The Season of Optimism for the Yankees

Alex Rodriguez

I’m officially declaring the 2015 Yankees season as the Season of Optimism. Right now there are so many question marks and unknowns surrounding this team at every position other than left field (Brett Gardner), center field (Jacoby Ellsbury) and third base (Chase Headley).

Every starter in the rotation is either a health or performance concern. First base, second base, shortstop, right field and designated hitter are the same. The bullpen is the one clear strength that no one should worry about, but even there, a closer hasn’t been named and aside from Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller, none of the other hard-throwing relievers have pitched for the Yankees before. Knowing all of that, the only thing to be about this team is optimistic because if you’re not then you might in for a long season. How long this optimism will last? Well, I guess that depends on the health of Masahiro Tanaka’s right elbow and Michael Pineda’s right shoulder.

This optimism has led me to create some over/unders for the 2015 Yankees and for most of the numbers I created, my picks for each are about being as positive as possible.

CC Sabathia – 4.50 ERA
Did I set the ERA for a pitcher making $23 million this season (and $25 million in 2016 and possibly 2017) at the equivalent of a quality start? Yes. Yes, I did. That’s a big drop off from the pitcher who averaged 18 wins and a 3.22 ERA per season in his first four years with the Yankees (2009-2012).

Just being healthy isn’t going to cut it for Sabathia. He needs to be healthy and good. Not great like he once was, just good and that means better than he was in 2013 and 2014. His numbers this spring have been bad and the three home runs allowed in 4 2/3 innings is reminiscent of what made him bad in 2013 and 2014. With this offense, he’s not going to rack up the wins despite pitching poorly like Randy Johnson did in 2006 when he won 17 games with a 5.00 ERA. Sabathia is going to need to find a way to get outs without overpowering hitters the way his former teammate Andy Pettitte and supposed best friend Cliff Lee were able to do. (Let’s hope he talked to them.) Given the health concerns of Tanaka and Pined every pitch they throw, Sabathia is going to need to be relied on. That makes me uncomfortable, but … optimism! Under.

Mark Teixeira – .245 AVG.
Mark Teixeira hit .216 last season. .216! The year before coming to the Yankees he hit .308. In his first season with the Yankees, he hit .292. I thought it was bad when he dropped to .256 in 2010 and started transforming into Jason Giambi 2.0 with only the short porch in right on his mind and no care for ever attempting to the hit the ball the other way as a left-handed hitter. But now we’re way past being Jason Giambi 2.0 and Teixeira is looking more like Adam Dunn or Mark Reynolds with less power.

For Teixeira to hit over .245, he will have to remain healthy, not miss games with wrist or other varying injuries, be willing to hit the ball to the left side of the field when he’s hitting left-handed and not think that he can take any pitcher over the 314 FT. sign in right field. There’s a better chance that the Yankees replicate their 1998 season than there is that Teixeira does those things. Under.

Jacoby Ellsbury – 16.5 HOME RUNS
I used to talk about Brady Anderson and ask which one of these doesn’t belong: 21, 13, 12, 16, 50, 18, 18, 24, 19, 8? Those are Anderson’s home run totals for his full seasons in the majors and that 50 from 1996 looks more out of place than the Martini Bar inside Yankee Stadium.

When it comes to Ellsbury, you can ask the same question about which of these doesn’t belong: 9, 8, 32, 9 and 16? I’m not sure how Ellsbury hit .321/.376/.552 with 32 home runs and 105 RBIs to finish second in the AL MVP voting to Justin Verlander, but I really wish he would become that player again. Ellsbury got a pass last year despite having a down year because he was the “best” hitter on a team full of bad hitters. I don’t think that .271/.328/.419 is what the Yankees thought they were going to get for Ellsbury’s 30-year-old season when they gave him seven years and $153 million.

Everyone kept saying that Ellsbury’s swing combined with the short porch would mean at least 20-25 home runs playing 81 games at Yankee Stadium. I’m hoping that 2013 will be Ellsbury’s version of Carlos Beltran’s 2005 or he will become Johnny Damon’s 2006 and 2009. Over.

Brett Gardner – 30 STOLEN BASES
Brett Gardner’s baserunning career has been a disappointment. After stealing 47 and 49 bases in 2010 and 2011 respectively, he only stole 24 in 2013 and 21 in 2014. He’s supposed to be the cheaper version of Jacoby Ellsbury and not the power hitter he thinks he became thanks to three nights in Texas last July. Gardner needs to get back to being a threat on the bases and not someone who is scared of every pickoff move in the league. Over.

