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December 16, 2013

Fantasy Team Preview

New York Yankees

by Craig Goldstein

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This preview’s first incarnation was dramatically different from its second, which in turn has been torn down and rebuilt from the ground up. The original draft came after the signing of Brian McCann, but before those of Jacoby Ellsbury and Kelly Johnson. Thanks to a change in schedule though, we’re coming back to you after the departure of Robinson Cano and with the additions of Carlos Beltran and Hiroki Kuroda. In this third iteration, there is plenty of fantasy goodness to be had.

While a greatly diminished Yankee lineup managed to produce a valiant playoff run, these recent reinforcements should make them more formidable going forward. There are still flaws with the Yankees, notably in the rotation, at second base and at third base, but these new signings will make plenty of noise (and fantasy value) all the same. While there will be a Cano-sized hole in this lineup, this will still be an explosive offense thanks to the additions of Beltran, Ellsbury, and McCann. Health is going to be the key ingredient to the Yankees season, as they continue to approach talent like a connoisseur approaches cheese or wine, where older is better.

Projected Lineup

1. CF Jacoby Ellsbury

2. SS Derek Jeter

3. RF Carlos Beltran

4. C Brian McCann

5. 1B Mark Teixiera

6. 3B Alex Rodriguez

7. DH Alfonso Soriano

8. 2B Kelly Johnson

9. LF Brett Gardner

There are a lot of ways the Yankees order can shake out. Like you, I’d prefer Gardner at the top of the order, but it would surprise me if Ellsbury ends up hitting third, and Jeter hitting anywhere but second would be a coup. The real question is whether A-Rod will be there, and while it seems doubtful for the time being, I’d rather stick a pencil in my eye than pencil in Eduardo Nunez as a regular. Our most excellent Transactions Analysis team has been covering the fantasy aspects of signings, so we’ve already touched on Beltran, Ellsbury, McCann, and even Kelly Johnson so instead of rehashing that, let’s just say that this lineup is well positioned to be better than last year’s as long as health prevails. While that’s not lock given the injury history of the players above, the Yankees seem have transitioned from a lineup with concentrated talent (Cano) to one with more talent throughout. This should help in the event injuries do strike.

There’s not a significant amount to say on those not linked to above. They’ll benefit from the influx of talent into the lineup, but the swings shouldn’t be dramatic, as the lineup wasn’t exactly bereft last year. If we’re guessing that Rodriguez won’t be available, that will open up playing time for Eduardo Nunez who can be safely ignored outside of AL-only leagues.

Projected Bench

No.

Projected Rotation

The re-signing of Hiroki Kuroda adds a much-needed arm to this rotation and gives the Yankees a bit of depth. Pineda is the guy who will draw the most questions, and I advise you to let him be someone else’s problem. There’s clearly a reward at the end of the Pineda rainbow, but the trip is fraught with peril and not worth the risk. Nova is dramatically underrated (he went 7-4, 2.59 ERA in 104 IP with 79 strikeouts and 31 walks from July on last year), and while he’s no real life or fantasy ace, he’s a very capable mid rotation starter who should rack up his fair share of wins.

Pop quiz: what’s the difference between Adam Warren and David Phelps? Trick question, they’re the same person. Obviously not really the case, but for fantasy purposes, it’s not worth treating them significantly differently. Whichever one is in line to get the innings should be valued more highly. At this point, it’s probably too early so say with any confidence which one that would be. Either way they’re more waiver wire material than anything else.

Projected Bullpen

Robertson profiles as an upper-tier closer given his propensity for strikeouts. While he’s struggled in the role in the past, there’s not one name in the rest of the bullpen that looks like a realistic option to steal saves from him. It looks like the Yankees will sink or swim with Robertson at this moment, though a FA signing is always a possibility.

