A week or so ago, Matthew Provenzano listed all the things that could go wrong for the Yankees in 2014. Since I'm a natural optimist, I decided it'd be fun to take a look at all of the things that could go right in 2014, and all of the reasons that should excite us about the 2014 Yankees.
So here they are, in all their positive, glass-half-full glory: the reasons why the 2014 Yankees will be major contenders to win yet another World Series title.
A much-improved outfield
This has to be one of the biggest reasons to be excited for the 2014 Yankees. The Yankees made major upgrades in the outfield during the off-season, adding Carlos Beltran and Jacoby Ellsbury, while hanging on to Brett Gardner and leaving Alfonso Soriano as the fourth outfielder/DH. Considering that Ichiro Suzuki (.262/.297/.342 splits last year with a 71 wRC+) started 128 games in right field last year, and Vernon Wells (who was somehow even worse, hitting .233/.282/.349 with a 70 wRC+) started almost 100 games in the outfield, this new look Yankee outfield should be one of the biggest strengths of this team. Among outfielders, Ellsbury is ninth in the major leagues in fWAR since 2008 (the year he became a full time starter) despite losing almost two full seasons to injury. That means that, except for a few unfortunate freak accidents, Jacoby Ellsbury is undoubtedly one of the best outfielders in all of baseball. He hit .298/.355/.426 last season, stole 53 bases, and scored 92 runs. And when - not if - his power numbers increase by hitting in Yankee Stadium, he'll only be more valuable.
Now, just adding Ellsbury and pairing him with Gardner and Soriano would've been a major improvement over the Yankee outfield of 2013. But by adding Carlos Beltran, the Yankees added the power hitter their outfield lacked. Beltran is 14th in fWAR among outfielders since 2008, and should hit around 25 home runs this season after batting .296/.339/.491 last year with 24 homers and a 132 wRC+. His fWAR may be trending in the opposite direction (4.3 in 2011, 3.3 in 2012, just 2.0 last season), but still, he'll add the power hitting punch the Yankees were lacking for much of last season. Additionally, with Ellsbury and (hopefully) Gardner ahead of him in the lineup, he should drive in a lot of runs.
Speaking of Gardner, he will continue to be a defensive stalwart and solid hitter. Paired with Ellsbury, the Yankees will have one of the fastest and best defensive outfields in baseball. Thankfully the Yankees didn't undervalue Gardner and dump him for a declining second baseman (cough, Brandon Phillips, cough), and instead have extended his contract (a sign of positive changes in the Yankee front office - see, positivity and reasons for excitement to be found everywhere!). The Yankees even have the great luxury of using Soriano as the fourth outfielder/DH, a player with a combined 6.5 fWAR over the past two seasons, who will add quite a bit of power to the lineup wherever he plays. If everything goes right, this outfield will be tremendous defensively, a run scoring machine offensively, and Gardner and Ellsbury will be terrors on the base paths. All in all, this group will represent a major upgrade over last year's outfield.
The Yankees even have Ichiro as the fifth outfielder/late game defensive replacement. I don't care how much you hate Ichiro at this point - he's a pretty terrific defensive replacement, and if he's your fifth outfielder, that's a pretty damn good outfield.
A potentially lights-out rotation
Sure, Sabathia could keep sliding into mediocrity, Kuroda's arm could fall off, and Nova could once and for all show he's not that great. Maybe Tanaka will become the most overpaid No. 3 starter in the game. "Wait a second!" you yell, "I thought this was supposed to be positive!"
Don't fret, my friend. While some of these things might happen, all of them happening together is quite unlikely. If a few more probable events transpire - such as Sabathia bouncing back, Kuroda showing more of his first half 2013 form than second half, Nova continuing to build off the success of last year, and Masahiro Tanaka being the very good, if not great, pitcher he should be - this might just be one of the best rotations in the league. Remember, Sabathia's just two years removed from going 15-6 with a 3.38 ERA and 3.33 FIP. Nova had a 2.78 ERA in the second half last year, and he was 16-4 with a 3.70 ERA and a 4.01 FIP in 2011. The end of 2013 is hopefully a sign that Nova has finally made his breakthrough, and is ready to be the consistent, if not dominant, young arm the Yankees need. Tanaka was 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA last season; granted, it was in Japan, but still, 24-0 is 24-0!
