Why The New York Yankees Will Be Basement Dwellers In The AL East
As long as there is professional baseball being played by a pinstriped uniform team from the Bronx in New York, there will be reason to believe that team could win it all. History backs this up—whether or not any of the 27 world championships won by this particular pinstriped uniformed team, came from sheer dominance on the field or with a little bit of mystique mixed in. Both have worked, over the years, for the New York Yankees.
However, this season, the 2015 campaign, where the Bronx Bombers have been picked to finish everywhere from first to last in the AL East (it’s that uncertain for the Yankees), it will be that mystique they will need to stay out of last place in the division.
It’s only two games into the season and the Yankees are 1-1, with the same amount of wins as everyone else in the division. Chances are, this will be the way things go for the entire 162-game schedule. It is not out of the realm of thinking that a war-worn, black and blue, .500 team will emerge from the east as its king. And just as easy to figure that a team barely below the finish of the new division champ could end up in last place.
It could be that close. And against any better judgment, having been a witness of that mystique out of the Bronx in the past, there is reason to believe the Yankees will be basement dwellers by the end of the campaign.
MLB has caught up to the Yankees in the past decade with the onslaught of big money, free agent acquisitions that they used to take for granted. This scramble, caused by equal parts league parity, increase of young talent, and most recently, a change in the direction to winning from the team’s ownership, has pro sport’s flagship franchise looking to be respectable rather than dominant.
The lineup New York plans to put on the field night after night this season is a mixture of players who are in their twilight years, unproven second or third year players picked up in trades, or simply cast-offs with one or two great campaigns for other clubs behind them.
First baseman Mark Teixeira, former ace CC Sabathia and DH/third baseman Alex Rodriguez, are the only remaining Yankees from their 2009 World Series championship team and six years later are still relying on them to be productive starters.
This is not news to anyone who follows the Yankees—or MLB, for that matter. Neither is the head-scratching bewilderment that followed New York’s lack of aggression in the off-season when there were several top free agents who were considered roster upgrades, not even looked at by the team’s decision makers. Or at least, that is what we were led to believe.
The pitching staff, which looks to be the biggest obstacle in the Yankees return to dominance, will be asked to handle one of the toughest hitting divisions in pro ball, basically status quo. Not only did they let 2014 late-season pick up Brandon McCarthy get away along with closer David Robertson, New York did not land any of the top three free agent arms in the off-season, nor did they deal for any of the top hurlers who are under big contracts with other teams. These things never used to stop the mighty Yankees.
General Manager Brian Cashman, whether having his key to the Steinbrenner vault taken away or not, has kept a stiff upper lip through the past several months, maintaining that his squad is sound and that the Yankees were not going to part ways with any top prospects from their once depleted farm system, to leap into the free agent market just for the sake of doing so.
Admirable, yes, and a proven plan, for the most part, but let’s go ahead and call the kettle black. The Yankees are destined for a finish in the AL East basement.
It’s inevitable—just ask any organization who has had to trade away, or refuse to sign once great franchise heroes in the name of returning to the top.
In addition to the currently suspect starting rotation, the lack of an added big bat or two in free agency, a “we’re good” attitude towards the agents of the best available arms last winter, New York is in arguably the most competitive division in MLB.
The Yanks must contend with three rivals in the east who are considered possible division winners. Their perennial nemesis the Boston Red Sox, who have seemingly outwitted them in personnel decisions the last decade, almost quietly, added two huge bats in Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval via free agency. The addition of starting pitcher Rick Porcello from the Detroit Tigers, although not the Max Scherzer signing they would have preferred, gave the Sox another solid winner in an ace-less rotation. The Yankees did not match any of those signings.
Last year’s division champ, the Baltimore Orioles, have remained on solid ground coming into 2015 and will not concede the title easily. Despite their annual inactivity in the free agent market, the O’s are formidable in most areas and may have one of the best managers in MLB at the helm in Buck Showalter.
The Toronto Blue Jays, who for a couple of seasons now have been the pick for a resurgence, have remained aggressive with roster moves and have collected a team of young prospects on the verge of big-time breakouts. Daniel Norris is being touted as a future Cy Young candidate and 22-year old Dalton Pompey has the makings to be a star. Bringing in veteran catcher Russell Martin to handle the staff may not even show it’s true worth until when it really counts, during a late season playoff push when the Jays typically fall off.
It’s easy to discard the Tampa Bay Rays in all of this because they lost manager Joe Madden, who many believe kept the Rays contenders year after year despite lack of superstar players. In yet, another rebuilding year, they too, have some unproven talent on their team to mesh with the vets they’ve accumulated to join Evan Longoria. A new young manager in Kevin Cash, with some fresh ideas may inspire the club as well, so the Yankees cannot assume Tampa will be a pushover.
There’s no point piling on the Yankees—or any team, for that matter, after just two games. After all, they’re 1-1. Rarely does a historically contending team like New York start to sweat after a single opening day defeat, but that may be the case already in New York.
Ace Masahiro Tanaka, coming off a second-half shutdown last year due to a torn UCL, did not look like he did exactly one year ago when he exploded onto the AL East scene. Tanaka’s unimpressive first start did not ease any Yankee concerns about the health of his right arm—now maybe even his psyche.
Even during their game two win over Toronto on Wednesday night, Joe Girardi’s bunch looked tired. Not physically tired, just… tired. It took a deflected hit to give them the late-game comeback win.
While veterans, Jacoby Ellsbury, Carlos Beltran, Chase Headley and Brian McCann seem healthy and have numbers that certainly look good on paper, the history of injury and inconsistency will not buoy the pitching staff and keep the Yankees in contention for long.
Not this season. Not in this division. Not without that mystique.