Following a disappointing 2013 which the Yankees missed the playoffs for just the second time since 1993, changes were obviously coming to New York. In a busy offseason, Brian Cashman signed big-name free agents, Alex Rodriguez was suspended and then the face of the Yankees announced his retirement.
The main target on the market was seven-time All-Star Brian McCann. After the departure of Russell Martin a year earlier, the platoon of Chris Stewart and Francisco Cervelli disappointing prospects at catcher was a major hole in the offense. McCann signed with the Yankees and his left-handed swing will be perfect for power output in Yankee Stadium.
Curtis Granderson signed to play for the Mets, but the Yanks still had plenty of outfielders; Vernon Wells, Ichiro Suzuki, Brett Gardner and Alfonso Soriano remained under contract. Regardless of the depth, Cashman and company brought in the aging Carlos Beltran and the oft-injured Jacoby Ellsbury. The Beltran contract shows promise because it is not excessively straining financially and he should be able to give New York some production. Ellsbury, on the other hand, was overpaid for two great years and numerous mediocre, injury-shortened seasons. The former Red Sox will match nicely playing with another speedster, Gardner, in the outfield. To make room, Wells was dropped.
Robinson Cano has been the best second baseman in the majors for the past 10 years. Wisely, the Yankees decided not to counter the Mariners’ 10-year, $240 million offer. Cano may be one of the best players in the game, but for that price, his value is replaceable over a decade span.
The saga of Alex Rodriguez culminated (at least for now) in a season-long suspension which he will not appeal. A-Rod, who saw limited action due to injuries last year, may be a distraction and a nuisance for the other players, but he can still hit better than most players.
To fill the void of the absent Rodriguez and departed Cano, the Yankees made moves to obtain Kelly Johnson and Brian Roberts. Fans are unsure of the output they will see from these two second basemen. Obviously, Cano and A-Rod are better hitters, but the Yankees will be happy to get consistent performances from their infielders.
With A-Rod’s suspension clearing up 30 million dollars, the Yankees became forerunners in the pursuit of acquiring Japanese phenomenon Masahiro Tanaka. With extra money to spend, general management reached a deal worth $155 million over seven years for the pitcher who went 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA last season. At only 25, Tanaka is a risk worth taking, as the upside is even more apparent than it was for Hideo Nomo and other Japanese pitchers. This also gives the Yankees an extensive international fan base. Many Japanese fans will follow the Yankees to witness Tanaka, Ichiro and returning ace Hiroki Kuroda play for the same team for which Hideki Matsui once smashed home runs. The Yankees also invited Yoshinori Tateyama to spring training. If the reliever makes the club, the Yankees would be the first team to have four Japanese players on their opening day roster.
The pitching has been an area of concern, but the Yankees improved just by letting Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlain and Boone Logan walk away. Matt Thornton was a low-key signing, but the lefty reliever will make a welcomed arrival to the bullpen. With David Robertson poised to inherit the closing role, the Yankees pitching should hold hitters at bay enough to let the offense do the talking.
2014 will also be the last year to feature a player from the Yankees’ late 1990s – early 2000s dynasty. Bernie Williams, Jorge Posada and, as of this year, Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera are all retired. Now, it will be Derek Jeter’s turn for a farewell tour. Jeter was wearing pinstripes for the Bronx Bombers by the time I was born. He is the heart and soul of the team as well as the face of baseball. If he can return to his 2012 form, the Yankees will be able to remain competitive.
The 2014 team is much different than last year’s 85-win squad. The Steinbrenners were disappointed, and the offseason acquisitions reflected a sense of urgency in righting the ship before it got too far off track. New York will at least be contenders in the playoff chase and will be much more entertaining to watch.