The group of free agents that were brought in during the offseason cost the Yankees half of a $1 billion, but they have played an important role to the early success of the team. General Manager, Brian Cashman has put together a much more respectable team to this point, but some players have made a bigger impact on the early success than others.
The pitching was a vital part of the early success for the Yankees during the month of April, but the season ending injury to Ivan Nova and suspension of Michael Pineda has set the staff back. Tanaka has been far and away the best hurler in the rotation this year. He has gone deep into every game while saving the bullpen valuable innings every time out. The fact that CC Sabathia and Hiroki Kuroda have also struggled makes Tanaka’s start that much more impressive. He has been the only starter that Joe Girardi can consistently count on for a quality outing.
The biggest strength of Tanaka has his grace under pressure. It does not seem to affect him on or off the mound. He has made this unbelievable change to his life by moving to the United States and he has been relied upon in a league he had never pitched in before to win every start. What has Tanaka done? He has won every time out and has exceeded expectations.
Former Red Sox, Jacoby Ellsbury, had led the offense with a .315 batting average to this point and has become the catalyst at the top of the lineup. Whenever the Yankees have needed a hit, run or stolen base, Ellsbury has stepped up to deliver for his new team. Fans have already forgotten that he once played for the archrival Sox for some time.
Another big part of Ellsbury’s game that has started to blossom are his abilities defensively. He had made some brilliant running and diving catches in center field. There have been a few minor concerns with injuries, but nothing too serious to this point. He has been worth the money and the Yankees are getting what they paid for at this point.
The first month of the season has been kind to Beltran health wise as there have been no signs of any physical problems. His play on the field has been pretty good as well as he is batting .244 with five home runs and 14 runs batted in. Girardi has played it safe with Beltran as he has provided days off every once and while to keep his veteran fresh. The Yankees brought Beltran in because of his knack for coming up clutch in the more important games and in every, "big" game the team has played they have seen contributions from their new right fielder. Fans should expect Beltran to raise that batting average to around .290 by the All Star break, but must be satisfied with his early season performance.
In early April, McCann struggled mightily at the plate and it took him a few weeks to hit his first home run until he hit two against the Red Sox in the opening series with their rivals at the Stadium. Since then, we have seen what he can bring to a baseball team and that is power in addition to knowledge behind the plate. The offensive stats may not show it, but McCann is finding his way at the plate. He is starting to hit the ball to the opposite field, which should help to deal with the shift he has been encountering from almost every team the Yankees have faced.
At the position of catcher is where McCann has shined for the Bombers to this point in the season. The aforementioned problems with the rotation have been managed nicely behind the plate by McCann and he has really helped to get the most out of Tanaka. Defense behind the plate and the ability to call a baseball game have been the biggest aspects that he has brought to the table. The hitting will come for McCann and I believe he can drive in more runs, especially with Teixeira back in the lineup.
Obviously, we cannot expect the numbers that Roberts puts up to be comparable to former Yankee, Robinson Cano’s stats. Roberts has also been dealing with some injuries this season, but since he had returned to the lineup has brought his average up to a respectable .253 to go along with 8 RBIs. The entire Yankee infield has had problems with errors, but Roberts has only committed three so far, which is not bad at his age. For what the Yankees paid for this has been a bargain and if healthy this move could be the biggest steal from the offseason.
The last of the major free agents signed by New York last offseason is Johnson and with the emergence of Yangervis Solarte, Kelly has not played as much lately. Johnson is only batting .224 with nine RBIs, but has shown some, "pop" with four home runs to this point. This does not mean however, the Yankees will not need Johnson. He is the most versatile infielder the Bombers have and will be needed to give older position players days off throughout the year. The fact that he has not started lately has hurt him, but the Yankees cannot be successful without him.
Cashman has done a great job in rebuilding this team after the dreadful season that was 2013. The Yankees looks like a playoff team and down the stretch in the first half of the year the goal should be to keep the pitching staff intact. If the offense can stay consistent I like the Yankees chances in the long run.
Overall Free Agent Grade: A-