The Bombers must answer several questions in the bullpen before heading to Minute Maid Park, but the depth of talent up and down the projected Opening Day lineup could prove phenomenal, and the offensive picture should subdue fans' anxiety about those gaping pitching holes—or at least temporarily make fans forget about them.
Sufficient speed meets pop. Switch-hitters regulate a well-balanced batting order. World Series winners with a final mark to leave join those hungrier than ever for a ring before their careers prove to be transient.
For a lineup comprised largely of aging knees and previously injured ankles and wrists, the defensive outlook is certainly not picturesque—especially in right field and in the infield, where questions run rampant. But if the majority of the projected starters meet expectations, and a few of them even exceed our hopeful assumptions, the 2014 lineup represents what could be a dominant, formidable force in not only the American League East, but also in all of Major League Baseball.
And the expectations, while optimistic, are inexorably contingent upon these stars escaping long-term injury in 2014. Days off are fine, and they will likely be beneficial—so long as the number of those days isn't followed by the words "disabled list."
Take a look below at one projected 2014 lineup card. Regardless of the ultimate Opening Day order, the list of nine starters should induce some confidence and anticipation:
Read on for some quick-hitting expectations and things to watch for from each starter in 2014 based on recent trends and corresponding outlooks.
Expect something different? Sorely miss Chris Stewart's pitch-framing? Feel free to leave your comment below.
2014 Expectations: High
The Ellsbury signing definitely improved the defensive outlook of the 2014 Yankees outfield.
You should expect his impact to be prominently felt on a daily basis on both sides of the ball in his age-30 season. Suddenly, two-thirds of the Yankee Stadium outfield is filled with agile center fielders who have above-average range (Brett Gardner), and one third of the batting order just became a malleable rotation of able, experienced leadoff hitters in Ellsbury, Gardner and Derek Jeter.
Some are quick to criticize his injury-riddled past, his impending age-related decline in speed or his expected decreased range. First off, Ellsbury's injuries, which led to his only appearing in 18 games in 2010 and 74 in 2012, were a result of freak accidents. In other words, two unfortunate collisions with infielders are not indicative of chronic issues.
For any worry about his speed, note that in 2013, he led all of MLB with 52 swipes and was thrown out just four times (that's about a 93 percent success rate). And his range? His 10.0 UZR was ninth-best among MLB center fielders and his 13 DRS were sixth.
If the assumption is for Ellsbury to open the 2014 campaign batting leadoff and playing center field, the expectation should be a high level of comfort and productivity at the plate. In 2013, he started all 134 of his games as the No. 1 batter and center fielder. In 124 first-inning leadoff at-bats, he slashed a .323/.373/.500. And overall, he batted .328 against righties and .246 against lefties last year (not terrible for flexibility in the order, but maybe he bats No. 2 behind Jeter against LHP).
With league-average line-drive (LD) and fly-ball (FB) rates, we can't exactly expect him to clear the short porch once every five at-bats, so we'll save the 30 home run talk for now—especially after single-digit totals each of the past two years.
Expectations should be high for a fruitful and exciting 2014. Let's just hope we don't see a shallow pop-fly that causes him to venture from deep-right-center to behind second base, only to run head-on into a formerly concussed Brian Roberts. Health is the only question mark but should not ultimately be an issue.
2014 Expectations: Average
Will the captain see a resurgence in 2014? Maybe. Is he on his way out of the Bronx and a transcendent MLB career? Probably. Will he play over 100 games in the season during which he turns 40? Most likely, he won't.
Because this is Jeter we're talking about, the expectations can't be low. After a second spell on the DL last summer, he swung at the first pitch he was delivered in his first game back (and second of 2013). With his patented inside-out swing, he belted a homer to right-center.
Nothing is out of the question for Jeter; there just happen to be a number of questions about him.
We know he fractured his ankle in Game 1 of the 2012 ALCS, and we know he never fully made it back, appearing in only 17 games last season. He played 13 of them at shortstop, while making two errors and spending the remainder of the season pouting extensively and wearing a Yankees hoodie.
2014 will be uncharted territory in the sense that we've never seen Jeter come off a season in which he virtually didn't play.
His age may not be a factor offensively, given that in the season prior he put up excellent numbers at 38 years old, batting .316 with 58 RBI and 15 homers. But his range and defense have already been in decline for a few seasons (DRS from 2009 to 2012: 3, -9, -15, -18; UZR from 2009 to 2012: 6.3, -4.4, -6.7, -14), and you just can't ignore how his ankle health could compound his problems playing short—or simply playing everyday, for that matter.
Joe Girardi can hide him as the designated hitter for a number of games, even for the majority of them, but he still has to run the bases. Remember, he's not a power hitter who can hit 30 to 40 homers and just walk around the basepaths.
