We're on the cusp of Spring Training. This time of year brings optimism and hopefulness for fans of all 30 teams, and the Yankees are no exception. After all, the success of any team with as many question marks as these Yankees is predicated on hope. Hope that the pitching staff can manage to stay healthy. Hope that guys like Carlos Beltran and Stephen Drew can bounce back from their 2014 campaigns and find a semblance of their old form. Hope that Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury continue to provide the top-third of the order with a similar level of production as last year. Hope that after a season off, a 40-year-old A-Rod can contribute anything other than a headache to his organization.
Without this optimism, trying to configure what the lineup, and more specifically the batting order, might look like come April 6 can be a bit disconcerting. Inevitably a couple of guys will go down with injuries and a couple of guys will underperform, and there just doesn't seem to be very many safety nets laid out in case such emergencies occur. But hey, spring's almost here. We'll cross those bridges when we get to them, right? This is what I make of the Yanks' batting order as things currently stand.
The obvious candidates here are Gardner and Ellsbury. The two had oddly similar seasons last year, posting nearly identical slash lines while hitting for more power than we've come to expect (save for Ellsbury's 32 home runs in 2011). Jacoby, however, nearly doubled Gardner's stolen base totals despite Brett hitting first in the order over twice as many games as Ellsbury. Even if Gardner isn't as aggressive on the bases as he should be, my money is on Joe continuing to use him as his leadoff man.
If we were to go by "The Book", the second spot should be reserved for a team's best hitter, which means by default the Yankees lineup should improve over last year simply by having anyone other than Jeter occupying the slot. One thing we only saw a handful of times in 2014 was some combination of Gardner and Ellsbury at the top of the order, which would make for an enticing 1-2 punch of speed and power. Chase Headley, who sported a .371 OBP in his 58 games in pinstripes last season, is one of the few other viable options among the starters, despite his slight tendency to ground into double plays. Give this spot to Headley, if only to avoid back-to-back lefties at the top of the lineup.
This is the spot in the order Ellsbury called home 93 times last year, and it's where he'll likely be this year.
When he was healthy, Mark Teixeira spent most of his at-bats hitting cleanup. Unfortunately, he didn't do much with those at-bats. He's probably the closest thing they have to a slugger right now, though, and while the cleanup spot will likely see a rotating cast of Tex, McCann, and Beltran, Girardi has to have faith in Teixeira to be able to hit home runs and drive runs in.
As far as the fifth spot of the order goes, McCann is pretty prototypical. He doesn't have quite enough power to hit fourth, but he's an ideal fit for this role. He had a rough first season as a Yankee, but his second half gave reason to believe his numbers will trend upwards for 2015.
Rodriguez and Beltran. Beltran and Rodriguez. They're basically interchangeable for the sixth and seventh spots, and if these two can come anywhere near their respective 2012 numbers it will radically change the complexion of the lineup. I'm going to guess A-Rod bats sixth on Opening Day, but I think it's a coin toss.
This bottom third has potential to be a real black hole. Beltran got the bulk of his AB's as a designated hitter for the first time in his career last year. Perhaps returning to a primary outfield role will help him at the dish. It will also help if he can keep his right elbow free of any bone spurs, which is what seemed to throw him off last season.
Didi Gregorius/Brendan Ryan. New Yankees hitting coach Jeff Pentland is excited about Gregorius's potential as a hitter, but Brian Cashman anticipates he and Ryan to form a light-hitting platoon, at least for the early part of the season.
I'm going to go under the assumption that Stephen Drew earns the second base job. I'm not as down on Drew as I should be. Probably because after last season there's nowhere to go but up. Heck, if he can raise his average about forty points he'll be over the Mendoza line.