The Yankees have not made the playoffs the last two seasons but there are still postseason expectations in the Bronx for 2015, and the roster moves GM Brian Cashman made during the winter reflect that.
The Bombers didn’t make a big splash in free agency like they normally do, as they let the Red Sox have third baseman Pablo Sandoval and left fielder Hanley Ramirez. Boston also won the bidding for Cuban prospect Yoan Moncada, so who did the Yankees acquire in the offseason?
For starters, the Yankees dealt utility infielder Martin Prado and catcher Francisco Cervelli to the Marlins for SP Nathan Eovaldi and first baseman Garrett Jones. The Yankees also dealt for Diamondbacks shortstop Didi Gregorius as part of a three-team deal (the Yankees let go of pitcher Shane Green, who ended up on the Tigers).
The Bombers were not entirely shut out in the free agent market, however. They went out and got relief pitcher Andrew Miller, a tremendous lefty out of the bullpen, to go along with righty Dellin Betances.
There are concerns about almost every player on the roster due to either injury or age, and Spring Training is where these concerns will be addressed. Although most of the headlines will be made by Alex Rodriguez, the 39-year-old slugger who is making his return off a season-long suspension, dedicated fans know that he will probably not make a significant contribution to the team in 2015. Instead we’ll focus on three players whose contributions could make or break the Yankees’ chances at a postseason run.
Didi Gregorius – The former Diamondback will attempt to replace an icon in Derek Jeter at shortstop; not an enviable task. His left-handed bat will probably not match the production of Jeter’s as he’s projected to hit about .244 with 10 home runs, according to RotoChamp composite. He has been particularly bad against lefties in his career so far, batting a ghastly .184 in 163 ABs. There are rumors that Gregorius will be platooned at shortstop with Brendan Ryan, a right-handed bat who is really not much of a threat at the plate (he batted .167 last year in 49 games). It will be very important for Gregorius to work on getting better at facing lefties in camp.
The Yankees are hoping that Gregorius’ glove will make up for any lack of production at the plate; his defense is almost Gold Glove-worthy, according to some scouts. Even if it is not “gold,” Gregorius’ glove is sure to be an upgrade over Jeter’s from the last couple of years.
Nathan Eovaldi – When starting pitchers Hiroki Kuroda and Brandon McCarthy flew the coop during the offseason, Brian Cashman’s hand was forced into finding capable replacements. One of those replacements will be Eovaldi, who had an underwhelming career in Miami. Last year was his first full season and the results were bad by anyone’s standards: 6-14 with a 4.37 ERA. His SO/9inn was only 6.4 last year, weak for a pitcher that can hit 97 mph with the fastball.
There are some encouraging signs though; his BB/9inn was down from 3.4 in 2013 to 1.9 last year. His HR/9inn is an acceptable 0.6, which means Eovaldi will likely handle the transition to the hitter’s haven that is Yankee Stadium. Sabermetricians are also pointing to Eovaldi’s 2014 FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching), which was 3.37, a full point lower than his ERA. This means if Eovaldi can get some help behind him defensively this year (hello, Didi Gregorius) his ERA should go down. The Yankees need him to pan out because they don’t have a lot of other options for the starting rotation. His Spring Training starts will go a long way in determining if he’s ready for primetime.
C.C. Sabathia – The aging ace will try to find his old form on the mound. He comes into camp 30 pounds heavier by design, citing that the weight gain makes him feel stronger. Since Sabathia slimmed down for the 2013 season he’s regressed significantly; his ERA was 4.78 in 2013 and 5.28 last year before a knee injury ended his 2014 campaign prematurely. Those ERAs are way above his career average of 3.63. He may not be able to anchor the rotation the way he has in years past but maybe he still has a decent season or two left in the tank.
There are concerns that his knee will inhibit his effectiveness. Sabathia will need to regularly receive platelet-rich injections in his knee and will need to have it drained every now and then in order to reduce swelling. His Spring Training starts will give a good indication of whether he can bounce back in 2015 or if his best days are behind him.