A successful season would best be found with average expectations going in: Start 100 games, play short for 50 to 60 of them and mess around with a .300 average for most of the year, and it'll be hard to complain.
2014 Expectations: High
For $45 million, the Yankees bought a phenomenal offensive weapon in Beltran, a switch-hitting veteran whose feats are commonly used to describe the hallmarks of postseason batting.
There's no denying his two bum knees; we all expect the Yanks to disguise him in the right-field corner, and he could become the No. 1 DH as soon as midseason if either Ichiro or Soriano is traded.
But he wasn't brought to the Bronx for his defense—or to jump too late and five rows short of home runs the way Nick Swisher made his money. He also likely wasn't signed for that (incredibly disgusting) third year because the Yankees want him at 39 years old, but instead only in order to snatch him off the free-agent market.
The outlook is extremely promising for the first two years given his past three, and the expectations should definitely be high for the first year in 2014.
Due to injury, Beltran did not play a full season in either 2009 (81 games) or in 2010 (64 games). But in the three seasons between 2011 and 2013, he slashed a .288/.356/.503 with 265 RBI, 78 homers, a .368 wOBA and 137 wRC+.
And unlike Ellsbury, the friendly dimensions of Yankee Stadium should absolutely benefit his power output in 2014. He is coming off a three-year period in which he had an excellent 39.4 FB rate and 14.9 home-run-to-fly-ball (HR/FB) rate. His homer outputs from 2011-13 were 22, 32 and 24, while playing many of his games in the very spacious Citi Field, AT&T Park and Busch Stadium.
Don't expect Beltran to make sparkling plays in right—or spend too much time there as the season progresses—but belting 30 homers is a reasonable expectation for 2014. The high 30 to 40 range would be exceeding them but not out of the question.
And really, he can only benefit from having Jeter and Ellsbury batting in front of him, and Teixeira protecting him from the cleanup spot.
2014 Expectations: Above-Average
Teixeira only played in 15 games last season due to a right wrist injury. Just like Jeter, it was the first (virtual) full season the Gold Glove first baseman ever sat out in his career. And just like Jeter, his first year returning from rehabbing and time away from MLB action brings with it many question marks.
Unfortunately, over his four full seasons with the Yankees (2009 to 2012), his batting average, BABIP, wOBA and wRC+ have each declined year by year. Except for 2012 (83 K), he struck out at least 110 times each season. Though his FB rate was an exceptional 44.1 percent over that span, his infield-fly-ball rate (percentage of those fly balls resulting in pop-ups) was a below-average 11.1 percent.
He did, however, compile an above-average 11.6 walk rate over that period, and twice he hit 39 homers and drove in at least 110 runs ('09 and '11).
But Teixeira's best asset is his defense, and there's no reason it should disappear this coming season if his wrist is fully healed. He's won five Gold Gloves in his career, and three of them have come in pinstripes ('09, '10, '12).
Over the aforementioned four-year span, Teixeira's DRS were third-best of MLB first basemen and his UZR was second-best. He played 4,900.4 innings at first over those four years, and of all first basemen who played a minimum of 4,000 innings in the same span, he made the second-fewest errors (12).
The combination of the switch-hitting Beltran and Teixeira back to back is pretty imposing. If they both remain healthy, the Yankees could optimistically imagine 60 combined homers from the Nos. 3 and 4 spots in the order.
You know what you're getting with Teixeira: Between solid-level (2-3) and not-quite-All-Star level (3-4) WAR at this stage of his career (age 34 in 2014), as he hasn't exceeded 4.0 WAR since '09; you get high power and low batting average; you get many home runs but also many strikeouts; and, again, you're going to get exceptional defense.
Expectations aren't high for 2014 (above-average, we'll say), because of the uncertainty with his wrist. We'll have to see how he rebounds both physically (swinging the bat and throwing) and mentally. Here's what he said to MLB.com's Bryan Hoch just before Christmas, which makes you wonder a bit about that "tightness":
I'm close to 100 percent. I feel like I'm healed. I wish I was a little bit looser; my wrist is going to be tight for a while because of the way the surgery was performed. They had to kind of tighten everything up to make it secure.
It's still a little bit tight, but that's why I'm doing rehab every day and doing exercises every day. I'll start swinging a bat in January and that will also help loosen it up.
2014 Expectations: High
Expect catching relevancy, fortitude, production and attitude for the first time since Jorge Posada.
The backstop was the weakest position for the Yankees last season. The catching defense was average (nobody cares that Chris Stewart was a good pitch-framer), and the offense was utterly nonexistent.
McCann is a Yankee for the next five years, and his first one should prove the value in adding a clubhouse-leading, power-hitting lefty to the Bronx—not to mention the worth in taking the best catcher off the market.
