The 2014 Yankees’ Order of Importance

In 2011, I wrote my first Order of Importance for the Yankees. In 2012, I wrote an updated version of the  Order of Importance. In 2013, I didn’t write an Order of Importance. What’s wrong with this picture? The Yankees won the AL East both times I wrote an Order of Importance and didn’t make the playoffs the other time. That’s right, I’m the reason for the Yankees missing out on the playoffs and not the devastating injuries to Derek Jeter, Mark Teixeira, Curtis Granderson, Alex Rodriguez, Kevin Youkilis, Travis Hafner, Francisco Cervelli, or the incompetence of CC Sabathia and Phil Hughes. I take full responsibility for the Yankees’ 85-77 finish and missing out on the playoffs for the second time since 1993. But don’t worry, the Order of Importance is back for 2014, so there’s no need for you to worry this year, the Yankees are going to win the division and go back to the playoffs. You’re welcome.

In 2012, I ranked the 15 most important Yankees. CC Sabathia was No. 1 and Freddy Garcia was No. 14. Yes, Garcia was important once upon a time and more important than 11 other Yankees. Back in 2011, I ranked the 14 most important Yankees. That year, I also had CC Sabathia at No. 1, but guess who was No. 2? Phil Hughes. (To my credit, Hughes was coming off an 18-win season in his first full season as a starter.) Things change as does the Order of Importance for the Yankees and it’s never changed as much as it has from 2013 to 2014 with so much turnover on the roster.

This time I have ranked the 14 most important Yankees once again from least important to most important based on the criteria of what it would mean to the team if they missed significant time or performed so badly in 2014 that it was like they were missing time.

Number 35, Michael Pineda, Number 35
After two years of an injured Pineda (thanks to all the beat writers who felt the necessity to document the velocity of every Michael Pineda fastball during 2012 spring training, which forced the then-23-year-old newcomer to try to prove his worth by overextending himself after getting a late start to his offseason regimen because of the trade), I thought Pineda might never pitch for the Yankees. But after two years of dreaming what a rotation with Pineda at the front of it would look like, my dream has nearly been realized with Pineda in the rotation, just at the back of the rotation. Signing McCann, Ellsbury and Beltran was nice and giving $155 million to an unproven pitcher was needed, but the most significant move of the Yankees’ offseason might end up being Pineda getting healthy. Because if 2014 Michael Pineda is anything like 2011 Michael Pineda, the Yankees have a No. 1-2-type starter pitching in their No. 5 spot.

Number 11, Brett Gardner, Number 11
Back in the 2012 Order, I wrote this about Gardner:

A lot of people thought Brett Gardner could be the Yankees’ Jacoby Ellsbury or better. And if I remember correctly, two years ago Peter Gammons admitted that Gardner had passed Ellsbury. Well I think that race is over now.

And I also wrote this about him in that same Order:

Gardner doesn’t need to be Ellsbury for the Yankees with this lineup. He doesn’t even need to a spark plug for the offense or play a significant role. He just needs to play great defense and find ways to get on base and use his speed to change the game. If he can develop to be an even base stealer, that will be enough of an offensive contribution.

The same still holds true for Gardner two years later.

Number 18, Hiroki Kuroda, Number 18
After eight shutout innings against the Angels on Aug. 12 last year, Kuroda was 11-7 with a 2.33 ERA. Kuroda finished the season 11-13 with a 3.31. How did he go winless over the last six-plus weeks of the season and raise his ERA by a full run? Here is the line for his last eight starts of 2013, in which he went 0-6: 46.2 IP, 62 H, 38 R, 34 ER, 14 BB, 40 K, 6.56 ERA, 1.628 WHIP.

Kuroda has come a long way from the “Coin Flip” nickname I gave him at the beginning of the 2012 season when you didn’t know which Kuroda you would get every five days and he looked like another NL pitcher who couldn’t cut it in the AL. His 27-24 record isn’t indicative of how good he has been for the Yankees in two seasons (his 3.31 ERA over two years is) as he was given Matt Harvey-esque run support last year.

Number 12, Alfonso Soriano, Number 12
I was devastated when Soriano was traded to the Rangers back in February 2004 even if the return was Alex Rodriguez, and if we could have seen into the future of the next nine-plus seasons with A-Rod and without Soriano, I’m sure he never would have been traded a decade ago.

