It’s about this time every year when I start to worry about the Yankees. Over the following six weeks, that worrying turns into irrational confidence right before Opening Day and then the season begins and it’s a daily six-month grind of emotions like one long game of No-Limit ‘Hold Em that lasts from April to September and hopefully October. There’s nothing like the baseball season and that’s why it’s important to not have a lost season. Right now, I’m scared the 2015 could be one.
After two straight postseason-less years, my worrying is at an all-time high for late February because the season hinges on the previously-injured elbow of Masahiro Tanaka and the health of Michael Pineda, who has started 13 games in the last three seasons. If one of them were to miss a significant amount of time, there’s a good chance 2015 will go the way 2013 and 2014 did. If they both were to miss a significant amount of time, the season would be over. I’m not ready to believe that CC Sabathia trying to push the sun back into the sky Billy Chapel-style, the 2014 National League hits-allowed leader Nathan Eovaldi and journeyman Chris Capuano can carry the Yankees’ rotation if Tanaka and Pineda go down.
In the mid-2000s when the Yankees were a 95-win to 100-win machine despite having horrible starting rotations, they had an all-world and at times an all-time offense to carry them. They had “Murder’s Row and Cano” and too many bats for not enough positions. (In 2006, Robinson Cano hit ninth and hit .342 with 41 doubles and missed 40 games.) Putting up 900 runs in a year is enough to make up for trotting out starters like Jon Lieber, second-half Javier Vazquez, Kevin Brown, Jaret Wright and not-exactly-in-his-prime Randy Johnson for full seasons. Now that’s no longer the case. The Yankees need their rotation to carry their embarrassing offense and by “rotation” I mean Tanaka and Pineda and if they can’t then no one can.
The Yankees’ offense is in a weird place. They gave Jacoby Ellsbury $153 million to be a top-of-the-order presence in his prime and he ended up hitting third for most of the year. They signed Carlos Beltran to a three-year, $45 million deal just 10 years after they should have actually signed him after the 2004 season and he was worse than anyone could have imagined. Despite catcher being the only position of any depth in the organization, they gave Brian McCann $85 million to hit .232/.286/.406. Those three free-agent signings in addition with the end of Derek Jeter’s career, the end of Alfonso Soriano’s career, what should be the end of Mark Teixeira’s career, the last leg of Ichiro Suzuki’s career and the decision to sign Brian Roberts and Kelly Johnson and play them a lot and the 2014 Yankees scored 17 less runs (633) than the 2013 Yankees (650) and here is who played the most games at each position for the 2013 Yankees:
C – Chris Stewart
1B – Lyle Overbay
2B – Robinson Cano
3B – Eduardo Nunez
SS – Jayson Nix
LF – Vernon Wells
CF – Brett Gardner
RF – Ichiro Suzuki
DH – Travis Hafner
I only wish I knew before the 2013 season how it would shake out due to injuries because I could have saved a lot of time and money that I spent watching that team.
What the Yankees have entering the 2015 season offensively is unfortunately what they are going to have in 2016. No one is an impending free agent and no one is coming off the books after the season except for Stephen Drew, but after he hit .150/.219/.271 in 46 games for the Yankees last season after helping the Red Sox win the World Series in 2013, he doesn’t count to me. The question marks I have today I will likely have on Feb. 19, 2016. The only real difference would be if Drew is so bad (very likely) that the Yankees cut him loose the way they did Roberts last year (let’s hope it’s sooner than four months into the season) and call up Rob Refsnyder as their second baseman of the future. Or they sign Yoan Moncada this week.
I used to wonder what it would be like if the Steinbrenners sold the Yankees. What if the new ownership group didn’t run the team with the same win-at-all-costs mentality and the same drive to win the World Series and spend more money than every other team to get the best possible players and put the team in the best position to contend every single year? And while the Steinbrenners still own the team, Hal’s approach to operating the team has been much different than his father’s. And that doesn’t mean “If George were alive then (insert something good would have happened)”, it just means I miss the reckless and seemingly necessary wild spending habits of George.
Entering last offseason, the Yankees preached about staying under the luxury tax threshold. The number “$189 million” became a household figure in the Tri-state area and that phrase “luxury tax threshold” became a staple of every baseball conversation. The Yankees maintained that no matter what they would be responsible and not go over that number. But then they missed the playoffs for the first time since 2008 and second time since 1993, and the Red Sox won the World Series while Yankees fans sat on their thumbs at home in October watching the Red Sox win for the third time in 10 seasons. Couple a missed postseason with having your direct rival win the World Series and the magic number of “$189 million” was forgotten about like Joe Torre at the final game of the original Yankee Stadium.
But because the Yankees spent $438 million on four players last season and one of them was great before getting hurt (Tanaka), one of them was so-so (Ellsbury), one of them was a little less than so-so (McCann) and one of them was horrible (Beltran), the Yankees went back in their shell and decided to stand their ground again this offseason.
In December 2002, the Yankees signed Hideki Matsui to a three-year, $21 million deal (in 2015, he probably would have gotten $200 million). Five days later, they signed Jose Contreras to a four-year, $32 million deal and they still went on to re-sign Roger Clemens as well. In December 2008, the Yankees signed CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett and Mark Teixeira in what felt like 15 minutes. In December 2014, the Yankees signed Chase Headley, Andrew Miller and traded for Didi Gregorius, while Jon Lester, Max Scherzer and James Shields all went somewhere else with the Yankees never having been really involved at all in any of three, and that’s because the Yankees are being financially responsible again. And they’re being financially responsible again because even though they missed the playoffs, so did the Red Sox and also because the other team in New York still sucks. Attendance might be a problem, but they have that taken care of that problem by deciding to retire numbers 20, 46 and 51 all in the same season, the same way they decided to have Derek Jeter Day on the first Sunday of September because barely hanging in the postseason race was going to mean an empty Stadium for a Sunday September game during Week 1 of the NFL season.
According to Baseball America, the Yankees are already over their $2.19 million international bonus pool and will prohibited from signing pool-elgiible international players for more than $300,000 for the next two years. If they can’t go out and get international players for the next two years anyway, they might as well go get the best one they can right now.
The Yankees need Yoan Moncada. They need a power move to show that they are still the Yankees and that the Dodgers aren’t the Yankees. They need a player of his potential and caliber to pan out and be the next great Yankee and the face of the franchise. They need a future at shortshop in case Didi Gregorius never develops with the bat or at third base for when Chase Headley declines or at second base where they let their last franchise superstar second baseman leave for more money.
It might cost the Yankees at least $60 million to sign a 19-year-old, who may or may not become the next Yasiel Puig, but they have spent a lot more money on a lot of other free agents who didn’t work out and none of them had the scouting reports, age, ability and potential of Moncada.
All it will cost to get him is money. I miss the days when that never mattered.