This discussion would be incomplete without mentioning the potentially untapped well of awesome that is Michael Pineda? He just may be the pitcher he was in 2011 - when he posted a 3.74 ERA with a 3.42 FIP and an fWAR of 3.2 over 171 innings - and therefore be one of the best No. 5 starters in the league. There's so much to be excited about with this Yankee pitching staff, and I personally cannot wait to see what 2014 brings for Tanaka and Pineda.
Big upgrade behind the plate
No more Chris Stewart. In his place is Brian McCann, one of the best offensive catchers (career .277/.350/.473 hitter, and second highest fWAR among catchers in the league since his first season in 2005, behind only Joe Mauer) in the league with a short porch in right. Get excited. Moving on.
Closer David Robertson
As Andrew pointed out, worrying about him being a "proven closer" is ridiculous. Rivera wasn't, until he was. D-Rob has been awesome the past two years - he posted a 2.67 ERA in 2012, and a 2.04 in 2013. He strikes out an ungodly amount of hitters (12.02 K/9 in 2012, and 10.45 K/9 last year) and has his BB/9 have been under three over the past two season. If he's not worthy of a shot at closer, I don't know who is. His stats are gaudy. He learned under Mo. Robertson is going to be one of the best closers in the league in 2014.
The big challenge - thinking positively about the infield
Admittedly, even in a post all about optimism, the infield is obviously the Yankees' weak link (the bullpen, other than D-Rob, is the other candidate, but serviceable middle relievers are relatively easy to come by). Still, while the Yankees' infield might not be the best in the league, it could be very solid. Losing Cano hurts...a lot, but Derek Jeter could be Derek Jeter again. Frankly, if it's his final year, it would be hard to bet against him. Sure, 2013 was a lost season, but he led the major leagues in hits in 2012, and even in 2010, a down year (.270/.340/.370) he still had a 2.6 fWAR. Although Jeter's 2014 season probably won't be 2012 good, it shouldn't be as bad as 2013. He can certainly bounce back to become the good, and potentially very good, player we've known for two decades.
If Mark Teixeira stays healthy, he should be a productive player again, hopefully putting up numbers close to his 2011 levels, when he hit .248/.341/.494 with 39 homers and 111 RBI. He probably won't be quite as good, but stats a little bit below those would go a long way to making this team a real contender, as they'll need more power than just McCann and Beltran. Kelly Johnson probably won't be as good as even a 38-year-old Alex Rodriguez would've been, but he should be quite close - in 2012, A-Rod posted a 1.9 fWAR and a 113 wRC+ in 122 games, comparable to Johnson's 1.2 fWAR, 101 wRC+ 2013 season, in which he played 118 games.
Second base is a downgrade. There are no positives to be had there, no matter how you spin it. That is all.
Still, this could be a good offensive infield, with a great defensive bench player (Brendan Ryan) hopefully getting some reps later in games to preserve the leads that Jeter and a slugging Teixeira will have created. From where I'm sitting, it's not too unlikely that this happens. If the Yankees get a few breaks, this infield will be good enough offensively to push the Yankees over the top, carried mainly by the bats of Jeter and Tex.
Sure, things could go wrong. Things can always go horribly, horribly wrong. However, there are plenty of aspects of this team to be excited about: young, promising arms in the rotation, new faces in the outfield, a brand new catcher, the return of Mark Teixeira, and, the biggest story of the baseball year, the swan song for the Captain, No. 2, Derek Jeter.
But if most of the things listed above happen, the Yankees certainly have a legitimate shot at sending Jeter out in style with another World Championship. Frankly, after the man hit a home run for his 3,000th hit, on his way to going five for five and helping the Yankees win a nail biter, it doesn't seem wise to bet against Jeter's fairy tale career ending without a proper finale.