Soriano was the MVP of the 2013 Yankees and kept them in the postseason race and kept them from being mathematically eliminated well before Game 158, which is when they finally were. Thanks to outfield depth, he’ll spend most of the season just swinging a bat, which is a good thing, and while it’s Derek Jeter’s Farewell Tour, it’s also likely Soriano’s too (at least as a Yankee). And I’m going to make sure I soak it all in for the man who made the build-up and anticipation for a potential leadoff home run so fun growing up.

Number 33, Kelly Johnson, Number 33
I trust the stability and health of the Yankees’ infield about as much as I trusted Phil Hughes to put away a hitter with two strikes on him. Jeter will be 40 in June and is coming off a season in which he played 17 games after undergoing ankle surgery. Teixeira will be 34 in April and is coming off a season in which he played 15 games and underwent wrist surgery. Roberts is coming off a season in which he played 77 games, after playing 115 games in the three previous seasons (2010-2012) after undergoing various injuries. Johnson is going to be the starting third baseman and is pretty much the only option as a backup first baseman if Teixeira goes down. And if you remember Teixeira’s preseason forwarding about injuries last year, don’t count it out. (Will someone start teaching Ichiro how to play first?) As of now, Johnson just has to play a solid third base and anything offensively will be viewed as a bonus, but there’s a very real chance he could be more important to the Yankees than he ever  should be or you would ever want him to be.

Number 36, Carlos Beltran, Number 36
Beltran should have been a Yankee nine years ago when he would have been 27 on Opening Day. This would have been the Yankees lineup on that Opening Day (which was really an Opening Night with Randy Johnson against David Wells and the Red Sox on Sunday Night Baseball):

1. Derek Jeter, SS
2. Alex Rodriguez, 3B (I hit A-Rod second in this lineup because Joe Torre had him hit second in the actual lineup in the game.)
3. Carlos Beltran, CF
4. Gary Sheffield, RF
5. Hideki Matsui, LF
6. Jorge Posada, C
7. Jason Giambi, 1B (Yes, Giambi hit seventh in the actual lineup, but that’s because he was pretty worthless at this point before he magically had a resurgence in the middle of the season.)
8. Bernie Williams, DH
9. Tony Womack, 2B (Ah, Tony Womack. Thankfully Robinson Cano became a Yankee one month later.)

Can we get a redo and sign Beltran instead of trading for Johnson and signing Carl Pavano and Jaret Wright? And if we can do a redo, can we go back to 2004 first and sign Vladimir Guerrero instead of Gary Sheffield?

Number 47, Ivan Nova, Number 47
I have gone through Ivan Nova’s game logs for each of his seasons more than any person should ever go through anyone’s game logs in search of an answer for why he is either an ace in the making or the next Phil Hughes in the making. I still don’t have an answer why a 27-year-old with 7.8 K/9 and 2.9 BB/9 over the last two years can fall into extended funks that have me longing for the Sidney Ponson-Darrell Rasner days. But I will keep searching.

Number 22, Jacoby Ellsbury, Number 22
I wasn’t a fan of the Jacoby Ellsbury signing because I’m not a Jacoby Ellsbury fan. I made that clear when I defended Robinson Cano’s decision to sign with the Mariners after he was mistreated by the Yankees. Ellsbury would be more important than seventh on this list (I actually had him at No. 2 before I really sorted things out), but because of the depth of the outfield and the Yankees’ ability to put Soriano or Ichiro in the field, he isn’t.

Number 2, Derek Jeter, Number 2
I’m still waiting for Derek Jeter’s “Just kidding” press conference. It’s coming. Just wait. We still have six months for him to hold it, so I will hold out hope like Helen Hunt waiting for Tom Hanks’ return in Castaway. But until then, the Yankees need 2012 Derek Jeter and not 2013 Derek Jeter or I’m going to need to find something else to do this spring and summer since Eduardo Nunez and Brendan Ryan aren’t going to cut it in an infield that’s like a ticking timebomb. Let’s make sure this farewell tour goes better than Number 42’s did.

Number 19, Masahiro Tanaka, Number 19
There’s a chance Tanaka could be in the Top 3 of the 2015 Order, but for now, considering no one knows how his stuff will translate to Major League Baseball, he will have to settle for being No. 5, which is still impressive since there’s a chance his signing and contract could be a disaster.

I thought it was strange that the Yankees would slot him in the fourth spot to start the season unless they wanted to alleviate some of the pressure he is going to face every single start this season. But Erik Boland of Newsday told me on the podcast that he thinks it has to do with splitting him up from Kuroda, who has a similar delivery, which could give the Yankees an edge. I’m buying the theory, but Tanaka is going to have to pitch more like a No. 1-2 than a No. 3-4 this year.

