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Yankees 2015 Season Preview

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SB Nation 2015 MLB Preview The Pinstripe Alley editors preview the Yankees' 2015 season, including sections on top prospects, incoming and outgoing players, and our own predictions.

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The 2015 season will be a bit of a new journey for the current Yankees roster to establish an identity for itself. Now that the last remaining bit of Core Four safety net has sailed off into the sunset it's time for new faces to emerge as the look of what's to come over the next few seasons in New York. There's a new shortstop and a new closer. The rotation is no longer led by CC Sabathia. Third base is no longer manned by Alex Rodriguez. Youth in pinstripes is more evident now than it has been in quite some time. The future looks even brighter with the farm finally looking like it might be able to produce impact players in the very near future. How will the new-look team respond as they embark on making a name for themselves?

Fans in the Bronx are hungry for another playoff berth after what seems like an eternity of sitting home during October baseball. If you tilt the picture one way with this group you can totally see them getting back there this season. If Masahiro Tanaka and Michael Pineda are healthy, if Carlos Beltran, Mark Teixeira, and Alex Rodriguez hit like they have in the past, if they are fortunate enough to have one of the best bullpens in MLB, then it's easy to see how they fit into a postseason picture. It's not like the AL East is overwhelming this season. However, if you tilt the picture the other way it's easy to be concerned. There are a lot of injury risks and hope requires a lot of depending on bounce back seasons. Forget about all that for now. Now is the time for hope, even in the face of concerns about a paper-thin rotation and shaky offensive output. Now is the time to see the glass half-full.

The Pinstripe Alley editors and I have put together this massive season preview, laying out the hows and whats of the 2015 Yankees. Below you'll find a rundown of the new faces, the outlook for the rotation, bullpen, and lineup, musings on how it will all go right/wrong, and a peak into the future. Grab a snack and dive in. Hope you enjoy it!

Key roster additions/losses

By: Tanya Bondurant

Photo credit: Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

Outgoing:
Derek Jeter - The Captain is headed off to retirement
Martin Prado & David Phelps - Traded to the Marlins in the offseason for Nathan Eovaldi and Garrett Jones
Shane Greene - Traded to the Tigers in the offseason for Didi Gregorius as part of a three-team trade
David Robertson - Left in free agency; signed with the White Sox
Shawn Kelley - Traded to the Padres in the offseason for Johnny Barbato
Ichiro Suzuki - Left in free agency; signed with the Marlins
Brandon McCarthy - Left in free agency; signed with the Dodgers
Francisco Cervelli - Traded to the Pirates in the offseason for Justin Wilson
Hiroki Kuroda - Returning to Japan

Incoming:
Nathan Eovaldi & Garrett Jones - Acquired in the Martin Prado trade with Marlins
Didi Gregorius - Acquired as part of three-team trade with Tigers and Diamondbacks
Andrew Miller - Signed in free agency
David Carpenter - Acquired with Chasen Shreve from the Braves for Manny Banuelos
Justin Wilson - Acquired in the Francisco Cervelli trade with Pirates
Alex Rodriguez - Back from a 162-game PED suspension

AL East Preview

By: Andrew Mearns

Although the Yankees are not an impressive bunch, fans can still console themselves with the fact that no one is a clear favorite in the AL East. The once‐mighty division has fallen on hard times. The Red Sox and Blue Jays made the biggest splashes in the off‐season by bringing All‐Star caliber players Hanley Ramirez, Pablo Sandoval, Josh Donaldson, and Russell Martin into the fold, but neither club was particularly close to a playoff spot in 2014. Those brand names can only do so much to help a team‐‐their pitching staffs both ranked in the bottom half of the AL last year, and neither team did much to improve them. Their fans will have to put a lot of faith in the likes of Rick Porcello, Wade Miley, R.A. Dickey, and Mark Buehrle.

Meanwhile in Baltimore, the defending AL East champions saw 116 of their extra‐base‐hits fly out the door with the free agent departures of Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis. While I don't think anyone blames Dan Duquette for not signing them to the contracts they received, the negative effect on the 2015 lineup is obvious. Similar to the Yankees, the O's will need rebound years from a bunch of players, as Manny Machado and Matt Wieters are both returning from injury‐ravaged campaigns, and Chris Davis's season was a nightmare from start to finish. Journeyman Steve Pearce understandably has a long list of writers skeptical of him even approaching anything close to his dynamite 2014. Their lineup potential and relatively steady rotation makes them the division favorite to me, but not by much.

