The 2015 Yankees Order of Importance

Masahiro Tanaka

I thought that writing an Order of Importance for the Yankees meant that they would make the playoffs. I did it in 2011 (lost in the ALDS) and 2012 (lost in the ALCS) and then didn’t in 2013 and figured that was the reason the Yankees didn’t make 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. So last year, I wrote an Order of Importance again, and well, my theory was proved wrong.

If you want to know how much the 2014 season sucked, look no further than the Order of Importance from last year. I ranked the 14 most important Yankees with CC Sabathia at No. 1 again, Mark Teixeiera at No. 2 and Brian McCann at No. 3. Sabathia made eight starts, Teixeira hit .216 and started making up injuries and McCann was a free-agent bust for nearly the entire season until he found a way to get his numbers up to his career usuals at the end of the year.

Last year, I said, “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.” Once again it has changed drastically and fortunately this year you won’t find Kelly Johnson on the list.

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 30, Nathan Eovaldi, Number 30
The Yankees’ No. 4 starter is the reigning hits allowed leader from the National League. How that is possible when you throw as hard as Eovaldi hurts my head to even think about, but he is only 25 years old and there is promise that he will become the strikeout pitcher he should be.

This is Nathan Eovaldi’s line from this spring: 13.2 IP, 10 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 14 K, 0.66 ERA, 0.732 WHIP. Eovaldi isn’t going to keep those kind of numbers up since that would translate to the best starting pitching performance in the history of baseball and the best season of any athlete in any sport in the history of sports. Wayne Gretzky’s 92-120-212 season from 1981-82 wouldn’t even be in the same stratosphere. Since Eovaldi isn’t going to go the entire season without walking a batter, it’s time to think more realistically.

Those 14 strikeouts in 13 2/3 innings this spring is what everyone should be looking for from Eovaldi. He has never come close to striking out one hitter per inning in his five seasons in the league and as a hard-throwing starter, it’s a little odd. One Mets fan told me he’s going to be the Yankees’ Mike Pelfrey as someone who throws mid-to-high-90s and doesn’t strike anyone out. But after trading Martin Prado, who was looking to be a vital piece to the 2015 Yankees and David Phelps, who the organization has loved, for Eovaldi, let’s hope they’re right that time with Larry Rothschild can get the most out of his untapped potential.

Number 12, Chase Headley, Number 12
Chase Headley is a lucky guy. The Yankees were originally linked to him back in 2012 when he hit .286/.376/.498 with 31 home runs and 115 RBIs for the Padres, but the Yankees didn’t trade for him. He returned to his normal production the last two years and hit just 26 home runs combined in 2013 and 2014. So how exactly is he lucky? Well, if the Yankees had moved major pieces to acquire him for 2013, Headley wouldn’t have many fans left in New York with the immediate loss of his one-year power. Instead, he was traded to the Yankees for only Yangervis Solarte and Rafael De Paula, hit a walk-off single in his first game as a Yankee and proved he’s a good defensive third baseman, who knows how to get on base.

Not only that, but Headley happened to be an impending free agent in the same season that Alex Rodriguez was suspended a full season for PEDs and the Yankees had to go after Headley in the offseason and he got himself a four-year, $52 million deal. Timing is everything and for Headley, his timing has been perfect. Now all he needs to do is play the way he did for the Yankees in 58 games last year for a full season this year.

Number 18, Didi Gregorius, Number 18
Everyone talked about David Robertson having to fill Mariano Rivera’s shoes, well Didi Gregorius has to fill the shoes of Derek Jeter, which is a much taller order than that of a reliever. Hopefully everyone has accepted that Gregorius isn’t Jeter and will never be Jeter and there will never be another Jeter and that will make his transition from the Diamondbacks to the Yankees a little easier.

I have seen Gregorius play minimally during his 191 career games in the majors, but if his glove is as good as touted and his offense can mirror his 2013 season (.252/.332/.373) or if his offense starts to show signs of what he did in 260 Triple-A plate appearances last season (.310/.389/.447) then I have no problem with Didi being the future. Even without knowing what he is yet or what he will become, he’s a better option than watching Stephen Drew or Brendan Ryan become the First Shortstop Since Fourth Grade since we already know what they are.

