Return to Glory? New Faces and Returning Faves Look to Bring Home Another Championship
By Howard Goldin
BRONX, NEW YORK, MARCH 31- As the college basketball season reaches its apex, the Final Four, the Major League Baseball (MLB) season is ready to begin in full force. Each team, except the two teams who began the season earlier in March in Australia, have a mark of 0-0.
Hopes are high in the Bronx as there are always expectations among Yankee fans that the team will reach the World Series or, at the least, qualify for the playoffs.
Great changes have been made since the conclusion of the 2013 season. Iconic figures have departed. Mariano Rivera, the greatest closer in MLB history, retired. Andy Pettitte, a mainstay starter for 15 seasons with the Yankees, especially effective in the post-season, retired.
The controversial third sacker who has blasted more than 600 home runs, Alex Rodrigez, was suspended for the entire 2014 season by the Commissioner of Baseball. Robinson Cano, considered by many observers to be the best second baseman in the majors, signed a 10-year contract for $240 million with the Seattle Mariners. Starter Phil Hughes and reliever Joba Chamberlain signed with other teams as the Yankees showed little interest in signing them.
Last year’s injury riddled team finished the year with an 85-77 record and did not qualify for the playoffs for the first time since 2008. The 2013 Yankees consisted of many reserves who were inserted into the starting lineup in the place of injured star players.
Stars always counted upon for consistency are returning from serious injuries. First baseman Mark Teixeira played only 15 games in 2013 after having suffered a wrist injury that required surgery. The team captain Derek Jeter played only 17 games last year after repeated ankle injuries. Jeter announced that 2014 will be his final season in the majors. He, obviously, will be making his usual supreme effort to lead his club to a successful year.
Four off-season free agent acquisitions with a combined cost of nearly $500 million are expected to strengthen in the club in a number of areas. For the first time since Jorge Posada was behind the plate, the Yankees have an outstanding offensive and defensive catcher with leadership qualities in Brian McCann. With an impressive Spring Training showing, Francisco Cervelli beat out Austin Romine and J.R. Murphy to be the back-up catcher.
Jacoby Ellsbury, formerly of the Red Sox, will be the lead-off hitter and center fielder for the team. Although he was out two weeks with an injury in March, the Yankees are hopeful he will play a full injury-free season.
Veteran Carlos Beltran will fill the position in right field. The former Met had envisioned playing with the Yankees years ago. If he remains as he has been the last few years, he will help the Yankees at bat and should also be a boon to the team in the clubhouse.
Brett Gardner, on the big club since 2008, recently signed a four -year extension for $52 million. Gardner, who has a similar skill set as Ellsbury, will fill the other outfield corner in left.
Veteran Ichiro Suzuki will serve as the fourth outfielder. Alfonso Soriano, who had an excellent season after signing with the Yankees last year will move from the outfield to be the designated hitter.
Kelly Johnson at third and Brian Roberts at second will join veteran Yankees Teixeira and Jeter in the infield. While they cannot be expected to replace Rodriguez and Cano at the plate, the experienced major leaguers should be more than adequate in the field.
The ace of the starting rotation, CC Sabathia, is hoping to rebound after a poor year. He has again lost weight, which could either be positive or negative. He appears to recognize that he needs to adjust to the loss of velocity on his fastball.
The second starter, Hiroki Kuroda, is coming off a disappointing second half of the 2013 season. The 39 year-old can benefit the Yankees by helping major league rookie Matsahiro Tanaka adjust to the majors and the United States.
The three young starters had outstanding springs. Tanaka was 2-0 with an excellent ERA in his appearances. Ivan Nova also pitched well. Michael Pineda, after missing two seasons with injuries, was recently named the fifth starter by Joe Girardi after an impressive Spring Training.
The key relief spot, closer, filled nearly perfectly by Marian Rivera will be given to David Robertson. Last year’s eighth inning specialist is hopeful of being as successful as he was on 2013 in his new role. The Yankees passed on signing several respected closers to replace Rivera.
Shawn Kelley and newcomer Jacob Thornton are expected to take over the eighth inning responsibilities. Other returning relievers include David Phelps, Dellin Betances, Cesar Cabral, and Adam Warren.
Will the 2014 version of the Yankees be sufficient to carry them into the playoffs? No one yet knows. Yankees personnel and fans certainly hope for and expect success.