As for the Rays, it's hard to be inspired by a team that no longer has David Price, Ben Zobrist, Matt Joyce, Wil Myers, or even Yunel Escobar. Although there's probably a scenario where their young pitching staff really comes together and Even Longoria makes the meager offense better than expected, one has to be really optimistic to see this group as better than an 85‐win team (at most). The Yankees aren't overpowering, but they're not exactly blown out by the competition.

2015 Rotation Outlook

By: Tanya Bondurant

Photo credit: Elsa/Getty Images

It's hard to imagine that many rotations around MLB have the boom or bust potential of the Yankees' starting five. Masahiro Tanaka had a brilliant debut season in 2014 before a partially torn UCL sidelined him for most of the second half. Michael Pineda was finally healthy enough to show the promise that made the Yankees trade their top prospect for him years ago, but then he was suspended and missed a large chunk of time with an injury. CC Sabathia has been the definition of an ace in New York, but a degenerative knee condition threatens his very career. Newcomer Nathan Eovaldi throws pure fire on the mound, but he gave up the most hits in the National League a year ago.

If Tanaka and Pineda are healthy, and Sabathia can find a way to reinvent himself with lower velocity, and all the work that has been done this spring to help Eovaldi harness his secondary pitches pays off, there's no reason this team can't make a deep run. Pitching made up for lackluster offense a year ago, so it can certainly be done. Maybe top prospect Luis Severino even finds a way to make a splash in the second half. After Sabathia, though, the question marks pile up further. Chris Capuano will miss the beginning of the season with a quad strain, leaving one of Adam Warren, Chase Whitley, Scott Baker, or Esmil Rogers to fill in. The Yankees cannot afford to skip the weak link at the beginning of the season because of a tightly packed schedule. Ivan Nova is due back from injury in May or June, but a return from Tommy John is not always as seamless as we'd like it to be.

Everything could go right and this could be one of the better rotations in the American League. Or it could all go wrong. So far in spring training, it's easy to see the former. Tanaka looks like the ace he was a year ago, Pineda continues to dominate, and Eovaldi has shown off some tricks he has been learning from pitching coach Larry Rothschild. Should the Yankees have their heads above water when the trade deadline rolls around you can expect that they will be in on any and all available pitchers to try and make the rotation even more formidable instead of rolling with a weaker back end.

2015 Lineup Outlook

By: Andrew Mearns

Photo credit: Rich Schultz/Getty Images

Projected lineup
CF Jacoby Ellsbury
LF Brett Gardner
RF Carlos Beltran
1B Mark Teixeira
C Brian McCann
3B Chase Headley
DH Alex Rodriguez
2B Stephen Drew
SS Didi Gregorius

This is the lineup that Joe Girardi has trotted out for multiple spring training games, so it offers the best suggestion as to how he's planning on organizing the Yankees' starters. The exact order can certainly be debated, but this is how it seems most likely to shake out assuming health for the rest of spring training. The story is the same as it has been for the past couple years with the Yankees' offense‐‐on paper, it seems fine, but the biggest power threats are considerable risks at this point in their careers. The "Bronx Bombers" nickname was strictly ceremonial over the past two years, as the oft‐injured Yankees' offense ranked third‐worst in the majors with an 88 wRC+. It's even worse when one considers how bad it would be without Robinson Cano's MVP‐caliber 2013 season.

The Yankees never really figured out how to replace Cano's bat last year, as the plan to replace him with multiple players who could combine to provide his production didn't really pan out. Ellsbury was the only lineup addition to really make a difference in 2014; Beltran and McCann failed to supply the expected power. While it's reasonable to expect a rebound from McCann since the catcher played better in the second half and is more familiar with the pitching staff, what can a 38‐year‐old Beltran do? Are his elbow problems truly behind him? How about Teixeira's wrist, which ruined his 2013 and caused pains at times last year as well? Even more concerning was Tex's appallingly awful .179/.271/.302 second half. For all the solid defense he provides, that is simply not acceptable from a first baseman. Forget the controversy, A‐Rod is a complete mystery after two hip surgeries and two years since his last full season.

The lineup is highly dependent on rebounds. The only players who fans can be reasonably confident in are Gardner, Ellsbury, and Headley. That's not exactly a foolproof plan, but it's the one the Yankees will have to go to war with in 2015.

2015 Bullpen Outlook

By: Jason Cohen


Photo credit: Elsa/Getty Images

Before spring training even began, much of the Yankees bullpen was already locked into place. They signed Andrew Miller, traded for David Carpenter, Justin Wilson, and Chasen Shreve, and even re-signed Esmil Rogers. It seems that Brian Cashman turned over on his long-standing practice of using cheap, internal options in the bullpen, and instead opted to move pieces in favorable of controllable parts. Miller's contract was a relative deal (emphasis on relative) compared to what David Robertson ended up signing for, Carpenter is under team control for the next two years, Wilson the next three, and Shreve won't even be arbitration eligible until 2018.