Number 13, Alex Rodriguez, Number 13
After the initial nonsense of A-Rod’s every move, swing and spit was reported on by the Yankees beat reporters this spring, A-Rod sort of flew under the radar the last few weeks, and that’s why I didn’t put him farther up on the list. I want A-Rod to fly under the radar. I want him to just go about his business and play baseball and not get caught up in the off-the-field nonsense and focus on hitting A-Bombs.

So far he has succeeded at every obstacle since being reinstated whether it be producing on the field, handling the media, dealing with the front office and interacting with the fans. The last step is being productive once the games count and I’m not worried at all about A-Rod this season.

Number 11, Brett Gardner, Number 11
Last year, thanks to a barrage of four home runs in three games in Texas from July 28-30, Gardner thought he was going to be the power hitter the Yankees were lacking. But instead of thinking he had a few good swings against bad Rangers pitching in the late-July Texas heat, Gardner seemed to change his approach at the plate to that of a power hitter.

On Aug. 1, Gardner was hitting .283/.356/.460. The average and on-base were right where you like them for Gardner, and while the slugging was impressive, it’s certainly not needed for Gardner. He finished the season hitting .256/.327/.422 as he completely fell apart over the last two months of the season.

Gardner needs to get back to doing anything he can to get on base and use his speed on the bases. I’m not stupid enough to think he might be return to being the prolific base stealer he was in 2010 and 2011 and not the timid runner who can’t read a pickoff move he was in 2013 and 2014, but I expect him to get back over 30 stolen bases and be dangerous when he reaches first.

(Editor’s Note: These next three Yankees are all equally ranked and that’s because at least two of the three need to bounce back and have productive seasons.)

Number 25, Mark Teixeira, Number 25
As the Editor’s Note said, Teixeira is equal to Beltran and McCann, but I’m going to list Teixeira first, so he is farther away from the top of the list and being the most important.

I have no expectations for Mark Teixeira. He hit .216 last year and missed time with the following injuries: hamstring, wrist, rib cage, knee, lat, tired legs, light-headness and pinky. This spring he was hit by a pitch and I figured it would land him on the 15-day disabled list to start the season.

Here are the Official Gluten-Free Mark Teixeira First Injury of 2015 Odds:

Wrist -350
Hamstring -220
Knee -180
Lat -120
Oblique +225
Tired Legs +400
Other +500

Number 36, Carlos Beltran, Number 36
Carlos Beltran is one year removed from hitting 24 home runs and two years removed from hitting 32. The last time he didn’t hit at least 22 home runs in a full season was when he hit 16 in his first season with the Mets (2005), which could have been him trying to live up to and prove his his $119 million contract since he hit 41 the following year. So there is reason to believe he will bounce back this year, except for the whole part about him turning 38 on April 24 and having had elbow surgery in the offseason. But let’s forget about that for now.

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 34, Brian McCann, Number 34
Because the Yankees’ 2013 Opening Day catcher was Francisco Cervelli, I wrote this about McCann in last year’s Order of Importance:

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.

I’m not exactly the biggest McCann fan in the world anymore after he struggled for most of 2014 and finished with a .286 on-base percentage.

The Yankees need either Teixeira and Beltran (not likely) or Teixeira and McCann (more likely) or Beltran and McCann (most likely) to stay healthy and put up true middle-of-the-order numbers this season. If two of those three don’t hit, then the embarrassing offensive seasons from the 2013 and 2014 Yankees might be forgotten with what we could be in for this season.

Number 52, CC Sabathia, Number 52
Sabathia had been No. 1 on this list for every year I had done this, but he’s lost the title. He made only eight starts last year and only two of the eight were good. Sabathia underwent knee surgery that at times was reported to possibly be the end of his career, but he’s back and he’s making $23 million this year whether he pitches like he did from 2009-2012 or how he did in 2013 and 2014.

Sabathia’s importance will drastically change if the starters in front of him can’t stay healthy and the Yankees need him to become the ace he once was again. Unfortunately, if the Yankees need to rely on Sabathia to carry them through the season, the season is over.

