have called it a strength either. Brett Gardner, Raul Ibanez and Granderson were their three primary starters and some added depth with Ichiro, and they brought back Soriano midseason. It was an aging outfield for sure with maybe more questions than usual.

I think when you look at the Yankees roster heading into this season versus last year, the power in the lineup is a complete 180 from what was there last year. And I must be honest, with the short porch in right field, McCann, Beltran and even Ellsbury have a great chance to be a trio of 20-plus homer guys.

Of all the moves the Yankees have made so far this winter, the Carlos Beltran signing I think is their best move. His contract is very affordable, and with finally moving over the American League, you have so many options with him, the Yankees may have gotten the best hitter in baseball north of the age of 35.

Beltran will obviously want to play the outfield, and even though he's 36, he can still play a very solid outfield. The most obvious and best parts of the acquisition is he'll be able to DH. You are going to add games played, and with that added at-bats, added homers, added RBIs, etc.

The best part, I think, about adding Beltran is he's such a clutch player. Whenever he's up in a big spot, he delivers more times than not. I think that is going to be a huge plus for the Yankees, and should translate into more wins.

The only draw back to having Beltran, and it's a small draw back, is late in games, you are going to get a lot of managers turning him around with to the right side. The middle of that order is already pretty lefty dominant, him and Mark Texiera are going to have to prove they can hit late game homers from the right side of the plate. I don't think turning Beltran around takes away his ability to get a big hit, but it does take away his ability to get a big home run. There is a difference.

For Brian McCann, playing in Yankee Stadium is only going to make him even more of a nightmare to pitch to than before. An almost straight pull hitter, that short right field porch is going to be like Prince Fielder at a buffet, it's gone if you're not careful.

I loved the Briann McCann signing. He plays the game hard every day (as evidenced by his many run-ins with guys who were "showboating" last year). He is a very healthy player, and the DH is really going to benefit the longevity of his career. He's just an all around good baseball player. He's a solid backstop, he's a good teammate from all accounts, and last but not least, he's already an established, and feared hitter. All around, another good signing.

Now the Ellsbury signing is somewhat puzzling, only because of the money he got. Ellsbury has had a very long history of struggling to stay healthy. He's a very streaky player. He may hit 20 homers and hit 280-300, but it's going to be a streaky 280-300.
The one thing he'll consistently do is steal a ton of bases. Which in this line up, is only a good thing. It's going to give Texiera, Beltran, and McCann more pitches to hit. Add his speed with Brett Gardner's, and the Yankees have a great recipe for scoring a lot of runs.

The beauty of the recipe, is it's not all on five or seven power hitters to blast 25 to 30 home runs. This will be a team that can win games in a lot of ways.

With all the additions pretty well covered, let's not forget, it's only mid-January and there's still a lot of quality free agents out there. If I'm the Yankees, I can't just let a guy like Nelson Cruz remain on the market without talking to him. Cruz would be a great addition to this line up. He'd hit with tremendous power yes, but he can also hit for a decent average, and he doesn't play a bad defense. He can DH when needed, and like Beltran, he has a knack for the big hit. I can't say I'm predicting he goes to the Yankees, but if he stays out there long enough, he might reconsider his demands, which right now, seems to be similar to what Johnny Perhalta got.

With their rotation 1-4, pretty set, a fifth starter may not come from guys like Michael Pineda (though I like him a lot, and wouldn't be surprised if he has a nice bounce back year from injuries) or Manny Banuelos and Dellin Betances. These were guys the Yankees haven't been able to develop in their farm system. All that to say, the Yankees may look to invest in a fifth starter they can trust.

A Matt Garza or Ubaldo Jimenez may be a touch out of their price range (listen to me talking about someone too expensive for the Yankees). But in all seriousness, to pay those guys one, two or three starter money to be a fifth starter just is too rich. I would look at an Ervin Santana, or even Bronson Arroyo.

The Yankees may just stick to what they already have and hope one of their young pitchers will pan out. There's no better way to get the best of Pineda, Banuelos or Betances than to bring them into spring training and say, one of you gets the fifth starter job at the start of April. Who wants it? And like starving dogs fighting over a bone, one of them will get it. I'd not be opposed to that.

Bottom line from all this is, the Yankees came into the offseason with lots of big questions that needed answers. I think they've answered some of them very well, and I think some answers are still unanswered, and some leave you a lot still to be desired.

Even with nearly six weeks left in the hot stove season, I would make the contention the Yankees are in great position to contend for the AL East in 2014. Another move or two might even make them a front runner for the divisional crown.

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