Coming off a disappointing 2013 season that saw them win just 85 games, the Yankees threw money around last offseason like it was about to hit its expiration date. Now, after another subpar campaign in 2014—winning one fewer game than the year prior—the question is will they or won’t they?
With no shortage of holes to fill (pretty much the whole infield and a few rotation spots) and very little coming by way of the farm system (we’ll get to that below), the Yankees may be forced to bring their payroll above any point in franchise history just to field a playoff-caliber roster. However, until that happens, we’re left examining a very expensive building with an unfinished façade.
Will the Yankees be able to count of any of their veterans to find the fountain of youth (or at least health) and bring the team back to glory? How many years of missing the playoffs can the front office and managerial staffs go without being relegated to the wobbly chair? Will the franchise crumble without Derek Jeter, as so many talk radio callers suggest? This is an important offseason and season for the pinstriped ones, so let’s jump into the players you’ll be making decisions on for your fantasy roster.
A note for our readers. While informative, since we are still months away from pitchers and catchers reporting to spring training, these previews are far from definitive or complete. Free agent signings, trades, and other offseason news will change the landscape for most if not all teams. For any moves that take place after a team preview is written, please look to our Transaction Analysis coverage for instant reactions, and then check back on the Team Previews for more detailed updates (including lineups, rotations, bullpens, etc.) as we get closer to Opening Day.
Another note for our readers. The characterizations below (for example, “stud”) are designed to be taken in context for each team. Not every team has a Mike Trout or Giancarlo Stanton, so the “stud” category represents the best player or players on each team, not necessarily in comparison to the league.
Jacoby Ellsbury – OF
The big free-agent acquisition did exactly what fantasy owners were hoping for in 2014, as his power numbers moved back in a positive direction, and he still provided nearly 40 steals and finished as a top-10 outfielder in mixed leagues. But most importantly, he broke his even-year injury streak (he was held to just 92 games combined in 2010 and 2012). Surprisingly, however, the power surge was not a symptom of Yankee Stadium, as Ellsbury hit only seven of his 16 homers at home. Heading into 2015, there should be renewed optimism about the center fielder’s fantasy value, and it will likely require a very heavy draft-day investment to retain his services—and while the injury concerns will never truly be behind him, at least the upside is again worthy of the risk.
Brett Gardner – OF
The last homegrown Yankee position player to matter for fantasy, Gardner came into the year with 23 career homers in 620 games, yet managed to hit a whopping 17 last season. It’s no surprise that the last two seasons, Gardner has seen his contact rate drop and his fly ball rate rise, which makes some of the power sustainable—just not all of it. It’s a noticeable change in approach, and the result isn’t a bunch of cheap 330-foot, down-the-line homers; in fact, all but three of them traveled at least 370 feet. Fantasy owners should hope that approach continues to manifest itself in double-digit homers, as Gardner doesn’t have the batting average or the bulk of steals to be much more than an OF3 without them.
Masahiro Tanaka – SP
For the first three months of the season, the 26-year-old import was one of the top fantasy pitchers in baseball—racking up 127 strikeouts and 11 wins, along with sterling ratios before June came to a close. However, a couple of rocky starts, a partially torn UCL, a PRP injection, a million news blurbs and two September starts later, we’re all significantly less excited about Tanaka in 2015 than we were on that innocent late June day. The risk is inherent enough to make him an X-factor, but damn if Tanaka isn’t a stud when he’s on the mound. In a parallel universe where the elbow injury never happened, he’d be a surefire SP1 for the upcoming season, but in our universe, he’s a SP2 with upside and risk in spades—because if he goes down, he goes down hard.
CC Sabathia – SP
“Way to go out on a limb, Bret,” says everyone on the other side of their computer. There will be a small, but not insignificant group of fantasy owners buying a comeback here based on name recognition alone, but as we saw with Tim Lincecum in 2014, that’s rarely a good idea. In three years, he’s lost four miles-per-hour on his fastball, and expecting either a full season or an ERA south of 4.00 is generous for the big man. He should go undrafted in shallow mixed leagues this spring.
Chris Young – OF
After hitting nothing but waivers as a member of the Mets, Young ended up just a couple of subway transfers away down the stretch and hit .282/.354/.521 for the Yankees in 79 plate appearances. That seems awfully impressive, except when you consider that most of it came in September and that he did spend the first four months of the season, racking up a .630 OPS for the Mets—with that coming on the heels of a .659 OPS in Oakland during 2013. Don’t be tempted.
Up and Coming
Michael Pineda – SP
The 25-year-old comprises this entire section because of the Yankees’ inability and unwillingness to develop their prospects over the last decade or so. Fortunately, Pineda’s 1.89 ERA in 13 starts during 2014 means that the Yankees have now clinched the Jesus Montero trade for themselves (sorry, Jesus—I still believe in you). With an impressive 59-to-7 K:BB rate, Pineda has made up for the velocity he’s lost since his Seattle days with increased control, and could be an undervalued SP3 heading into the season in mixed leagues (meaning you won’t have to draft him as an SP3 to reclaim the value).