Number 48, Andrew Miller, Number 48
It’s scary that Miller is going to wear Number 48, since that will give me nightmares since Boone Logan, Phil Coke, Wayne Franklin, Kyle Farnsworth, Paul Quantrill and Matt Thornton all wore 48. Not exactly the best number choice for your newly-acquired left-handed setup man or closer.

I’m not worried about Miller at all. Usually I worry about new Yankees, especially free-agent signings, but when it comes to Miller, he was successful in Boston and Baltimore and every interview I have watched of him makes me feel like nothing rattles him. He seems and appears calm, cool and collected and when you lose your homegrown closer for a free-agent reliever getting $36 million, well he better be those things.

Normally, you wouldn’t see a non-closer reliever this high, but the Yankees’ rotation is such a question mark that they are going to need their bullpen to shorten games as much as possible and Miller will be a big part of that.

Number 68, Dellin Betances, Number 68
Betances is likely to be the closer over Miller, even though I wish Girardi would scrap the idea of a closer and use the two in whatever situation best suits them whether that’s in the sixth inning of the ninth innings. Sometimes games need to be saved in the seventh inning and not with a two-run lead and the 7-8-9 hitters due up in the ninth inning.

The reports of Betances’ diminished velocity and the earned runs in spring training are worrisome, but then again, it’s spring training and his 2014 season should have been enough to give him the benefit of the doubt when it comes to worrying about his performance. I trust Betances and trust him to be the closer.

Number 22, Jacoby Ellsbury, Number 22
Ellsbury got a free pass for last season because he was considered the “best” hitter on a team full of bad hitters, which isn’t exactly something to be proud of. I wasn’t a fan of signing Ellsbury and certainly wasn’t a fan of using the money that should have been for Robinson Cano to sign a 30-year-old center fielder to a seven-year, $153 million contract. But unfortunately, I can’t go back in time and give Brian Cashman the wrong phone number for Ellsbury’s agent, so I’m going to have to live with it.

And since I’m going to have to live with it, Ellsbury needs to be better. Maybe having a set place in the lineup and not being asked to be the No. 3 hitter a team that has A-Rod, Teixeira and McCann will help stabilize his consistency and make him the player he was in Boston.

There are only three non-question marks or unknowns on this team and they are Ellsbury, Gardner and Headley. You pretty much know what you’re going to get from those three whereas everyone else is either a health or production concern.

Number 35, Michael Pineda, Number 35
Last year, Pineda was ranked 14th out of 14 and that was because I didn’t know how he would pitch or if he would ever pitch for the Yankees. Well, he pitched and pitched incredibly until he loaded his neck up with pine tar and ended up on the DL for most of the season.

After his 2014 comeback and his outstanding spring, I have ridiculously high expectations for Pineda. He just needs to stay healthy. That’s it. He has only pitched 76 1/3 innings in the major in the last three years and now he’s going to be asked to give the Yankees a full season of starts and somewhere around 200 innings. It’s a lot to ask of someone with the injury history he has, but the Yankees don’t have a choice. They decided to go into this season (like they did the last two seasons) needing to hit one massive parlay to reach the postseason and Pineda is the second biggest piece of that parlay.

Number 19, Masahiro Tanaka, Number 19
At the end of Good Will Hunting, Ben Affleck’s character (Chuckie Sullivan) tells Matt Damon’s character (Will Hunting), “You know what the best part of my day is? The ten seconds before I knock on the door ’cause I let myself think I might get there, and you’d be gone. I’d knock on the door and you just wouldn’t be there. You just left.”

You know what the best part of my day is? Every day when I sign online or go on Twitter or turn on the TV or the radio or check my phone and I don’t hear bad news about Masahiro Tanaka’s right arm.

Tanaka and Pineda are the 2015 Yankees. The success of this season and making sure the Yankees don’t miss the playoffs for a third straight time lies in the health of those two. If they stay healthy, the Yankees have the best 1-2 punch in the AL East. If they don’t, the Yankees don’t have a season.