Position Battles

Alex Rodriguez vs. Bud Selig
It’s not an on-field position battle but the results of this arbitration case (and potential subsequent lawsuit) will have the biggest ramifications for the Yankees. If the suspension is upheld or shortened but still lengthy, it dramatically alters Kelly Johnson’s value (assuming second base is occupied by someone who rhymes with shmobinson shmano). While the circus that is Alex Rodriguez gets more than enough attention, his fantasy value probably doesn’t.

At age 38, he’s not a long-term property, but even in an injury shortened campaign, Rodriguez produced a .771 OPS. In deeper leagues that’s certainly valuable, and it’s not insane to suggest some improvement as long as he’s healthy. The best thing is to let him be someone else’s problem of course, but if a resolution comes down that allows him to play, don’t be afraid to jump in.

Player to Target

Ivan Nova
I already professed my love for Nova above, including his strong second half to the season. Projecting a strong season just because someone had a strong second half is a fool’s errand of course, but it was meant to show the kind of pitcher Nova can be. He’s not a high strikeout guy, but he knows how to pitch in that ballpark and has a potentially dangerous lineup behind him. He’s never topped 170 innings in his career, but, assuming full health should be able to break that barrier in 2014. Prior to last year Nova had either combined moderate results with the inability to strike anyone out or horrific results with an elevated strikeout rate. He began to put those pieces together in 2013 though, maintaining a strikeout rate just shy of 20 percent and producing a 3.10 ERA (3.47 FIP).

His major improvement though was in avoiding the longball. 2012 represented a brutal year in that regard (16 percent HR/FB) and 2013 brought a return to a more normal level (8.4%). Assuming he can replicate his success, a reasonable assumption given his ability to induce ground balls (50.4 percent GB rate for his career), Nova should provide plenty of surplus value thanks to those still smarting from 2012 or those still scared of pitchers in Yankee stadium.

Player to Avoid

CC Sabathia
It was tempting to go with Vernon Wells or Chris Stewart here but I decided to give in and actually be useful. There’s a case to be made that the hefty lefty is due for a rebound, as his 4.78 ERA was above his 4.10 FIP, on top of both being dramatically above his previous production levels. The concern of course is that Sabathia saw his strikeout rate drop almost 4.5 percentage points while seeing his walk rate receive a two percentage point bump. Neither one of those is good in isolation and it’s quite worrisome in tandem. Add in that he posted a career high (for the second straight year) HR/FB rate and you can see where this is headed.

At 32 years old, Sabathia is still an innings monster, tossing 200+ for the seventh consecutive season. The issue of course being that if those aren’t quality innings, they’re really hurting your overall numbers. This is by no means saying that Sabathia won’t improve on his 2013 statistics… he should. The question is by how much and will his name carry enough value to drive up his price? We obviously don’t know the answer to the question, but the idea that we get (from projections, as well as his 2013 FIP, assuming similar peripherals) is…not enough. Sabathia may well return to form, after all, he was of significant value as recently as 2012, but it’s the risk is such that you’re better off letting someone else take it.

Deep Sleeper

RHP Jose Ramirez
The Yankees aren’t exactly suited to deep sleepers because the reality is that if they have a problem, they tend to solve it from the outside, rather than from within. With their suddenly (kind of) budget-conscious ways and a relatively thin bullpen however, it doesn’t seem too much of a stretch to suggest that someone like Ramirez can shoot through the system to nab a spot in the back of the bullpen and become a relied upon option. In fact, he’s already done most of the shooting, spreading his 73 innings pitched between Double-A and Triple-A in 2013.

Those limited innings might actually work in the favor of this prediction, as he might be a bullpen option when he starts to bump up against an innings limit later in the year. Add in that he’s going to be 24 years old to begin this season, and there’s another reason to believe that he could see an accelerated path to the majors. If something were to happen to David Robertson, it’s conceivable that Ramirez could see significant innings in the back of the bullpen. He wouldn’t be thrown straight into the fire of course, but he has the stuff and a starter’s repertoire to fall back on if he found himself in that situation.

Craig Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Craig's other articles. You can contact Craig by clicking here

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