After an expensive offseason, which saw the Yankees overhaul their outfield by adding Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran, improve their rotation by signing Masahiro Tanaka, and shockingly decide to actually have a catcher this season by bringing in Brian McCann, the Yankees have made some major changes to their roster. After winning only 85 games last season and missing the playoffs, some changes were to be expected. Still, have the Yankees improved enough to make the playoffs in 2014? After losing Andy Pettitte, Mariano Rivera, and most importantly, Robinson Cano, have the Yankees even improved at all?
From where I sit, the Yankees are certainly better than they were last year. Yes, they would be favorites in the division if they had held onto Cano (oh, what could have been...), but even with his loss, the additions they made more than make the offseason a net gain. With offensive upgrades at five positions (two outfield spots with Beltran and Ellsbury replacing Vernon Wells and Ichiro Suzuki, who each played over 100 games, Brian McCann replacing Chris Stewart, who also played over 100 games, and Derek Jeter and Mark Teixeira replacing their various stand-ins from last year) plus a full season of Alfonso Soriano at DH, the Yankees should score many more runs than they did in 2013. This will more than likely put them into the top 10 in runs scored (they were 18th last year, and dead last in the AL East). Their slew of offseason improvements should put the Yankees squarely in the middle of the AL East race, when it comes to offensive production this season.
Even without Andy Pettitte, the rotation will likely improve with the addition of Masahiro Tanaka. While it's impossible to know what he'll do in the major leagues, Tanaka's complete dominance in Japan at least suggests he'll be quiet successful here. CC Sabathia is a bigger question mark than he's ever been, as is Hiroki Kuroda, who sort of fell apart down the stretch last season. It remains to be seen if Ivan Nova can be consistent at the major league level, but Tanaka certainly makes the rotation better, and not bringing back Phil Hughes more than likely makes the rotation better by subtraction (unless Michael Pineda, David Phelps, or whoever ends up as the fifth starter, completely underwhelms).
Remember, the Yankees almost made the playoffs with Sabathia having the worst year of his career (in terms of fWAR), so if he can improve just a bit, their staff should be one of the better rotations in the majors, and should be a solid improvement over last year's. The bullpen remains a bit worrisome (and I completely agree that a trade for an established reliever needs to be made, which Jason makes a great case for here) but I have faith in David Robertson to be a dominant closer. It'll just be getting it from the starters to him that will be the problem.
But their pitching staff improving isn't enough in and of itself to make the playoffs - how does the Yankees 2014 rotation compare to the others in the AL East?
They probably won't be as good as the Red Sox staff, lead by the dynamic duo of Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz, followed up by the dependable John Lackey and fiery, but solid, Jake Peavy, with some combination of Ryan Dempster/Felix Doubront rounding out the rotation. They also probably won't be quite as good (although they could be close) as the Tampa Bay Rays rotation of David Price, Matt Moore, Alex Cobb, Jeremy Hellickson, and young arm Chris Archer (12th best staff ERA in the majors last year, even with a bit of regression from David Price). The Yankees staff is probably just a notch below these, although if Michael Pineda lives up to his potential, and Tanaka somewhat lives up to the hype, the Yankees rotation should be right there with these two.
It's certainly better than the rotations of the Baltimore Orioles (who after Chris Tillman, is a lot of question marks) and the Toronto Blue Jays (who, even though R.A. Dickey should bounce back and Brandon Morrow won't be as bad as last year, still don't quite have the arms to truly compete). While the Yankees pitching staff has a lot of question marks, New York, at least on paper, has a rotation that should put them squarely in the hunt for the AL East title.
If they fail to win the East, but still manage to snag second, a consistently tough task with the emergence of Tampa Bay and Baltimore the past few years, stiff competition will remain for the two Wild Card spots. One playoff spot figures to go to whomever claims second in the AL West, most likely a battle coming down to the Oakland Athletics and the Texas Rangers (who look like a lock for the postseason after adding Shin-Soo Choo and Prince Fielder).
The surprising Cleveland Indians, who snuck into the playoffs last year, will probably be good again next year, as their rotation includes good young pitchers like Justin Masterson, Corey Kluber, and Zach McAllister, who have improved from year to year. Still, while their offense is good (Jason Kipnis had a breakout year last year, and Carlos Santana continues to get better) and their staff is young and talented, Cleveland lacks the big bats the Yankees have, and the back end of their rotation, especially if they don't bring back Ubaldo Jimenez, will be quite lacking.
The Kansas City Royals, also from the Central, finished ahead of the Yankees last year, but I don't see them getting close again this year. If they don't re-sign Ervin Santana, their staff will be only James Shields and some vastly mediocre pitchers who performed better than expected last year and might not repeat in 2014. Their offense was even worse than the Yankees last year, except the big difference is that it wasn't rocked with injuries. Last year was a good one for Kansas City, but look for them to have a little more difficulty this year.
All told, the Yankees should be quite competitive for the AL East or wild card, finishing ahead of both Cleveland and Kansas City, and perhaps Oakland. However, they're still very, very thin in the infield, so an injury or two there and 2014 could be a repeat of 2013. With a little luck, the rotation should keep the Yankees in the hunt, and the improved offense should be worlds better than last year's; we should all see October baseball back in the Bronx in 2014.
But what about you - do you think the Yankees will make the playoffs?