The 2014 season is right around the corner for the Yankees and they open up the season on April 1st in Houston against the Astros. Fans should be very excited for this season as the front office led by general manager Brian Cashman has completely restructured this team.
There is a huge difference between the Opening Day Lineup in 2013, which looked like this:
Opening Day Lineup 2013
Brett Gardner, CF
Eduardo Nunez, SS
Robinson Cano, 2B
Kevin Youkilis, 1B
Vernon Wells, LF
Ben Francisco, DH
Ichiro Suzuki, RF
Jayson Nix, 3B
Francisco Cervelli, C
As opposed to the Projected 2014 Opening Day Lineup, which looks something like this:
Jacoby Ellsbury CF
Derek Jeter SS
Carlos Beltran RF
Mark Teixeira 1B
Alfonso Soriano DH
Brian McCann C
Kelly Johnson 3B
Brian Roberts 2B
Brett Gardner LF
With that in mind this season still has many question marks and there are certain Yankees that are more important to success of the team than others. If these players are injured or fail to have bounce back seasons the Yankees may be in trouble and it all starts with the pitching staff.
1) CC Sabathia
The most important Yankee in 2014 is Sabathia, the alleged ace of the pitching staff. Last season was easily the worst of Sabathia’s career as he went 14-13 with a career worst 4.78 ERA. This shocked many Yankees fans since he had not pitched to an over 4 ERA since 2005 when Sabathia was with the Cleveland Indians. Was it his weight loss? Is his arm just wearing down from his innings load?
This season again Sabathia’s weight loss has been well documented. He has lost 40 pounds coming into this offseason and looks like he is in great shape, but Yankee fans are worried about how that will affect the velocity on his fastball. As we know, the extra weight Sabathia had was used to put more power behind his mid-90s heater. His fastball in spring training has not yet hit 90 mph and after one outing Sabathia said bluntly about his performance, "I sucked." If CC is not his normal self the Yankees may have trouble keeping up with opposing team’s offenses like last year.
2) The Bullpen
This year the Yankees bullpen will be without first ballot Hall of Famer, Mariano Rivera, for the first time since he came up 1995. David Robertson will be taking his place and has a big adjustment to make from his usual 8th inning duties. The rest of the Yankee bullpen is going to have to follow the lead of Robertson and step up into the roles that lead up to that 9th inning. Who will be the 8th inning man? Preston Claiborne? Matt Thornton? This may change throughout the season as Yankee manager Joe Girardi will install his usual mix and match method with his relievers.
David Phelps, if he goes into the pen, maybe asked to be the most versatile pitcher on the entire staff. This season, like last year, Phelps might be asked to be a starter, middle inning reliever and 6th or 7th inning pitcher throughout different parts of the season. It will be interesting to see where he ends up. It may depend initially on where Michael Pineda finds himself by opening day.
3) Mark Teixeira
In 2013, Teixeira played only 15 games and his power in the middle of the lineup will be key to the offense this season. The biggest concern with Teixeria is not whether he will produce since he has averaged about 106 RBIs over the last four seasons that he has played at least 123 games. It will be whether or not he can play in those 123 games or more this season. If Teixeira can play and put up his usual 30 homers and 100 RBIs while providing his gold glove caliber defense at first base the Yankees will be in good shape.
Another concern will be if Teixeira does get injured for any period of time, who will replace him in the lineup and at first base? No matter who it is they will not be able to put up the kind of numbers that Teixeria is capable of.
4) Masahiro Tanaka
The Yankees are trying to ease Tanaka into the Major Leagues and are not going to put too much pressure on their prized new arm. Brian Cashman even said in the media that he expects Tanaka to be a solid, "number 3 starter." I subscribe to trying to relieve the pressure from Tanaka and that is why he is only my fourth most important Yankee for the 2014 season. The pitching staff in general is vital to the success of the bombers this year and I believe Tanaka needs to have a successful first year in the Bronx for the Yankees to make the playoffs. Two things that Tanaka has in his favor are the fact that he has a splitter that is arguably the best in the world and no one in the big leagues has ever seen him on a consistent basis.
Tanaka will probably have early outings that are very good because of this, but he may run into some problems during the middle of the year. Teams will start to adjust to him and build more of a scouting report on Tanaka. If that were to come to fruition then the key for Tanaka will be making the adjustments necessary to finish the season strong.
5) Derek Jeter
Last, but certainly not least, in his final season Derek Jeter is as important as ever to the success of the Yankees. He will not play as big of a role and Girardi will make sure that whenever he can rest Jeter he will do it. When Jeter does play this season the most important aspect of his game will be whether or not he can still get on base. It will be important that Jeter can get hits on a consistent basis and do what he does best, which is working the count.
In the field, expect Jeter to be good, but not great because he will have trouble moving to the holes to field those tougher grounders. Jeter will make some errors this season and more than he are used to seeing. When Jeter is resting and not playing Brendan Ryan will have to step up in his place.
Whether we like it or not the Yankees will have some injury problems as every team goes through each year. For the 2014 season I think the Bombers have decent depth on the bench and will definitely improve on the 2013 campaign. I believe the Yankees will finish with a 92-70 record and will win the AL East. We will see how this much anticipated season runs its course.