When your farm system is in complete and total disarray and your team has just missed the playoffs for only the second time since 1995 there is only way to attempt to become relevant again. You spend a lot of money and sign a lot of players.
With pitchers and catchers reporting this Friday it appears that GM Brian Cashman is finished making major moves to the roster. I'm going to examine the seven off-season acquisitions to the New York Yankees roster and predict the impact that they will have this season, good or bad.
Matt Thornton- The Boone Logan era is over with and the Matt Thornton era will begin in the Bronx this season. Signed to replace Logan is the late-inning lefty from the pen, Thornton will be kept very busy by manager Joe Girardi and his infamous binder. Perhaps no manager in MLB is obsessed with match-ups as Girardi is and Thornton can count on very little boredom in his life this season.
Thornton is 37 years old and will be 38 years old before the season ends. Although Thornton has been durable and sound, it is very realistic to question if he can handle a heavy workload as he ages.
Thornton is almost as effective vs right-handed batters as he is left-handed batters and that is a big positive in evaluating his possible impact on the Yankee bullpen. Thornton has held lefties to a .233 BA and a .297 OBP in his career while allowing a .241 BA and .324 OBP.
Prediction- Thornton had his highest ERA last season since 2007 and more alarmingly, struck out only 30 batters in 43.1 innings last season. He looks like a player who is trending downward and is likely to be used harder by Girardi than he has in recent years.
I do not like this acquisition at all and think it is just another example of poor vision and an awful farm system burning Cashman and forcing him to sign one of the few lefty pen options that were available.
I wouldn't be surprised if the name Thornton was being spoken in contemptuous tones by Yankee fans by the summer.
Kelly Johnson- Making his third stop on three different AL East teams in three years is this journeyman infielder. Johnson has a little pop in his bat but has had a serious decline in BA in the last three seasons hitting only .222, .225, and .235 from 2011-2013.
Johnson isn't a particularly skilled infielder nor is he a natural third baseman, where is being projected to start for the Yankees. Johnson has only started TWELVE GAMES in his career at third base.
Prediction- The thought of Johnson starting for the Yankees at such an important position should terrify Yankee fans. Johnson's poor offense is reason enough to find his projected starting role at third base troubling, but when his defense and lack of experience at the hot corner are added into the equation it becomes a potential nightmare.
If Yankee fans aren't already rooting for Eduardo Nunez to supplant Johnson as the starter at third base, I suspect that they will be before the season is very old.
Brian Roberts- After signing a 4 year/40 million dollar extension with the Orioles in 2010, Roberts managed to injure just about every part of the human body possible and played in only 192 games in 2010-2013.
We know what kind of player Roberts was before 2010. He was one of the best lead off hitters in the game and possessed an above average glove.
It isn't very hard to sum up the Roberts signing. If Roberts can maintain some degree of health he will at the very least provide the Yankees with some power and an average glove at 2nd base. If Roberts doesn't stay healthy then the Yankees have wasted two million dollars.
Prediction- I believe the Roberts signing will turn out to be a good signing for the Yankees, perhaps even a great signing. I think Roberts could have a stint with the Yankees that could be comparable to the one that Eric Chavez had, perhaps even better. Like Chavez before he came to the Bronx, Roberts works very hard and has been honest about his pride being hurt by the circumstances of the last few years. The major hindrance to Roberts was the post-concussion syndrome that is now behind him. His recent injuries were a bit fluky and minor in nature. The Yankee culture and atmosphere bring out the best in many veterans considered over the hill and I believe Roberts will be one of the these players. I think Roberts will have a very positive impact on the Yankees this season.
Carlos Beltran- One of the greatest postseason hitters of all-time, Beltran was signed to a three year/45 million dollar contract that many believe was one year too many. I certainly agree that giving Beltran an extra year at age 39 was as asinine as it was indicative of just how badly Brian Cashman has destroyed the Yankees' farm system.
Beltran is a switch-hitter who has slightly better numbers from the right side of the plate but who is very proficient from both sides.
Beltran had a rebound year in 2013 for his batting average but his OPS and slugging percentage were almost the same as his 2012 numbers in those areas. He was basically the same player in 2013 that he was in 2012 with a higher BABIP. A repeat of his offensive performances from any of the last three seasons will be enough to make Yankee fans happy in 2014.
Prediction- I think Beltran could regress a bit off of his recent seasons but should give the Yankees a solid, but not great season in 2014. Beltran turns 37 in April and with another World Series ring and another 45 million dollars on what should be his last major contract, I fear Beltran could lack fire. Another concern is that Beltran hasn't faced American League pitching regularly since the summer of 2004 when he was traded by the Royals to the Astros.
Brian McCann- Stability has returned behind home plate in Yankee Stadium with the signing of Brian McCann, an all-star in seven of his eight seasons as Atlanta's full-time catcher. McCann has lifetime splits of .277/.350/.823 for BA/OBP/OPS. McCann returned from torn labrum surgery last year in May to post a very solid season. Although McCann throws out slightly fewer runners on a percentage basis than the league average, his defense is considered slightly above average. McCann is a lefty who should show more power in Yankee Stadium.
