Monday, July 14, 2014

Back in 2008, the New York Yankees were facing a crossroads. After ending the final season in old Yankee Stadium, the Yankees missed the playoffs for the first time since and it was time to reload for the opening of the new palace in the Bronx. The Yankees spent more than $400 million in salaries to starting pitchers CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett and first basemen Mark Teixeira to put New York back on top of the baseball world with its 27th World Series championship.

The Yankees faced a similar predicament this past offseason and after another spending spree, the results haven't been nearly the same. The signings of outfielders Jacoby Ellsbury, Carlos Beltran along with catcher Brian McCann and Japanese ace Masahiro Tanaka have not achieved the desired result.

Entering the All Star Break, the Yankees hold a pedestrian 47-47 record, but trail the first place Orioles by just five games.

Masahiro Tanaka

Tanaka was one of most sought after free agents of the offseason that came with major question marks, but that didn't stop Brian Cashman and the Yankees from giving the 25-year-old starting pitcher a seven-year, $155 million contract. If there were any doubts about Tanaka's ability and his famed splitter, those doubts were cast aside almost immediately.

For much of the first half of the season, Tanaka was the best pitcher in the American League. He compiled a 12-4 record with a 2.51 ERA with 135 strikeouts and just 19 walks in 129 1-3 innings before the bad news came. After allowing a season-high five earned runs in a loss to Cleveland, it was revealed that Tanaka had a partial tear of a ligament in his right elbow. The diagnosis didn't call for Tommy John Surgery, but six weeks of rehab. Despite the sparkling start to his Yankee career, Tanaka's elbow injury has clouded the excitement of the first three months of his debut season in the Bronx.

The jury is still out on what to make of Tanaka's future as a top of the rotation starting pitcher, but one thing is for sure, there aren't many pitchers in all of baseball with a more talented array of pitches.

Jacoby Ellsbury

The Yankees shocked the baseball world when they pried Ellsbury away from the rival Red Sox on a seven-year deal worth more than $150 million. The contract is an extraordinary amount of money for any outfielder, but especially one that has reached double digits in home runs once in his career. In 2011, Ellsbury his 32 homers and drove in 105 runs in what can now be looked at as a career year and not what you can expect from the speedster.

Ellsbury had no first season jitters in the pinstripes as he hit the ground running in April. In the season's first month, Ellsbury had a slash line of .312/.369/.452 with an .821 OPS, but May saw the Yankee center fielder slump badly with a .231 batting average and a .317 on-base percentage. Through 93 games, Ellsbury has a .282 batting average, .346 on-base percentage, .400 slugging percentage and .746 OPS with six homers and 42 RBIs.

Ellsbury's offensive numbers are around his career averages, but his value has come on the bases where he has stolen 24 bases in 29 attempts and in center field with his 247 put outs, which leads center fielders in the American League. Ellsbury has also committed just one error.

There is a case to be made that Ellsbury didn't deserve the contract he received from the Yankees given his lack of power, but he more than makes up for it in other areas. His base running and outfield defense have made him a vital member of the 2014 Yankees.

Carlos Beltran

Upon signing a three-year, $45 million contract with the Yankees, Beltran exuded such happiness and pride of a life-long dream of donning the pinstripes finally coming true. Unfortunately Beltran hasn't been on the field as much as he would have hoped and when he's been in the lineup, there hasn't been much to cheer about.

A red hot start in April was slowed when Beltran collided with the wall down the right field line in Tampa and he seemed to never fully recover. Beltran hit the disabled list when bone chips were found in his right elbow and just last week he was sidelined with a broken nose after a mishap in batting practice.

All of Beltran's ailments make you wonder if an outfield over 35 can continue to play at a high level at this stage in his career. We probably won't have that answer until this time next year. The bone chips injury could have ended Beltran's season with a surgical procedure, but to his credit he's playing through the discomfort.

Beltran has been extremely disappointing with a slugging percentage just one point higher than Ellsbury and a .216 batting average with a .271 on-base percentage to boot. If the Yankees have any chance of catching the Orioles and playing in October this season, Beltran will have to be the player he was in St. Louis in the past.

Brian McCann

McCann like Beltran was a household name in the National League before coming to the Bronx, but the former Braves catcher has also struggled at the plate. McCann has a . 239 batting average and a on-base percentage below .300, but there could be signs that the Yankee catcher is finding his stride. In 40 at-bats in July, McCann has a .350 batting average, one home run and three RBIs and two doubles.

McCann's first season with the Yankees has been an eventful one. While he tried to get used to a completely new city and new league, 80 percent of New York's starting rotation has gone down to injury. McCann has managed to hold together a rag tag group of starting pitching misfits around veteran Hiroki Kuroda and in the process has thrown out 44 percent of would-be base stealers, which is second in all of baseball behind St. Louis veteran Yadier Molina.

If that wasn't enough for McCann to deal with, his former hitting coach in Atlanta, Terry Pendleton, told the New York media last week that McCann would never truly be comfortable in New York. McCann has a lot to deal with, but he's improved the catching position and kept the Yankees afloat behind the plate. He may not have lived up to his five-year, $85 million contract the Yankees gave him in the offseason, but he's been one of the Yankees' most valuable players this season.

It's clear that the 2014 squad can't compare to the success that the 2009 had, but there is the potential for the offense to get it going and improve upon a meager offense that has managed 375 runs this season, which is third worst in the American League.

Getting back to the World Series for the first time since 2009 is a distant thought at this point, but playing meaningful games in October isn't. The pitching staff is depleted and no one should expect Tanaka to pitch again this season.  Now is the time for Ellsbury, Beltran and McCann to step up and prove their worth.


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