By David Mormino
The New York Yankees open up their season tonight in Houston when they take on the Astros at 7:10pm. “World Series or bust” may as well be tattooed on these players, or painted all over the locker room. There has been pressure before, sure, but when you’re (potentially) the 3rd best team in your own division, moves need to be made. The Yankees are well aware of the recent success of their division rivals, most notably the Boston Red Sox winning the World Series last season, and they expect to be put back in that conversation again this season after missing the postseason last year.
Masahiro Tanaka is the newest face in the Yankees locker room, but that doesn’t mean he’ll have a rookie’s salary. Actually, he’s making more money than a lot of his teammates, so he will begin this season with high expectations, even if he is being told he is the team’s number 4 starter. In addition to Tanaka, the Yankees will have CC Sabbathia, Hiroki Kuroda, Michael Pineda and Ivan Nova as their starting rotation, so Tanaka will have a lot of pressure taken off of his shoulders. He will have to live up to his contract value, however, something Japanese stars have had a tough time handling when putting on pinstripes. This is a team that expects to win now, later, and every day after that, so I would not be surprised to see them rev up some pressure on Tanaka if he struggles early.
I believe that Tanaka has what it takes to provide quality wins for this ball club, but I don’t know if it will happen immediately. Pitching in Japan and pitching in the American League East are two completely different animals. If the struggles begin to affect more than Tanaka, I would begin to wonder if they would consider having David Phelps or someone of his caliber try and compete for the number 4 spot, until Tanaka corrects himself. I don’t see too much struggling happening, after all he did go 25-0 last season in Japan, but it needs to be in the back of everyone’s mind for safety.
For the first time in a long time, the Yankees have questions in their lineup. There has been little done to help fill the void left by Robinson Cano after he jumped at the offer Seattle gave him, he will be replaced by Brian Roberts, a liability in terms of playing a full season. It makes sense for the Yankees to go after a lower-profile player like Roberts to help play second base, but I don’t know if he is the solution. If he stays healthy, Roberts could do very well at Yankee Stadium, and make some noise with his bat. Derek Jeter is making his last rounds with the ball club, and he will be looking to cap his illustrious career off with a World Series ring, and will stop at nothing to make that dream scenario a reality. He is one of the most iconic baseball players in the world without question, and I think that he will do everything in his power to bring New York back to the World Series. His last World Series win was against the Phillies in 2009, a team that featured AJ Burnett, Johnny Damon, and Hideki Matsui, so you understand why expectations are so high. For those who don’t understand why they are in the desperation mode that they’re in, is because the Yankees are expected to be great, regardless of who is on the roster. Damon, Burnett and Mastui are long gone, and so is the feeling of greatness that was once here with them. They have since added Brian McCann, Carlos Beltran and Jacoby Ellsbury to address their losses in the lineup, but, again, also lost a perennial MVP candidate in Robinson Cano. Mark Teixeria is healthy, so the wrist should not act up on him, and his bat will be much appreciated.
Another problem for this ball club is what to do with Ichiro Suzuki; He is the odd man out in the outfield, and will most likely be coming off the bench in most cases. The projected outfield, as of today, is Carlos Beltran, Brett Gardner, and Jacoby Ellsbury, with Alfonso Soriano coming in as the 4th outfielder, and the designated hitter. Ichiro has totaled 2742 hits in his Major League career, but will he be able to add to those numbers significantly? It is looking more and more like a. “No,” at this point in time. He still is aggressive, and is still a reliable hitter, but Soriano is the more valuable hitter. He will be able to tie up games with one swing, as he has shown last season. He really enjoys hitting at the new Yankee stadium, totaling 34 homeruns last season, even though some were while he was playing in Chicago. He made an immediate impact when he was traded to the Bronx last year, and I truly think he is the team’s best option as a DH.
My final question is who will be the team’s closer at season’s end? David Robertson is the guy, for now, but I don’t know if he can maintain success throughout the season. Losing Mariano Rivera is an incredibly huge loss for the Bombers, so now the focus shifts to Robertson. He has had a chance to pitch in that spot when Rivera went down with an leg injury in 2012, but much has changed since then. Many believed he was the heir-apparent to Rivera’s throne, but now he will have to live up to those expectations, like many of his teammates. He performed well last season, posting a 5-1 record with a 2.04 ERA in 70 games, and that should help ease him into the new role. Coming out in the 9th inning is a lot more difficult than coming out in the 8th innning, so the chance to lock up victories for the Yankees would be a thrill for anyone, so I expect Robertson to make the most of the situation, and pick up where Rivera left off last year. I don’t think he’ll mirror the same production throughout his career, that’s nearly impossible, but I do think he will make it easier for fans to transition to a new closer. He has electric stuff, it’s just a matter of putting it all together.
If the Yankees can address all, or even most, of these problems, it could be hard to argue why they cannot compete for a World Series. The pitching staff is their strong point for the first time in a long time, and it could be a lot of fun to watch if they all start to get on a roll. The pressure will be there, but so will the opportunities, so there is no reason why they cannot live up to it. Joe Girardi is in a good spot here, and could help propel the ball club to new heights.
by David Mormino