For a lot of baseball clubs, an 85-victory season is perfectly acceptable. For the New York Yankees, it's a crime, a sin, an unforgivable result. The Yankees didn't just miss the playoffs last year, they were borderline irrelevant for six months. And the final winning percentage was the franchise's worst since 1992.
So much for that narrative. Break out the Monopoly set, get out the checkbook. Brian Cashman attacked the free agent market like a spoiled daughter in the mall, armed with Daddy's credit card. The Yankees aren't going to strike out looking again.
[Baseball 2014 from Yahoo! Fantasy Sports: Join a league today!]
Cashman couldn't keep Robinson Cano around, but that's the only sad song from their offseason. Four big-ticket items (Jacoby Ellsbury, Carlos Beltran, Masahiro Tanaka and Brian McCann) landed on Broadway, for a sum in the neighborhood of $438 million. Love them or hate them, you're going to watch this team closely again.
Load up the Ps and Qs, there's much to sort through.
Q: How early should Ellsbury come off the board?
A: As you can see on Yahoo's fantasy grid, I'm the highest on Ellsbury. I consider him a first-round calibre player, while the rest of the staff shakes its collective head. He's going to contribute in all five categories, and he might be dynamic in three of them.
There isn't much debate on Ellsbury's skills – everyone knows what he's capable of when on the field. If not for Boston's infamous chicken and beer collapse of 2011 (something that had nothing to do with him), Ellsbury probably wins the AL MVP. He was the No. 9 outfielder in fantasy baseball last year, despite missing 28 games. The short porch in New York should push Ellsbury back to double-digit homers, and 18-20 could be in play. At age 30, he's still in his prime.
Injury risk is the obvious flag on Ellsbury; he missed 88 games in 2012, and just about the entire 2010 season. But to paraphrase the words of esteemed industry friend Todd Zola, there's a difference between injury prone and accident prone. Ellsbury's 2010 season was wrecked by a fluke collision with teammate Adrian Beltre. A second-base dustup with Reid Brignac screwed up the 2012 campaign. Do we hold this sort of stuff against the player? Answer that question and you have your Ellsbury answer.
I'm not afraid to take the plunge, late in the first round or anytime in the second. I welcome your counter in the comments.
Q: Okay, what's the plan on Tanaka?
A: It's doubtful I'll own Tanaka on any fake teams this year, and it's no fun to say that. Yu Darvish and Hisashi Iwakuma were very good to me last season, and Hiroki Kuroda is one of the most underrated pitchers over the past few years. I'm very import-friendly, a believer in #japaneseice.
But at the end of the day it's all about the value, and I can't make this one fit – for 2014, anyway.
I wrote up an extended Tanaka look the day he signed with the Yankees (go there for the nuts and bolts), and colleague Michael Salfino recently shared his take. I don't know anyone who expects Tanaka to be a bust. But maybe the words of Gene McCaffrey (seriously, go get his annual) sum it up best:
There are people who just love treating the latest import like he's a gem before he has thrown a pitch in the major leagues. Let them. I have no qualms about making Darvish my No. 1 SP this year, and last year I had him as a good No. 2. The year before I would have taken a shot with him as the No. 4, and that's how I'll treat Tanaka. There are many No. 3 SP choices that I know more about, good choices. I can't throw away that knowledge for a guy who has yet to throw a pitch in the major leagues. And on the Yankees, I think it's prudent to rank Tanaka lower on the No. 4 list. $13.
Thanks, Geno. Given Tanaka's early buzz (he's the No. 22 pitcher off the board in Yahoo drafts), jagged division and treacherous ballpark, I'm unlikely to take the plunge unless I find myself in a room of similar disbelievers (and that never happens). I don't need to chase all the shiny new toys. I'll be more interested in a year or two, when some of the novelty has likely worn off.
Q: Okay, Mr. Negative. You wanna bash any other Yankees starters?
Sabathia turns 34 in the middle of the summer and the mileage is getting worrisome – there's 2,775 innings on the odometer. He's coming off the worst ratios of his career (4.78/1.37). His strikeouts collapsed last year and his fastball velocity has dropped three mph since 2009. Ballpark, division, age; lather, rinse, repeat.
Sabathia's early Yahoo ADP is 141.6, silly optimistic. Some of it is our fault for initially ranking him too optimistically, I'll grant you that. Don't look for Sabathia in my next Top 250, he won't be on the list. The middle and late pitching tiers are overflowing with upside options and lottery tickets in good spots. Spend your money elsewhere.
Q: Keep hating, hater. It's almost like you grew up a Red Sox fan. Who's the next guy you cut down?
A: Simmer down there, simmerer. I'm just chasing stats like you are. I don't care where they come from. And I'm certainly bullish on David Robertson, the new Yankees closer.
The mythology tied to the ninth inning is usually overblown, but I won't completely discount it in this case – Robertson steps in for living legend Mariano Rivera, a tall order. Should Robertson blow a few games in April, the New York critics will not be gentle. A smooth takeoff might be more important here than in any other closing city. And remember that balance sheet in New York – this team expects to contend from Day 1, which puts more immediate pressure on the ninth-inning man.
All those disclaimers out of the way, there's a lot to like with Robertson. He passes the eye test and the spreadsheet test. Although his strikeout clip fell an eyelash last year, 10.45 K/9 is still elite - and it came with sparse walks (2.44/9) and a heavy dose of ground balls (50.9 percent). Yep, that will work. I'm expecting an ERA in the low 2s, a WHIP slightly over one, 75-85 strikeouts and a bushelful of handshakes.
The price is reasonable for the moment – Yahoo drafters are selecting 12 closers at the table before Robertson. There's a nifty profit opportunity here, take a stab.
Yankee Doodles: The player with the albatross contract is often a fantasy bargain. We've seen it in Washington with Jayson Werth, and the same theme applies to Alfonso Soriano. New York's prodigal son has 66 homers and 209 RBIs the last two years (rankling fifth in both columns), and he's thrown 24 steals in for fun. Even his defense is on the improve, not that the Yankees need to deal with that. The Yahoo room lets you have Soriano in the middle of the 14th round, a reasonable price . . . Beltran's defense has fallen notably in recent years, but at least he's staying on the field and producing at the plate. He's managed 145, 151 and 142 games the last three years, and now has the DH spot for occasional breaks. I'm looking for something in the neighborhood of .278-83-26-88-3, a useful line – even if the upside is gone for good . . . I'm going to give Mark Teixeira the Sabathia treatment in my next ranks – buried under 15 feet of snow. His 178.4 ADP seems foolish to me, given all the negative talk about Teixeira's wrist. Enough of your fake players will get hurt during the year; don't go out of your way to take on problems in March . . . I know it's a little unfair to play the "wait, take a cheaper option" game – when it's your turn to pick, you can't defer. You have to select someone. And sometimes you're forced to tap the top or middle of a tier, not the bottom. That all said, while there's nothing wrong with McCann's current tag (103, round 9.8), the catcher board has all sorts of interesting guys at cheaper prices (Wilin Rosario slots 12 picks later; Jonathan Lucroy is a likely steal 57 picks later). Maybe we expect too much from these name hitters when they go to the big city. Doesn't it always feel like we can find catchers on a budget?