For the first time since his major league debut in 1995, Derek Jeter will not be on the Yankees roster when they take the field this season. 2014 was a lost cause for this squad, serving more as a national farewell tour for The Captain than an actual season, as the Orioles dominated the American League East leading the second place Yankees by 12 games when all was said and done. Some key departures for Baltimore may help to close that gap in 2015, but increased competition from Boston and Tampa Bay will make this a very trying season for Yankee fans.
As is typical of New York, one media storm was replaced by another when the Alex Rodriguez return tour blew into town to fill the gap left by Jeter’s goodbye. The story of the 2015 New York Yankees, however, likely won’t be told by the numbers that the aging slugger is able to put up. The last time A-Rod exceeded 20 home runs in a single season was back in 2010, when he was only 34 years old and hadn’t required surgery to mend his left hip yet. With the clock working against him, and a season’s worth of rust to knock off after his 162-game suspension, don’t expect A-Rod to be much of a factor on the diamond this season.
The return of Masahiro Tanaka will have a much more profound impact on the club this year than A-Rod’s. Tanaka is coming off a 2014 cut short by a troubled UCL, but he was able to avoid reconstructive surgery in the offseason. The potential is there for Tanaka to re-injure that elbow, but if he is able to regain his form and pitch pain-free, he will provide the staff with a true number one talent that an aging CC Sabathia can’t anymore. Newcomer Nathan Eovaldi, who struggled mightily last year with the Miami Marlins, was brought in to provide some youth and innings for an aging staff. Eovaldi is only 25 years old, and proved his durability last season when he pitched 199 2/3 innings in the National League. He will likely slide into the fourth slot in the rotation for Joe Girardi’s staff. Ivan Nova, who was unable to avoid Tommy John surgery, will add an extra boost to the staff when he is able to make his mid-season return.
At this point the biggest position battle looks to be at second-base, where former shortstop Stephen Drew is fighting for the starting job with Jose Pirela and Rob Refsnyder. Drew was abysmal at the plate last season, hitting just hitting just .162/.237/.299 in the 2014 campaign. He’s been replaced by former Arizona Diamondback Didi Gregorius at shortstop, and if the first ground ball of spring is any indication he may soon be replaced at second. Drew charged the first ball hit toward him, botching the play and committing an error much to the dismay of the Yankee faithful. With last year’s dreadful performance at the plate, he will need to acclimate himself to his new position if he is to stick in the starting lineup.
Unfortunately for the Yankees, there is no influx of talented youth joining the big league club. A farm-system which once featured the aforementioned Jeter, Bernie Williams, Jorge Posada, and Andy Pettitte is looking particularly bare in 2015. The Yankees only have one prospect, outfielder Aaron Judge, listed in Baseball America’s 2015 top 100 Prospects. Judge, along with pitching prospect Luis Severino, is still another season away from joining the major league club. With an aging roster and a lack of potential in the pipeline, the Yankees could be facing a downward spiral the likes of which New Yorkers haven’t seen since the early 90’s.