And how can you not be excited about McCann, in Yankee Stadium, literally blocking the plate should an opposing player disrespect America's pastime after a round-tripper. You just cannot show up McCann or his teammates, and if you are a teammate, you just can't wait to see him have your back.
He does not just fill the biggest hole; he is one of the best hitters in any team's lineup, and he is one of the best-hitting catchers in MLB. He's a seven-time All-Star, won the Silver Slugger five times—including four straight years between 2008 and 2011—and in eight full seasons with the Atlanta Braves, he hit at least 20 home runs seven times.
His career line reads .277/.350/.473, and last year, he only struck out 66 times, produced an above-average walk rate (9.7 percent), outstanding 122 wRC+ and excellent homer-to-fly-ball rate (16.3)—a career high.
McCann only threw out 24 percent of base stealers last season, but the Yankees didn't sign him for defense, nor should they expect exceptional defense to spring up in 2014 (he only reached 30 percent caught-stealing once, and after that, 24 percent was his highest).
So let's focus our expectations on his enormous left-handed bat and the ever-present tiny short porch in right field at Yankee Stadium. A hitter with those consistent home run totals and above-average HR/FB rate should have a heyday with that 314-foot sign (and alleged wind tunnel).
How's another 30-homer bat sounding for a potential 90-plus combined from the Nos. 3-5 spots?
2014 Expectations: Above-Average
Does he stay or does he go? If the Yankees hang on to their former second baseman and 2013 acquisition, he may extend both his late-season tear and red-hot homecoming to the Bronx. But the Yanks could also ship him away, which is foreseeable given the dizzying depth in the outfield, the plethora of big boppers and his expiring contract.
We can assume that, if Opening Day were tomorrow, Beltran would trot out to right field, Gardner to left and Soriano would be DH, with Ichiro ready to be a late-game defensive fill-in. And you have to like the prospect of resting Beltran's body in the DH on some days and sending Soriano out to right field—where he is serviceable—in order to keep his bat in the lineup.
Of course, if Soriano and Ichiro both remain with the team, there will be a fun carousel of outfielders and DHs: Beltran, Soriano and Ichiro would platoon the corners and DH, Gardner would play anywhere in the outfield, and Ellsbury could play center and some DH during the year. Dizzy yet?
Back to Soriano: He played 93 games with the Cubs and 58 with the Yankees in 2013—his age-37 season.
He made 134 starts in left to just 13 as DH. But, oh, did he hit when he came back to the Bronx. He hit 34 homers last year, but half of them came in his short time with the Yanks; he drove in 101 total runs, but 50 were in the final stretch with New York.
He had a great 112 wRC+ and 18.9 HR/FB rate last season, too. But the major drawback was in his abysmal 156 strikeouts, 24.9 percent strikeout rate and poor 5.8 percent walk rate.
If Soriano continues to be a Yankee and avoids any major slumps, we should expect the continued addition of his power in the middle third of the lineup, but of course with the major caveat of boom (homer) or bust (strikeout).
Just to continue the ongoing trend, though, imagine now that half of the Nos. 3-6 hitters reach at least 30 homers and the other half at least 20: That's somewhere between 100-120 homers. Good luck if you're a pitcher with a high fly-ball rate.
2014 Expectations: Average
You shouldn't expect great things from utility man Kelly Johnson, but that doesn't mean he wasn't a great pickup who could prove to be an absolute steal.
He's an under-the-radar-type player, who was likely overlooked on the market this winter, as well. Given the Yankees' incessant World Series aspirations, it's hard to imagine he was signed for a role greater than insurance for Cano at second, who still had not signed with Seattle at the time.
But with Cano long gone, and with Alex Rodriguez's lawyers "less than confident about a 'favorable' decision," according to the Daily News' Tom Harvey, the eight-year lefty suddenly finds himself as a key cog of the infield and of the bottom third of the batting order. And both of those are pretty good pieces of news for the Yanks in 2014.
He's hit at least 16 homers in six of his eight seasons and driven in at least 50 runs in five of them. In 2013, he slashed a .235/.305/.410, with 16 homers and 52 RBI with a great 101 wRC+. Another good sign, and one that is representative of added flexibility for the lineup, is his ability to hit both righties (103 wRC+) and lefties (105 wRC+) for his career.
But he struggles mightily with strikeouts, having accrued over 130 three separate times, over 110 five different times and 99 last year. His strikeout rate (24.3 percent) was the third-worst of his career, not to mention a terrible figure that doesn't match up particularly well just after Soriano in this projected lineup.
Primarily a second baseman for his career, Johnson played everywhere with Tampa last season in 118 games: second base (22 games), third base (16), first base (3), left field (53) and DH (18).
