Despite Losses and Holes, the New York Yankees Are a Better Team Heading Into 2014

Yahoo Contributor Network

COMMENTARY | As hard as the New York Yankees fought throughout the 2013 season -- battling injuries, competing in the best division in baseball, and playing good American League teams on a daily basis -- the end result was a third-place finish in the AL East.

That's not going to sit well when you're talking about a franchise that's won 27 championships.

Whether or not the 2014 Yankees can climb a couple of spots in the standings, or even get into the playoffs via the wild card, is a story that will play itself out over six months beginning on April 1 in Houston.

What we know now, three months from opening day, is that the Yankees are a better team than they were when their season ended in September. If this offseason has taught us one thing, it's that the Yankees are still the Yankees.

Robinson Cano might be gone, but I would argue that's a good thing. The last thing the Yankees needed was to be stuck to a long-term contract for that amount of money. (Cano got a 10-year, $240 million deal from the Seattle Mariners.) Sure, the Yankees now have a hole to fill at second base (they've signed Brian Roberts and Kelly Johnson), but they also have a lot more money freed up going forward. Maybe some of that money has already been spent on the free agents who I'll get to later, but at least it's not tied to one player.

The Yankees will also have to figure out what to do at third base, if we assume that Alex Rodriguez's suspension, at least in some form, will be upheld. But here I would argue that when you consider the absence of the A-Rod sideshow, the money that they won't have to pay him if he's suspended, and his declining production, the Yankees are better off without him. They seem to agree. Johnson, Eduardo Nunez, Brendan Ryan, and maybe Mark Reynolds are options at third.

While we're on the topic of the infield, don't forget that Mark Teixeira will return after missing just about the entire 2013 season due to a wrist injury. You have to expect that he'll bounce back, that he's still a guy you can depend on to hit 30 home runs and drive in 100 runs. If not, the Yankees could be in some trouble.

And remember Derek Jeter? The captain? He'll turn 40 next June, but he's still the most important player on the roster. Jeter missed most of last season as well, but everything we've seen from him over the last 18 years would lead you to believe that he's not going out on that note. Wouldn't it be typical Jeter to have a big year like he did in 2012 when everyone said he was done and he proceeded to lead the AL with 216 hits and batted .316? Are you going to be the one to count him out this time around?

So while I'm banking on comeback years for Teixeira and Jeter, where the Yankees have made significant upgrades is in the outfield.

I wasn't on board with giving Jacoby Ellsbury seven years and $153 million, but the fact remains that the guy can play. If you have him and Brett Gardner in the same lineup, there's the potential for 100 stolen bases between the two of them. If Ellsbury stays healthy, and that's a big question mark, he's a guy who could hit .300, steal 50 bases, maybe see his power numbers increase with the short right-field porch at the Stadium, and play a good center field. Pretty good combo.

The Yankees recently introduced Carlos Beltran at a press conference in the Bronx. Beltran will turn 37 next season, but we learned over the last two years that he has plenty of baseball left in him. Beltran averaged 28 home runs (.282 batting average) in his two years in St. Louis. If you were to take one thing from his remarks at the press conference, it's that Beltran is looking forward to spending a few years with New York's other team.

Finally, there's the signing of Brian McCann. The Yankees didn't get much offensive production from the catcher position last season, so this was a definite need heading into the winter. McCann appears to be a perfect fit -- good glove, good bat, and good presence.

While the Yankees have pitching issues that need to be addressed, you have to believe that they'll figure it out. Plus, you could do worse than having CC Sabathia, Ivan Nova, and Hiroki Kuroda at the top of your starting rotation. Even barring any major signings or trades, the Yankees can work with what they have.

Holes to fill? Yes. Name me a team that doesn't.

Charles Costello has followed the Yankees for 30 years and was a beat reporter assigned to cover the team during the 1997 and 1998 seasons. He writes about the Yankees and New York Giants on the Yahoo Contributor Network.

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