Prediction- McCann should have a good offensive season in 2014 but his greatest value to the Yankees may come from an intangible that McCann possesses in his ability to call a game. It's no coincidence that McCann leaves Atlanta with the best young top to bottom group of starters and relievers in MLB. McCann's handling of Minor, Teheran, Medlan, Venters, Avilan, and Kimbrel certainly helped those young pitchers achieve the maturity that they have displayed which is far beyond their years.
This is a crucial time to have a catcher that a pitching staff can trust to crouch behind the plate at Yankee Stadium. David Robertson would ideally have another year setting up before taking over the closers' role. C.C. Sabathia is badly in need of confidence and perhaps some different tactics after his worst season in pinstripes. Ivan Nova finished 2013 in ferocious fashion and needs to continue to take advantage of his great stuff without a regression. Masahiro Tanaka will be making the transition to the USA and MLB under a huge spotlight.
McCann is exactly what the doctor ordered to restore stability behind the plate and restore or maintain confidence in some pitchers who definitely could use it.
I think McCann will have a very good 2014 season for the Yankees that may not always be apparent in the box score.
Masahiro Tanaka- Perhaps the most heralded Japanese pitcher to come to America, Tanaka's 2013 W-L record of 24-0 and ERA of 1.27 topped both leagues in Japan. Tanaka is twenty-five years old but pitched 1315 innings in his last seven seasons in Japan. Tanaka's fastball is usually in the low 90's and he also throws a splitter and slider as primary pitches. Tanaka will also toss in occasional change ups.
Prediction- While the Yankees' GM Brian Cashman recently stated that he expected Tanaka to be a number three starter, that was almost certainly posturing to attempt to take pressure off of Tanaka. While some Japanese pitchers have struggled to adjust to the American culture, Tanaka has been looking forward to it for a long time. Tanaka isn't your typical “don't draw attention to yourself” Japanese player. His wife is a Japanese entertainment idol and he has already stated rather brazenly that he is coming to New York to win championships.
Tanaka's style and confidence are exactly what are needed to to make a successful transition to MLB and to a place like New York. Tanaka seems to be cut from a different cloth than previous Japanese pitchers who came to America and his cavalier attitude should serve him very well. While it's impossible to predict exactly how Tanaka's stuff will translate to MLB, going 24-0 at any level of organized baseball with a 1.27 ERA is an amazing feat that only a pitcher of incredible ability could accomplish.
I think Tanaka has a very big year for the Yankees in 2014. I expect a huge first half of the season from Tanaka while facing hitters who haven't seen him yet. I predict Tanaka makes the All-Star team this season.
Jacoby Ellsbury- While watching Jacoby Ellsbury's incredible 2011 season I remember hoping that the Red Sox would allow him to get to free agency so the Yankees could sign him. I was given a million reasons why neither would happen, and right up to the day the Yankees signed him didn't expect it to happen. In signing Ellsbury, I believe the Yankees have signed the best CF not named Trout or McCutchen.
Ellsbury has been labeled injury-prone quite irresponsibly by those who don't distinguish between freak occurrences of injury and players who get hurt performing ordinary baseball tasks.
After good and outstanding seasons in 2008 and 2009 respectively in which he stole a total of 120 bases, Ellsbury suffered broken ribs that ended his season after only 18 games when he ran into Adrian Beltre while attempting to run down a fly ball. Beltre is a tank of a man, listed at 5'11'' and 225 pounds and looking every bit of that. There aren't too many players who could run into a guy like Beltre at full speed and not suffer severe injuries.
Ellsbury returned from those injuries to post an incredible 2011 season in which he was runner-up for the AL MVP to Justin Verlander. Ellsbury deserved the MVP that season and was probably penalized due to the historical September collapse of the Red Sox.
In 2011 Ellsbury hit .321 while posting a .376 OBP and a .928 OPS while hitting 32 home runs and adding a Gold Glove to his resume.
In 2012 Ellsbury was injured again while sliding into second base attempting to break up a double play when Tampa Bay SS Reid Brignac landed with full force on the shoulder of Ellsbury. Brignac is 6'3” and 195 pounds and there aren't a lot of players who are going to get up from an incident like that without a broken shoulder.
In his four seasons without these two fluke collisions, Ellsbury played 590 games for an average of 147.5 games per season.
In 2013 Ellsbury put up splits of .298/.355/.781 and stole an incredible 52 bases in 56 attempts.
Its important to note that Ellsbury put up his numbers in Fenway, a park that is far more kind to right-handed batters than it is to lefties.
Ellsbury should have more power in Yankee Stadium with the short porch in right field and add a stolen base threat that the Yankees needed badly.
Ellsbury and Gardner will also team to make the term “in the gap” obsolete and put a lot of smiles on the faces of Yankee pitchers.
Prediction- Of the “big four” acquisitions of the off-season, Ellsbury will have the greatest impact and become a fan favorite immediately. He should torture opposing teams on the base paths, hit for power numbers close to his 2011 season, and be the best player on the 2014 Yankees. As good as he is, Ellsbury is underrated player who may play with a bit of a chip on his shoulder and provide the Yankees with a great return on their investment.