Though he has played 791 total games at second and only 14 at third, there is just nowhere else to slot him in 2014. The outfield is packed, and they'll obviously platoon him with Brian Roberts (who has health concerns), but then you're looking at filling a hole with either Brendan Ryan or Eduardo Nunez—one of whom can field but can't hit, and the other can't field or hit (hey, Dean Anna, the Yanks might need you).
Expect a serviceable, average 2014 from Johnson, expect him to learn third base on the job and slide to second when Roberts needs a day off—and remember the Yanks were fortunate to snag him in the midst of unanswered Cano/A-Rod/Jeter questions for next year.
He brings another lefty bat with power potential (maybe even 20 HR) to the bottom-third of the order and a slightly above-average glove you can trust come Opening Day.
2014 Expectations: Below-Average
It's not 2008 anymore—Roberts' last phenomenal season—and 2009 is well in the past, too—his last full year of MLB service. Expectations are not very good for the former rival who was essentially the first attempt to fill the Cano void.
The Yankees are paying him $2 million to risk him running into early injury problems at worst and have him play a platoon role at second base at best. He is well past his prime, he is banged up and the common narrative seems unable to drop the ridiculous "lightning in a bottle" idea. This is an attempted stopgap solution that you should expect to be somewhere between a slight-to-major flop.
In his glory days from 2005 to 2008 (age 27-30), Roberts had the most stolen bases of all MLB second basemen (153 total, 50 in '07), second-highest WAR behind Chase Utley (19.2 total, 6.6 in '05) and fourth-best wRC+ (137, 140 in '05).
On the defensive side of the ball he dominated, too. He was sixth in DRS and UZR over that span.
But since 2010, the longtime Orioles second baseman has played in 192 games, hit only .246/.310/.359, struck out 117 times, stolen only 22 bags, has a negative-2.2 UZR, negative-6 DRS and a cumulative WAR of just 1.0.
Roberts' laundry list of any injury possible includes: a herniated disc, abdominal strain, hip strain and concussion in 2010; a second concussion in 2011; a hip surgery in 2012; another surgery for a hamstring tendon in 2013.
He is a familiar and formerly flashy name, and he used to beat up on the Yankees, but there is no lightning to catch here. Even in his best years he wasn't one of the premier players in the league, and now he will be in his age-36 season. He'll see a great shot to be the Opening Day second baseman, a strong chance to disappoint and maybe a stronger likelihood that he'll be sidelined within the first month of the season.
2014 Expectations: Average
We know the Yanks now have six outfielders: Gardner, Ellsbury, Beltran, Ichiro, Soriano and Vernon Wells. Though they'd probably prefer to keep Gardner over Ichiro or Wells, he has unequivocally represented the best trade chip all winter for an organization with (at least) one major pitching hole left to fill.
Peter Gammons of GammonsDaily.com wrote the following last week of the recent interest for Gardner, noting the primary stipulation for Brian Cashman going through with a transaction:
Since the Yankees signed Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran, at least a half-dozen teams—from the Phillies to the Tigers—have taken a run at Brett Gardner, knowing he’s a free agent at the end of next season. But Brian Cashman won’t move him until and unless he has to for starting pitching. Cashman loves Gardner’s toughness and likens it to that of Dustin Pedroia, thinks Gardner is very similar to Ellsbury only a year or two behind in skill development, and thinks the defense and the offensive speed will play big in Yankee Stadium and in a lineup that will otherwise play for power.
"Brett is one of the toughest players in the game, an incredible competitor," says Cashman. "We feel very strongly about him and his role as a leader and catalyst."
Now, much of Cashman's praise may be an attempt to build up Gardner's value beyond what he truly believes. But either way, Gardner is not on the move as of the second week of January, so we can for now discuss what to expect from the lefty speedster coming off a strong all-around season in 2013.
Last year he hit .273/.344/.416, and he totaled career bests in hits (147), extra-base hits (51), doubles (33), triples (10) and homers (8), with a very respectable 108 wRC+ and 3.2 WAR.
He hit just below his career average against lefties (.253 career, .247 in 2013) and just above his career average against righties (.273 career, .285 in 2013). He also bettered his career-average wRC+ against both lefties and righties (100 against LHP, 112 against RHP) and BABIP (.341 LHP, .342 RHP).
Expect Gardner, in a contract year and the one in which he turns 31, to put together another solid run. He should improve his plate discipline, patience and power at the plate. He hopefully will gain the lost confidence in his base-stealing (47 SB, 49 SB in 2010, 2011), and his range should pay huge dividends in the smaller left field.
And if he is traded, he and the Yankees better hope he puts up some impressive numbers beforehand.