What You See is What You Get
Mark Teixeira – 1B
Overall, the package remains the same—low batting average, half-decent on-base percentage, 25-homer power and fewer RBI than he should have. His 2014 season looks worse now in the sunlight because Teixeira limped down the stretch to the tune of a .573 OPS in the second half. Compared to his .241/.341/.464 line with 17 homers in the first half, it’s a very different player. If you go in expecting .240 with 25 homers (barring injury, which you have to discount for), you’re likely to be somewhat satisfied with your purchase.
Martin Prado – 2B/3B/OF
The former Brave and Diamondback was excellent upon arriving in New York, as he hit .316 with seven homers in just 37 games before missing the second half of September following an appendectomy. This was a positive sign, as he was having a bit of a down year with Arizona before the mid-season trade. Going forward, Prado should be exactly what you think he is, without dwelling on it. A .280-.300 average with the potential for 15 homers and a helpful pile of runs or RBI, depending on where he sits in the lineup is reasonable.
Brian McCann – C
On one hand, the short porch at Yankee Stadium helped McCann get within one homer of his career high (24). On the other hand, he’s hit at least 20 homers in each of the past seven years, so while it was a big difference maker for him, it also revealed some frightening possibilities. McCann hit 19 of those 23 homers at home, and limped to a .591 OPS on the road. Fortunately for him, he still gets to play half his games in New York this coming season, so more of the same is in order.
Carlos Beltran – OF
Usually, Beltran is an X-factor for health reasons, but 2014 showed that maybe he should be considered one for performance reasons as well. Ironically, his 98 OPS+ last season was his worst since the first year of his tour of action in New York (he had a 97 OPS+ in 2005 after signing the big contract with the Mets). Declines rarely happen in a straight line, even when a player is beyond 35, so Beltran could bounce back with another strong year or continue his fall into fantasy irrelevance.
Dellin Betances – RP
Realstically, Betances is a better fit for the What You See Is What You Get section, as he looks super great and his is super great, but this is more about role than performance. With the Yankees unlikely to let David Robertson walk—especially in light of the qualifying offer—Betances will return to being one of the most valuable set up men in fantasy leagues, and worth owning across all formats. If for some reason he ends up in the closer role, watch out.
Alex Rodriguez – 3B
This one is the most fun. Earlier this year, many were wondering if Rodriguez would ever wear a major league uniform again, but due to the Yankees’ inability to develop prospects and the pain of guaranteed contracts, he looks like he’ll be in the Opening Day lineup in New York—and it will be at home, making this all the more entertaining. Personally, I’m buying the comeback and think enough people are going to avoid him on pride alone that he’ll return value in 2015.
Ichiro Suzuki – OF
It’s sad to see it end like this, but if Ichiro receives a full complement of playing time, it will be because either everyone got hurt or he got traded to a team where everyone got hurt. As a part-timer, he can still steal 15-20 bases, while hitting for a helpful batting average—and that’s a very worthy -only league play.
Shane Greene – SP
It would be a little surprising to see Greene with a rotation spot right off the bat in 2015, mostly because it will have meant that the Yankees missed on a few of their FA targets, but that’s no reflection on Greene himself, who acquitted himself awfully well in a half-season with the Yankees in 2014. If he has a rotation spot, he gets bumped up to mixed-league play due to the strikeouts.
Shawn Kelley – RP
His 4.53 ERA really sells short how strong Kelley was in the pen for the Yankees in 2014, but his 3.02 FIP and 67 strikeouts in 51 2/3 innings starts to tell the story in a slightly better light. He won’t get saves, and he isn’t likely to be a strong holds candidate (unless Robertson walks and they don’t sign a reliever), but with the whiffs and ratios, Kelley should be valuable endgame pick in AL-only formats.
Ivan Nova – SP
With an April 29th surgery date, Nova is unlikely to return from Tommy John until June at the earliest, but he’s not a name to forget, as he was finally starting to take some real steps forward during the 2013 season. If he can get 100 innings in this year, it will be a success, and he could be a strong contributor down the stretch in deep formats.
Prospects for 2015
Jacob Lindgren – RP
The Yankees’ second round pick out of Mississippi State could have gotten the some of the same headlines that Brandon Finnegan got down the stretch, if there was really a playoff spot on the line in New York. With a strong fastball/slider combo from the left-side, Lindgren could work his way into some holds in 2015 and rack up strikeouts if he can keep his control in check at the major-league level. Just don’t look for saves here.
Eury Perez – OFâ€‹
Claimed off waivers from the Nationals, Perez could rack up some steals as an extra outfielder if the Yankees decide to move on from Ichiro. And frankly, even if they don’t. Unfortunately, he can’t do much else.
Jose Ramirez – RP/SP
A potential bullpen arm with quality stuff, Ramirez is unlikely to be a starter at the major league level—especially since he was converted to the bullpen in Triple-A.
Robert Refsnyder – 2B
An injury at second third or a corner outfield spot could signal an opportunity for Refsnyder, but odds are he won’t do much with it anyway. At best, he can hit for some average, but with little power or speed to speak of.
J.R. Murphy – C
An injury to Brian McCann could make Murphy relevant in AL-only formats, as he can make enough contact to be more than a nothing at the position. And yes, that was a letter of recommendation.