Number 30, David Robertson, Number 30
There are some shoes you just don’t want to fill and Mariano Rivera’s are the biggest. I’m not sure how anyone handles stepping in for the best closer in the history of baseball a season after the Yankees missed the playoffs for just the second time in 20 years and watched their rival win the World Series for the third time in 10 years. Robertson is going to blow a save at some point and he’s going to blow more than one. And each time he blows one, the back pages of the Daily News and Post (we are getting closer to when we won’t measure the importance of events on if they appear on the back pages of these two papers) and the WFAN phone lines will be sure to let Robertson know he isn’t Rivera and that there will never be a Rivera. So let’s get that out of the way now.

David Roberston is not Mariano Rivera. He will never be Mariano Rivera. There will never be another Mariano Rivera.

Now that we have gotten that out of the way, the only thing I can ask of Robertson other than to avoid blowing his first save opportunity of the season and to avoid becoming the Yankees’ version of Jose Valverde (in both histrionics and blown saves) is to have a short memory and provide stability to a role that will be scrutinized more than anyone is or can be prepared for.

Number 34, Brian McCann, Number 34
Last year, the Yankees’ Opening Day catcher was Francisco Cervelli. To put it into perspective just how bad it was for the New York Yankees to have Francisco Cervelli as their Opening Day catcher not because of injury or unfortunate circumstances, but because they willingly went into the season with him in this role, here is what I wrote about Cervelli on June 21, 2011:

When I think of Cervelli I think of the scene in The Mighty Ducks where Coach Gordon Bombay finds Fulton Reed in an alleyway ripping slap shots with empty soda cans into a trashcan. The following conversation transpires…

Bombay: Why don’t you play for us?

Reed: I can’t.

Bombay: What do you mean?

Reed: I mean, I can’t.

Bombay: You afraid?

Reed: No, I mean I can’t, you moron. I don’t know how to skate.

Bombay: Whoa! Is that all that’s stoppin’ ya?

So it got me thinking about a possible similar conversation that happened between Brian Cashman and Francisco Cervelli that led to Cervelli being a Yankee…

Cashman: Why don’t you play for us?

Cervelli: I can’t.

Cashman: What do you mean?

Cervelli: I mean I can’t.

Cashman: You afraid?

Cervelli: No, I mean I can’t, you moron. I can’t hit for power. I can’t hit for average. I’m not fast. I can’t field my position. I can’t make throws to second base. I can’t sacrifice bunt.

Cashman: Whoa! Is that all that’s stoppin’ ya?

I might be the biggest Brian McCann fan in the world and he hasn’t played in a single game for the Yankees yet. That’s how excited I am for the Brian McCann era and the state of catching for the Yankees. And McCann’s importance in the middle of the lineup and behind the plate is tied to the fact that the person who would replace him is … Francisco Cervelli.

Number 25, Mark Teixeira, Number 25
I know what you’re thinking: Is this real life? Yes, yes it is.

Teixeira isn’t worth the $22.5 million he is going to make this year and next year and the year after that. He isn’t going to be the .292/.383/.565 hitter he was in 2009 when he finished second in the AL MVP voting. He isn’t going to play in 156 or 158 games the way he did from 2009-2011. The Yankees don’t need Teixeira to be an AL MVP candidate as much as they need their rotation to work out, but they need him to stay healthy, they need him to play and they need him to produce power numbers as his transformation into 2003-2008 Jason Giambi becomes complete. Teixeira is going to have to hit the ball the other way, avoid popping up to short every other at-bat and maybe even lay down a few bunts and do things he hasn’t wanted or liked to do since he saw the “314 FT” writing on the wall down the right-field line five years ago. This isn’t because the Yankees don’t have any other trustworthy offensive options because they have plenty in Beltran, Soriano, Ellsbury and McCann. It’s because they don’t have anyone who can do what Teixeira can do when he’s healthy at first base. They don’t even have a backup first baseman. So yes, Mark Teixeira is way more important to the 2014 Yankees than anyone should want him to be.

Number 52, CC Sabathia, Number 52
He’s still No. 1 on the list and has been since he got here in 2009. The only way it will change is if Sabathia really hasn’t figured out how to pitch with less velocity like his former teammate Andy Pettitte and his so-called best friend Cliff Lee (who he couldn’t convince to come here after the 2010 seas0n). If Sabathia tries to pitch with a power-pitcher mentality and tries to pitch the way he did pre-2013 then he won’t be No. 1 on this list a year from now. If he isn’t No. 1 on this list a year from now then the 2014 season will end the same way the 2013 season did.