Entering the official start of spring training 2014, one thing is clear: the New York Yankees are Major League Baseball's most talked about team.
The newest edition of spring training in Tampa Bay for the Yankees took on an entirely different feel when Derek Jeter announced his upcoming retirement back on February 12th. The face of the sport (no offense, Eric Sogard) will arguably be the story of the season as the most recent era in team history comes to a close. Let's just hope the Jeter Farewell Tour comes with better gifts than the Mariano Rivera one did (really, Texas Rangers? Cowboy boots for a guy from Panama?)
However, the truly most important story lines for the Bombers in spring training are to see what they can expect to yield from their off-season spending spree and how a roster with a surprisingly high number of question marks despite the payroll comes together.
Can the trio of Jeter/Mark Teixeira/CC Sabathia bounce back from rough 2013? Can Jacoby Ellsbury stay healthy? What exactly can we expect from Masahiro Tanaka? Does David Robertson really have what it takes to replace Mariano Rivera? There's only one place that has all these answers: Twitter.
To make the playoffs this year, the Yankees will most likely need to build on last year's 85-win campaign. That total might sound easy to build off considering the winter's price tag, but as Ken Davidoff of the New York Post tweets, maybe the Yankees weren't actually that good.
A 79-win caliber team minus that team's best player, one Robinson Cano? Sounds like a tough task to overcome for Joe Girardi. That's why the quartet of Carlos Beltran, Ellsbury, Brian McCann and Tanaka could make or break the year for New York.
However, all four of those signees come with question marks (at this point, the question mark might as well be the team's logo this year). We don't know how Tanaka's stuff will translate. Ellsbury's games played per year have as been inconsistent as anyone in the league over the course of his career. Beltran is not exactly a spring chicken. McCann is probably the surest bet of the bunch, but even he is beginning 2014 on the wrong side of 30.
One of Ellsbury's former managers thinks that success will follow, as long as he stays on the field.
If Ellsbury is healthy he is one of the best players in the game. I'm pulling for him!!— Bobby Valentine (@BobbyValentine) February 27, 2014
McCann is expected to be a staple in a Yankee lineup that could very well be formidable. Even if McCann has a "down year," it would be almost impossible for his season to qualify as a positional downgrade from 2013, as MLB.com's Bryan Hoch points out.
Now that Brian McCann has his 1st spring HR, this is a good time to point out that Yankees catchers combined for 8 HRs all of last season.— Bryan Hoch (@BryanHoch) February 28, 2014
When Tanaka signed, there were two numbers that stood out: a 24-0 record last year in Japan, and a $155 million contract. Critics of the deal have theorized that Tanaka's performance won't match the payday, but Sports on Earth's Jonathan Bernhardt says even if he's not great, it'll be okay for New York.
"If it turns out that New York paid superstar money for a pitcher who is merely very good, fine; the Yankees are a license to print money, and young pitchers who are "merely very good" don't grow on trees."
One player who is no lock to make the Opening Day roster, but could make a difference is the enigma known as Michael Pineda. It's been two full years since we last saw the right-hander in a Major League game, but ESPN's Buster Olney says there is reason to be optimistic.
Yankees quietly encouraged and excited about what they see in Michael Pineda-- signs of velocity increase. A big X-factor for them.— Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) February 14, 2014
There's been much talk about Jeter's last year and what it means for the franchise in the long-term, but in the short-run, no one really knows what to expect from the captain.
Before his spring training debut on February 27th, Brian Cashman made it clear that on his list of concerns, Jeter is no where near the top, according to Newsday's David Lennon.
In case you hadn't heard, Rivera is no longer active. In his place is Robertson, a very good reliever in his own right, but someone who has little experience ending games in big spots. That won't stop Robertson from thinking he can pitch at an elite level, according to ESPN's Ian O'Connor.
David Robertson on whether he can pitch at a Mariano level: "Yeah absolutely. I dont see why not. I think Im personally capable of doing it.— Ian O'Connor (@Ian_OConnor) February 22, 2014
There's no doubt the Yankees have upgraded since the end of last season. However, they have some ground to make up in the division. The Red Sox are the reigning World Champions, the Rays have one of the best rotations in all of the league, and the Orioles made some moves late in the off-season to bolster their roster.
The most important Yankee might very well be Teixeira. The Yankees' infield could potentially be a trainwreck, but if Teixeira can somehow re-create his first three years in the Bronx this year, that could theoretically change the entire lineup.
Who needs to have the best year if the Yankees are to return to October?
Jeter's last year will be a season-long parade of honors and accolades, but a 39-year-old who might as well not have played in 2013 with a severe ankle injury is as big of a question mark as it comes. It would be very Jeter of Jeter to hit .320 this year, but somewhere in the .280 range is more realistic, if not maybe a best-case scenario for New York.
Sabathia made news in the off-season for his weight loss, but his season will ultimately come down to another type of loss: velocity. 2013 was arguably the worst season of Sabathia's career, but he'll still take the mound April 1st when the Yankees open their season in Houston. His development in spring training could be the most important thing for Girardi & Co. as the team tries to avoid a second straight postseason-less year.