Tuesday, February 3, 2015

It's nearly a complete 180 from where we were starting a year ago.

The Yankees were heading into Spring Training with a starting rotation that, on paper, was fit enough to compete with the best of the best in Major League Baseball. Fresh off of signing the prized free-agent Masahiro Tanaka, with Michael Pineda finally ready to return to the big leagues, the Bombers looked like a real playoff contender.

They had their question marks, of course. CC Sabathia had been declining at a 90 degree angle, Pineda hadn't pitched in the big leagues since 2012, no one knew what Tanaka was going to bring, and Hiroki Kuroda completely fell off the final month and a half of 2013.

The talent was there, it was all a matter of it coming through.

Then the season got here, and things got ugly. Sabathia, who finished out the spring strong, delivered a dub on Opening Day, eventually hurting his knee in May, which led to season-ending, and possibly career-threatening, micro-fracture surgery in July. Pineda got suspended in two weeks into the season for hiding (not very well, I might add) pine tar on his neck. Shockingly enough, he got hurt while throwing during his suspension, and we didn't see him again until later in the season. Ivan Nova: he got hurt in May, needed Tommy John surgery, and we'll be welcoming him back at some point this summer.

Just before the All-Star Break, Tanaka got hurt and even though Tommy John wasn't needed, it was on the table and will be something worth watching this season as he takes his second lap around the MLB circuit.

13 different people started games for the Yankees last season, and many of them aren't here anymore. Kuroda, David Phelps, Shane Greene, Brandon McCarthy: gone (to Japan), gone, gone, and gone.

That brings us to where we are today. Derek Jeter is gone, Alex Rodriguez is coming back, and yet the biggest problem facing the Yankees might be the prospect of another year in which they're leaning on the bullpen to do the heavy lifting, with a lineup that, based on 2014 numbers, still doesn't pose a challenge to opposing starters.

That leaves me to believe the Yankees can't possibly be content on where they are now as a baseball team. Nathan Eovaldi was a nice get for the club -- a 24-year-old with a great fastball and plenty of upside; we haven't seen many of those come through the system lately. But after that, you can't count on anyone but Tanaka.

It looks like Sabathia will be ready by opening day, but at this point there aren't many people out there will to bet on a bounce-back season by the big lefty. It's just not likely. Nobody knows how any games Pineda will start this season, and Nova will be a wild card, like he always is, when he returns (not doubting his potential, though).

The battle for the fifth spot in any rotation isn't like to include No. 1 potential starters -- unless you're the Nationals, of course. Playing that game for the Yanks this year will be Chris Capuano, Adam Warren, and Chase Whitley. The latter two more likely served for the bullpen.

Does that mean get James Shields on the phone? Well, the best available starter is likely looking at a much lowering price now than he was three months ago. At this point, he's either going to get paid by a team desperate for an arm, or he's going to have to settle with the best offer on the table. $100 million is not in the Yankees' price range, but something around the four-year, $55 million that Ervin Santana got and Big Game James could be Bronx-bound and back in the familiar AL East.

Shields wouldn't solve all of the Yankees' problems, but he would help beef up the starting rotation by a four or five extra wins, which could make or break their entire season.

February 3, 2015. Nine days before Jeter announced his retirement, the Yankees were going into the season with a real hope of getting back into the playoffs after missing out in 2013. Oh, how simple those times were.

Is it too late to go back?



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