Three Key Yankee Questions Headed Into 2014
Fresh off a disappointing 85-win season the Yankees front office opened its immense checkbook to reload the roster and consequently the team looks more than ready for another postseason run.
This nearly identical scenario happened five years ago when the then 89-win Bronx Bombers went on a vintage Steinbrenner offseason spending spree resulting in them hoisting the Commissioner’s Trophy the next fall.
But before know-it-all pundits like myself are ready to anoint the Yankees as the 2014 World Series champs, let alone division champs, there’s a number of question marks that first need to be answered.
1. Is CC Sabathia Still a No. 1 Starter?
Judging solely by his waistline, Sabathia looks better this season than he has since he first donned pinstripes in 2009. Down to 275 pounds (from 315 last year) the hefty-lefty at least looks like he’s ready to rebound to the ace starter the Yankees are paying him to be.
Looks can be deceiving though.
After all, for years no one questioned Sabathia’s weight while he was anchoring rotations in Cleveland, Milwaukee, and here in New York. It wasn’t until his velocity went south last season that his waistline came into question. The former Cy Young winner was just 14–13 in 2013, with a career-worst 4.78 ERA, while leading the league in earned runs allowed with 112—not what you want from your top starter.
If his healthier frame doesn’t translate into increased performance, then the Yankees would not only have to be counting heavily on other unproven starters in 2014, like Masahiro Tanaka, they’ll also looking at another A-Rod-like contract. Sabathia’s deal includes $76 million guaranteed over the next three seasons alone. That number, which includes a $5 million buyout, jumps to $96 million should the 2017 option become vested.
2. Can Teixiera Rebound?
This isn’t even a question of whether Mark Teixeira can regain the form that made him one of the league’s best two-way players five years ago—he’s not. The big first baseman hasn’t hit better than .256 since 2009. And that was before missing nearly all but 15 games in 2013 with a wrist injury.
At age 33 (he’ll officially blow out 34 candles come April 11) and with all the injuries to Teixeira’s wrist, it’s unlikely he’ll all of a sudden regain his once all-around superior form.
The four-time Gold Glove winner should still have plenty of value left defensively and should his power numbers at least reappear (he averaged nearly 34 homeruns a year from 2009–2012), the loss of Robinson Cano will be easier to handle.
3. How Much Does Jeter Have Left?
Derek Jeter is the most popular, likeable baseball player on the planet—and for good reason. He’s successful, hardworking, heroic, and just generally cool.
That said, the 39-year old will have quite a task in excelling at shortstop this season.
Not only is he coming off an injury-plagued season, he’s going to have to defy his own age (he turns 40 in June) this season. Only three other players in baseball history (Omar Vizquel, Luke Appling, and Honus Wagner) had enough at-bats to qualify for a batting title, while playing 75 percent of their games at shortstop in a season where they turned 40 or more.
The easy thing to do would be to use Jeter at DH to save his bat, but with Beltran and Soriano in the lineup, and few good options at shortstop the Yankees are going to need a vintage Jeter in the field to be great.