Will Masahiro Tanaka live up to expectations in New York?
It has been a very "loud" offseason for New York Yankees general manager Brian Cashman.
While trying to avoid a repeat of 2013's disappointing campaign, he has inserted several new names into a roster that had gone stale.
Has he done enough?
Many say no and claim the team still lacks the depth needed to avoid the plague of injuries that befell them last season.
Others insist that the Yankees have improved in areas they needed to improve upon and that their recent acquisitions, coupled with the return of veteran stars from injury, will be more than enough to return them to postseason play.
This article will take a look at the newest Bronx Bombers and attempt to predict just how effective each will be in their first season wearing pinstripes.
At 25, Tanaka's prime years remain ahead of him.
He is the crown jewel of the Yankees' offseason.
After a much-ballyhooed courting by several teams, Masahiro Tanaka chose to sign with the Yankees last week. It immediately gave the team quality depth in a rotation that includes CC Sabathia, Ivan Nova and Hiroki Kuroda.
So what does Tanaka add to the Yankees' starting five?
Baseball America has rated three of Tanaka's pitches as at least 60 or better on a 20-80 scale. They include a "...fastball that reaches the mid-90s, a vanishing splitter and a slider that gives away from right-handed hitters."
Last season, the 25-year-old right-hander went 24-0 with an incredible 1.27 ERA.
How will that translate in the AL East ?
A recent "superstar" hurler from Japan that one can look at to get an idea of how Tanaka might perform is Yu Darvish.
In his final season in Japan, Darvish went 18-6 with a 1.44 ERA. His inaugural season in Texas wasn't quite as successful. It saw him go 16-9 with a 3.90 ERA. It appears that there were some growing pains in transitioning to The Show. What those stats from 2012 don't show is the fact that Darvish finished strong that season, going 3-0 with a 2.21 ERA over his last five starts.
That strong finish served as a launching pad to a sparkling 2013 campaign in which the Ranger ace went 13-9 with a 2.83 ERA and microscopic 1.01 WHIP, finishing second to Detroit's Max Scherzer for the Cy Young Award.
In this interesting article comparing Darvish and Tanaka, Baseball America concludes that "Tanaka should be one of the best pitchers in the major leagues this season, and there are some scouts who do prefer Tanaka to Darvish."
Ultimately because of the MLB experience already under his belt, the piece chooses Darvish over Tanaka, but it isn't a "cut and dry" choice.
Using Darvish as the model, one can reasonably determine that Tanaka's ERA will be in the 3.50 range, and with an improved Yankees lineup in 2014, look for the young star to chalk up at least 15 wins.
Will McCann have the same success with the Yankees pitching staff that he enjoyed with the Braves?
As important as Tanaka could be to the Yankees' pitching, Brian McCann may represent an even greater importance both on the field and at the plate.
Last year, the Bombers' catching was abysmal; they ranked 26th in batting average and last in RBI among all catching tandems in MLB.
Behind the plate, they weren't much better, tying for third in MLB in passed balls.
It came as no surprise that one of their first signings of the offseason was for the former Atlanta Braves catcher.
At the plate, the left-handed hitting McCann has power, hitting at least 20 home runs in each of the last six seasons. He seems built for Yankee Stadium's short right-field porch.
He holds a career .277 batting average and .823 OPS.
As the Braves backstop, he handled a staff that ranked first in ERA in MLB and allowed just three passed balls in 2013 (Chris Stewart of the Yankees allowed 12).
The drawback to McCann is that in each of the past three seasons, his number of games played has decreased. He's never played in more than 145 games—not surprising for a catcher—but 2013 marked the lowest number of games (102) since his rookie season.
Statistics courtesy of baseball-reference.com.
The table above shows McCann's last five seasons. In spite of the decrease in number of games, his home run totals have remained consistent, and his WAR (wins above replacement) actually increased in 2013.
What can we conclude about the 2014 season for the new Yankees catcher?
As long as he avoids a major injury, fans can expect about 130 games from their backstop. Manager Joe Girardi might be able to insert McCann as the designated hitter (one of the advantages of a move to the American League) from time to time and get more out of him. Given that, as well as the change of venue to a homer-happy stadium, McCann should see an increase in his power numbers.
We'll expect a .260 batting average with 27 home runs and 80 RBI from the catcher.
Ellsbury gets a different view of the greatest rivalry in baseball this season.
As 2013 wound to an end for the Yankees, it became clear the team was looking to go in a different direction in center field.
Since 2010, Curtis Granderson had manned the position, and while productive (84 home runs and 225 RBI from 2011-2012), he struck out a lot (averaged 139 strikeouts per season with the Yankees) and was limited in the field (ranked 44th in range factor of those that played center field in 2012, his most recent full season). With runners in scoring position (RISP), he batted just .218 over his four seasons with the Bombers.
Enter Jacoby Ellsbury.
Ellsbury seems to be everything Granderson is not. He has never struck out 100 or more times in a season, and whereas Granderson's game is based on power, Ellsbury's seems to be built on speed (he's led the league in stolen bases three times, including 2013).
His career batting average is .297, and in the field, he ranked fifth last season in MLB for range factor among those that played at least 100 games in center field.
