February 26, 2014

Can Money Buy Yanks Another Title?

As the East End, along with most of the Northeast, sits buried in feet of snow, a scorching hot day at Yankee Stadium or Citi Field seems like a distant memory. But, as the Yankees and Mets opened Spring Training last week, it reminded us that one day summer will in fact return. And when it does, the two local franchises will produce teams that, yes, are both improved over 2013, but still flawed. This week we focus on the Bronx Pinstripes, next week's article will preview the Orange and Blue in Queens.

Courtesy of the Steinbrenners, the Yankees head to Tampa after an offseason spending binge. They dished out $155 million to Masahiro Tanaka, Jacoby Ellsbury received $153 million, Brian McCann will take home $85 million, and Carlos Beltran will earn another $45 million. The hundreds of millions spent this offseason, mirrors the winter of 2008-2009 when the Yankees, also off a missed postseason, spent $441 million on C.C. Sabathia, Mark Teixeira and A.J. Burnett.

Those big bucks paid off with a World Series title in 2009. But, despite spending $30 million more this offseason, the Yankees should be far from a favorite to win their 28th Title.

In 2009, when Mark Teixeira and C.C. Sabathia were signed, they were as close to "sure things" as any available free agents. But, the newest Yankees all have considerable flaws.

Tanaka has never thrown a pitch against Major Leaguers. Also, how he adjusts to better hitters and a new culture is always an unknown. Jacoby Ellsbury, and agent Scott Boras, ripped off the Steinbrenners. Ellsbury has one elite season in his career (2011, 32 homers, 105 RBI, 39 stolen bases). The rest of his Red Sox tenure was one of an $8-10 million per year player, not worthy of over $20 million per season.

Carlos Beltran exceeded expectations the past two seasons with the Cardinals, but will the ex-Met's knees finally call it quits? Brian McCann is the safest of the four big additions in the Bronx.

The Yankees were desperate at catcher, and he brings a fire and leadership quality that will help the team, along with a lefty swing ideal for the short right field porch at Yankee Stadium.

Meantime, none of the returning cast from 2013 is a lock to return to their prime. C.C. Sabathia is coming off one of his worst seasons. But, he has lost 40 pounds, and hopes to rejuvenate his career. What if he can't? Or what if the weight loss means lost velocity? There is no reason to be confident Sabathia returns to form simply because he shed some pounds.

Hiroki Kuroda and Ivan Nova are both coming off up and down years, and each need to provide more consistency to the middle of the rotation.

As for the infield, it is filled with question marks. Derek Jeter is on his farewell tour, but can he complete it? Jeter played only 17 games last year. If he can even muster a full season out of his 39 year-old body, what's left? His bat may return, but at one of the most important positions, his defensive range will likely be incredibly diminished.

Second base and third will be manned by Brian Roberts and Kelly Johnson, not exactly Robinson Cano and Alex Rodriguez (circa 2009). Mark Teixeira is coming off a wrist injury, always a concern, especially for a player on the back end of his prime.

Sure, the Yankees could prove the doubters wrong, and piece together a healthy line-up, with current and previous All-Stars who produce seasons as such. But, there should be enough doubt within the roster, that a playoff spot, and postseason success should be far from a guarantee. Also, let's not forget, the Yankees will once again be playing in the toughest division in baseball. As the blue print for success in Major League Baseball continues to steer away from big market spending (i.e. Angels, Yankees) into strong farm systems (i.e. Rays, A's), the Yankee formula has become less effective. We will wait to see if they buck the trend in 2014. My money says no.

Pete is a lifelong Montauk resident and former sports talk host at 88.7FM WEER. He's currently a Sports Anchor at WCBS 880 and WFAN radio in NYC. He can be reached via email at peterfmundo@gmail.com.

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