This change in tactics not only allowed the Yankees to bring in cheaper options with actual major league talent, but it also allows them to keep all their relief prospects - Jacob Lindgren, Tyler Webb, Nick Rumbelow - in the minors without needing to rush them. The Yankees now have an almost endless supply of young, cost-controlled arms and are now free to pour money into other areas of need in the years to come. While the benefits of Cashman's moves are clear, they're not without their risks too.

On Opening Day, the team will see a near-100% turnover in their bullpen from last year with David Robertson, Matt Thornton, David Phelps, and Shawn Kelley all gone from the team. Much was said about Robertson's lack of experience as a closer, but now we're seemingly in the same situation again as neither Dellin Betances or Andrew Miller have much experience as a closer. Whoever the team decides is their closer, neither are a sure thing. Miller has had only one elite season so far and as good as Betances was last year, there's a lot of room for him to fall from here. Maybe they start off as co-closers, but it certainly won't take long for someone to distance them self from the other.

Other concerns this corps of reliever must face is whether or not Adam Warren, despite his 2014 statistics, is a reliable late-inning reliever, if David Carpenter will perform to his elite 2014-levels or league-average 2015 stats, and just how effective Justin Wilson can be. Then there's the fact that they gave a contract to Esmil Rogers to essentially promise him a roster spot. He might only be the longman, but he sounds like the latest in the long line of terrible pitchers that the Yankees unexplainably show interest in (does anyone remember Sergio Mitre?).

An interesting thing to look out for as the Yankees still consider their final bullpen is how many lefties they plan to bring with them. Right now they have Miller, though he'll likely be used against everyone, and Justin Wilson to serve as their LOOGY, but what about Chasen Shreve? While nothing is certain, he definitely seems like a favorite, unless someone like Branden Pinder, Danny Burawa, Jose Ramirez, Chase Whitley or even Bryan Mitchell can unseat him. Would the Yankees seriously consider carrying three left-handers? Joe Girardi might, but we'll have to see.

Obviously every team is going to have their question marks, especially in regards to their bullpen, but it would seem that the Yankees have more of a sure thing when considering their relievers than most teams. If Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances can offer anything close to what they did in 2014, then everything else will fill in behind them, no matter who it is that ends up pitching in the seventh. Hopefully most of the names making the team to begin the season make it through the long toiling season.

How the Yankees make a run

By: Caitlin Rogers

In order for this team to make a serious run, the stars would have to align and everyone would have to stay healthy. The success of the rotation depends on Masahiro Tanaka and Michael Pineda not only making it through the entire season in one piece, but also pitching to the best of their abilities. Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira and Carlos Beltran all need to find a way to turn back the clock a few years to give the lineup a much-needed offensive boost. This bullpen is one of the best in the league, so if the rotation and lineup get things figured out, then the Yankees could find themselves in the playoffs.

How it could wrong for the Yankees

By: Andrew Mearns

You don't even really have to squint to see this plan all going wrong for the Yankees. All of McCann, Beltran, Teixeira, Drew, and Gregorius need to have better seasons than they did last year. If even the majority of that group struggles, then it could get ugly in a hurry. Drew in particular could pull his best 2014 Brian Roberts impression and dig himself into an even deeper hole with the fans. The rotation is extremely dependent on Masahiro Tanaka's UCL and Michael Pineda's shoulder, and while both have ace potential, both also have higher season‐ending injury potential than most pitchers, too. If they miss extended time, then a rapidly‐aging CC Sabathia and question mark Nathan Eovaldi become the de facto aces. I don't expect this club to finish under .500 for the first time since Mike Trout's infancy, but it would hardly be shocking if it happens.

What needs to happen to call 2015 a success?

By: Jason Cohen

Photo credit: Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

Obviously the Yankees organization measures success by World Series titles and anything short of that is a failure, but this isn't 15 years ago, and in 2015 the organization needs to live by different standards if they want to build a competent team for the long-term. This year, after two years of October-less baseball, success should be measured by simply making the playoffs, regardless of where they placed or how far they go. Short of a playoff appearance, the Yankees need to look at the progress their young players make this year and hope for some bounce back seasons from their veterans.

Regardless of whatever happens this year, a healthy 2015 for Masahiro Tanaka should be enough to regard the season a success. The Yankees also need to see that Michael Pineda's shoulder issue is a thing of the past and that CC Sabathia can survive with lesser velocity and a bum knee.

Veterans like Mark Teixeira and Carlos Beltran also need to stay healthy, which is probably easier said than done. Healthy seasons from these guys could go a long way toward recouping some of the value on their contracts going forward. It would also be nice to see Brian McCann find more success this year as well.