The one drawback to Ellsbury is his inability to play a full season. Because of injuries, he's only managed to play in more than 150 games just twice in a seven-year career.
Why would the Yankees spend so much money and time on a player that can't seem to stay off the disabled list? As Fangraphs notes, none of Ellsbury's injuries are of the "chronic" nature. They all seem to have been the result of circumstance and nothing more.
Clearly, the Yankees are banking on this real-life version of Eugene from Hey Arnold! not suffering another fluke setback.
If he can avoid disaster, Ellsbury could prove to be a diamond in the rough for the Yankees. Here is what he accomplished in those two seasons that he played at least 150 games:
Statistics courtesy of baseball-reference.com.
Because of his productivity at the plate and speed on the basepaths, manager Joe Girardi has the flexibility of using Ellsbury either at the top of the lineup or in the heart of the order without repercussions.
With the qualifier that the center fielder will avoid injury this season, look for him to play in 150 games, hit 12-15 home runs, score 110 runs, drive in 90 RBI and steal 65 bases while hitting .315.
Ellsbury is going to prove himself to be a vital component of the New York Yankees for years to come.
How much is left in Beltran's tank?
On December 19, the Yankees officially announced the signing of 36-year-old outfielder Carlos Beltran to a three-year, $45 million deal.
Even though the Yankees already have Ichiro Suzuki, it is assumed that right field will be occupied by Beltran for the majority of 2014.
The 40-year-old Suzuki hit for the lowest average of his career (.262) in 2013, and his value as a full-time outfielder continues to depreciate.
Beltran brings with him a career .283 batting average (including .296 last year) and has hit at least 22 home runs in each of the past three seasons. As a switch-hitter, he is assured of a spot in the everyday lineup, either as the right fielder or designated hitter.
One of the huge boosts the Yankees will get from Beltran is in his ability to hit with runners in scoring position. Over the last three years, he has hit .317 with 20 home runs and 186 RBI in that situation. In what has long been an Achilles' heel for the Yankees, the team has desperately sought a player with the ability to bring runners on base home more often than not. With Beltran, they may have found their man.
The former St. Louis Cardinal can be a free swinger at times; he struck out 214 times from 2011-2012. Regardless, he should find himself in the heart of the Yankees batting order on a regular basis.
Given his age, Beltran's statistics may start to decline. Even so, look for above-average production from the outfielder. The Yankees can expect him to appear in at least 150 games (don't forget that he'll be the DH on days he isn't in the field), hit .280 with 23 home runs and have at least 90 RBI.
Kelly Johnson could be the busiest of the Yankees' free-agent signings.
The Yankees signed multipurpose player Kelly Johnson to a one-year deal in early December.
While Johnson's primary position is second base, he has played third base, first base and the outfield over the course of his eight-year career.
His experience at those positions will make him a valuable commodity on the 2014 Yankees roster.
The 31-year-old left-handed hitter has hit at least 16 home runs in each of the past four seasons. With Yankee Stadium's short right-field porch, that streak should continue.
Where will he spend most of his time on the field?
In all likelihood, unless another free agent is signed, Johnson will open 2014 as the Yankees' starting third baseman, possibly platooning with Eduardo Nunez.
For a lefty, Johnson's hitting statistics go against the norm. In 2013, he hit .291 against southpaws while only batting .218 against right-handed hurlers. Perhaps a platoon isn't the best idea?
Like Beltran, Johnson's presence in the lineup will help to boost once dismal statistics with runners in scoring position. Last season, the former Tampa Bay Ray hit .291 in that situation.
Where in the past, the Rays had to find places to put Johnson, that won't be a problem in the Bronx. What may be a problem is his free-swinging approach. He has hit just .227 since 2011 and has struck out 421 times (an average of 140 per season).
Some work with hitting instructor Kevin Long will likely be in Johnson's immediate future.
Hitting in Yankee Stadium and in a lower (less pressure) spot in the order on a regular basis may help improve Johnson at the plate.
Look for a .240/20/75 season in 2014.
Can Roberts rekindle past glory with the Yankees?
There was a time when Brian Roberts was one of the best second basemen in MLB. From 2004 through 2009, the former Baltimore Oriole hit .295 while averaging 101 runs scored, 11 home runs, 35 stolen bases and 135 games played per season. Twice he led the league in doubles.
Those days are distant memories.
Since 2010, Roberts has averaged just 48 games played per season. Riddled by injuries, his productivity has suffered tremendously, as he's hit just .217 over the last three campaigns.
Can he be a productive second baseman?
The loss of Robinson Cano to the Seattle Mariners was a huge blow to the Yankees. Gone was the heart of their lineup, and to make matters worse, there wasn't a decent replacement in sight.
In signing Brian Roberts, the Yankees are hoping that Roberts' injury-riddled days are behind him. If September is any indication, there may be some validity to the club's hopes.
During that final month of 2013, Roberts hit .250 and crushed five of his eight home runs. Additionally, his OPS for the month (.756) was the highest of any full month of play in 2013.
Will he carry a stronger 2013 finish into 2014?
As of this writing, Roberts remains the top candidate to man second base for the Yankees this season. Whether he can return to even a shadow of his former All-Star self remains to be seen.
We'll go conservative and say 100 games and .250/12/50 splits are in order for him in 2014.