A New Chapter Begins
With shortstop Derek Jeter entering the home stretch of his career, the New York Yankees head into 2014 with an overhauled roster, the best young starting pitcher that the team has had in years and a real shot of returning to the playoffs.
It's impossible not to get excited when you look at the amount of talent that the team added this winter.
Jacoby Ellsbury is a defensive upgrade in center field and gives the Yankees a legitimate leadoff hitter, allowing Jeter to slide back to the second spot in the lineup where he belongs.
Brian McCann is a massive upgrade behind the plate, and his swing is tailor-made for Yankee Stadium.
Carlos Beltran might not be a defensive whiz in right field, but the switch-hitter knows how to produce runs and rises to the occasion in the playoffs, when the Yankees will need him the most.
Last, but certainly not least, is the arrival of Masahiro Tanaka, the winter's most sought-after free agent. While living up to expectations might be impossible for the 25-year-old right-hander, Tanaka breathes new life into what had become an older, underwhelming rotation.
A Return to Health
Two of the team's biggest bats, Jeter and first baseman Mark Teixeira, essentially missed all of the 2013 season due to injury, producing little offense in 17 and 15 games played, respectively.
Both All-Stars arrived to spring training healthy and Teixeira, especially, expects big things from himself and the team in 2014, as he explained to The New York Daily News' Mark Feinsand:
Look at our lineup; we’re back to being the Yankees again. Last year, we weren’t the Yankees.
I absolutely plan on playing 150-plus games this year. That’s my goal. Every now and then I’ll have a day off, of course. That’s just natural. You get beat up a little bit during the season, but I expect to have a healthy, productive season.
Also returning to health is 25-year-old right-hander Michael Pineda, the centerpiece of the trade that sent former top prospect Jesus Montero to Seattle in 2012. Yet to throw a pitch for the Yankees due to a shoulder injury that ultimately required surgery, Pineda is ready to contribute in 2014:
“Yeah, yeah, I’m feeling really good. Everything’s the same (as it was before the surgery). I’m the same Michael Pineda," he told John Harper of The New York Daily News. While he's yet to see him in game action, manager Joe Girardi was encouraged by what he's seen from Pineda so far:
I’m happy with what I saw today. The ball is coming out of his hand really well. I’m anxious to see him pitch in games. I felt the ball was coming out easier. And he’s had some time to clean up some things mechanically.
A healthy, productive Pineda could be the key to just how good New York's starting rotation actually is this season.