Alex Rodriguez – 100 GAMES PLAYED
I have big plans for A-Rod. Not the kind of plans that include the 54 home runs and 156 RBIs from 2007. But something better than 2012 when he 18 home runs and 57 RBIs (though I would sign up for that right now). In order for A-Rod to make my plans happen, he’s going to need to stay healthy and play a lot and that means more than 100 games, which he has only done once (2012) in the last four years.

But this is the Season of Optimism and that means thinking A-Rod is going to play a full season and be productive and be everything that every writer from the Daily News and Post didn’t think he would or could be. Over.

I like how Brian Cashman was so adamant this spring about how Drew is the Yankees’ starting second baseman no matter what while he said Alex Rodriguez had to earn a spot on the team. Unfortunately, for my DFA Stephen Drew, #GiveRobTheJob and #SayOkToJose campaigns, Stephen Drew has started hitting a little and is now up to .244/.306/.444 this spring.

Drew is going to be a Yankee on Opening Day. He is going to get announced in the starting lineup and jog out to the first-base line, which is something I wished I wouldn’t have to see given that he hit .150/.219/.271 for the Yankees last year.

If Drew doesn’t hit the way he hasn’t most of March and the way he didn’t in 46 games for the Yankees last year and the way he didn’t in 39 games for the Red Sox last year and the way he didn’t in the 2013 postseason, then the Yankees will release him and eat the remaining money of his $5 million. And then we will finally get to see Rob Refsnyder or Jose Pirela play second base, which is what we should have seen all along. The Yankees have been trying to patch up the holes on their sinking boat with players like Drew for the last three years, but at some point you just need a new boat. Rob Refsnyder and Jose Pirela are that new boat. Under.

Chase Headley – .350 OBP
When the Yankees traded for Chase Headley, everyone looked at that .286-31-115 season from 2012 and hoped that he would find that hitting as a Yankee. But it was the Padres’ willingness to trade an impending free agent hitting .229/.296/.355 with cash for just Yangervis Solarte and Rafael De Paula.

What stuck out the most about Headley’s time with the Yankees in 2014 was his .371 on-base percentage, which was 24 points better than his career .347 on-base percentage and close to his 2011 (.374) and 2012 (.376) seasons in San Diego. If Headley can get on base the way he did for 58 games last year, it will make up for the lack of power the Yankees have at third. (Unless their former third baseman and now DH can make up the difference.) Over.

Carlos Beltran – 20.5 HOME RUNS
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.

The Yankees signed Carlos Beltran 10 offseasons too late, he’s going to turn 38 on April 24 and after his elbow injury last season that kept him from playing the field and from hitting for power and needed surgery on in the offseason, I’m not sure that believing in Beltran is the best use of anyone’s energy. Under.

Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller – 40.5 SAVES
The Yankees still haven’t decided who their closer is and maybe that’s because Joe Girardi has decided to go with no closer and use whichever reliever a particular situation calls for? OK, so there’s no chance of that happening, but I can dream.

It would make the most sense to have Betances and Miller ready for any and all situations and not just save opportunities for one or both of them in order to shorten games for a team whose rotation is shaky past Tanaka and Pineda and is shaky even with them given their health histories.

Taking the over here means the Yankees are winning games. Sure, they’re winning close games, but they’re winning them. Over.

Nathan Eovaldi – 11.5 WINS
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. Over.

Michael Pineda – 160 INNINGS PITCHED
In the last three years, Michael Pineda has thrown 76 1/3 innings in the majors. But like the Yankees’ other front-end starter, if Pineda doesn’t stay healthy, well, there are a lot of other things to do from April to September other than watch Yankees baseball. Over.

Masahiro Tanaka – 27.5 STARTS
Masahiro Tanaka made 20 starts last season. In Japan, starting in 2013 and going back to 2007, he made 27, 22, 27, 20, 24, 24 and 28 starts (as part of a six-man rotation). So if Tanaka is going to make more than 27.5 starts this season, he’s going to do something he’s only ever done once in his life and he’s going to to do it in the season following a season in which every prominent surgeon had to examine an MRI of his right elbow. Thinking Tanaka is going to pitch the full season is a little overly optimistic, but that’s the only way to be with this team or it’s going to be a long summer. Over.