If Didi Gregorius can show that he's a starting shortstop, it would help the Yankees budget for the next few years. He seems to have the defensive side of things well in hand, but he needs to show some more power, or at least start hitting lefties to some degree. The Yankees clearly believe in him, so there are going to be some growing pains as he gets beat by tough lefties, but hopefully the organization can help him become more than a platoon shortstop.

In 2015, the Yankees have a brand new bullpen and with new personnel come new concerns. Going into the spring, it's unclear who between Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances will be crowned as the closer, but both will need to have strong seasons, regardless of who serves in what role.

Expectations are low for Alex Rodriguez, but if he can even offer a league-average bat, especially against lefties, he would be a huge boon to the Yankees after dealing with Alfonso Soriano's ineptitude last year. Despite his advanced age, hopefully a year off and less time in the field will help keep his bat fresh because regardless of what everyone wants to say about him now, he's still A-Rod and he still has the potential to be a dangerous hitter, even if it's in limited instances.

One really big thing the Yankees need to see to declare the season a success is positive contributions from the farm system. Bryan Mitchell is on the cusp of becoming a major league regular if he can unseat Chris Capuano in the rotation. Rob Refsnyder, Ramon Flores, and Tyler Austin could all be in the majors at some point this season and if any of them can perform better than replacement level, the offense will be in good shape. Even with all the relievers they have on the team, the Yankees have several promising relievers coming through the pipeline with Jacob Lindgren, Tyler Webb, and Nick Rumbelow all likely to be major league ready this year.

Not all of this is going to happen in 2015. Some of these guys will disappoint, some will get hurt, and some will contribute nothing, but if a majority of these successes can happen this year, the Yankees will have a successful season one way or another. Whether it ends in a playoff berth or not is something else entirely, but it's time the Yankees didn't measure success only by championships.

Yankees' national perception

By: Caitlin Rogers

The most recent 2015 World Series betting odds are just 33/1 for the Yankees, who are expected to fare worse than all of their AL East rivals except for the Rays. Even the Mets have better odds at 28/1. The Yankees odds have gotten worse as the offseason has progressed after starting at 22/1 back in October. This is likely due to the fact that the Yankees did the unthinkable and avoided signing any of the flashy free agent starting pitchers. Vegas has also set the Yankees over/under win total at just 81.5. Considering that they won 84 games last season, and improved over the offseason, it's hard to believe that they could possibly play worse than last year.

Yankees in the making

By: Tanya Bondurant

Photo credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Yankees' farm system is led by the Big Three of Luis Severino, Aaron Judge, and Greg Bird. Severino has the best chance of the three to see big league time in 2015, being just one level away at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre to start the season. Judge and Bird have put on a show in spring training to show why they are so highly regarded by the front office, fans, and prospect evaluators. It wouldn't be surprising to see all three making a run at a spot on the roster by this time next year.

As for players that could have impact on the team this season, Rob Refsnyder leads the way. The second base prospect has impressed everyone with his hitting the last two seasons, and the Yankees aren't really cemented into anything at that position. Refsnyder could be among the first to be called up this season if he gets his defense in order upon his return to Triple-A. Jacob Lindgren is another obvious choice for prospects likely to make their big league debuts in 2015. The 2014 draftee took the minors by storm in his first professional season, making it all the way to Double-A before the end of the year. He'll be a welcome addition to the Yankee bullpen that is expected to be among the best in MLB. The team also has a trio of impressive relievers in Nick Rumbelow, Tyler Webb, and Nick Goody that aren't too far off. Chasen Shreve, acquired in the Manny Banuelos trade this offseason, has already cracked the majors with the Braves last season, but he should also work his way into the bullpen in the Bronx before 2015 is out.

Season Predictions

By: Tanya Bondurant, Andrew Mearns, Jason Cohen, and Caitlin Rogers

Tanya:

W/L record - 90-72

Yankees Cy Young - Masahiro Tanaka

Yankees MVP - Chase Headley

Yankees Rookie of the Year - Rob Refsnyder

Andrew:

W/L record - 87-75

Yankees Cy Young - Michael Pineda

Yankees MVP - Jacoby Ellsbury

Yankees Rookie of the Year - Jacob Lindgren

Jason:

W/L record - 88-74

Yankees Cy Young - Michael Pineda

Yankees MVP - Chase Headley

Yankees Rookie of the Year - Rob Refsnyder

Caitlin:

W/L record - 86-76

Yankees Cy Young - Masahiro Tanaka

Yankees MVP - Jacoby Ellsbury

Yankees Rookie of the Year - Luis Severino