Don’t Bury the New York Yankees Quite Yet
It’s time to pick the New York Yankees to finish fifth in the American League East — all the cool kids are doing it.
Sometimes cool kids do stupid things.
Sure, this isn’t a Yankees lineup many spoiled Yankees fans are used to seeing. The projected starting lineup might only have one — one —All-Star this season. That one All-Star, though, is Robinson Cano — maybe the second best player in baseball behind some guy named Mike Trout.
Over the past two seasons, Cano has four more wins above replacement over the next best second baseman according to FanGraphs, and is only .3 fWAR behind Miguel Cabrera when including all position players in that time frame.
If you’re building a lineup around one player, Cano isn’t a bad choice.
Of course, there are the injuries to other star players. Derek Jeter is most likely starting the season on the disabled list, and Mark Teixeira and Curtis Granderson are set to miss at least the first month of the season.
Those injuries, of course, are what is causing the most panic, but let’s put these in prospective. The Yankees might be better off missing Teixeira’s first month of the season. Last year in March/April, Teixeira put up a .244/.290/.395 triple slash line. That’s much closer to terrible than bad.
Actually, Teixeira hovered around bad all season, but was still worth 2.7 fWAR. It’s not a far stretch to imagine he can match that total again with a decent season when returning.
The Yankees are also getting discounted from their ability to hit home runs with this new lineup. The narrative goes that this lineup has been so reliant on home runs, yet has lost so many of the home runs from last year’s lineup that they’ll struggle to score runs.
Let’s put aside for now how oddly opposite this argument is to the one heard so often last year of the Yankees relying too heavily on the home run.
With the return of Brett Gardner to the top of the lineup and Ichiro Suzuki projected to follow, the Yankees have more speed at the top of order than they’ve had in years past.
Gardner and Ichiro, and to an extent Eduardo Nunez and possibly Melky Mesa (if he makes the team), are guys who can create runs on the bases. These are guys who can steal bases and score from first on a double in the gap — something not typically found in a Yankees lineup.
Even if the offense doesn’t score quite as many runs, they won’t be giving up as much either with their pitching. FanGraphs recently ranked the Yankees starting pitching fifth and bullpen third in the majors in their positional power rankings for 2013. It will be more surprising than not if both the starters and relievers are not ranked towards the top of the league in efficiency during the season.
The starting rotation has three pitchers who can throw 170 innings, two above-average back end guys in Ivan Nova and Phil Hughes (note: above-average back end guys and above-average pitchers are not the same thing), and a wild card in the possible return of Michael Pineda.
Add to that a defensive outfield — with the return of Granderson — that won’t let many fly balls drop, and this staff could even be better than projected.
The one thing to worry about is the possible sense of desperation in the front office. If the Yankees decide to make another panic move like the trade for Wells, they could be moving themselves into more trouble. Thankfully, at the moment I can’t think of a worse player to desperately trade for than Wells, so that may be behind them.
The Yankees won 95 games last season. This team didn’t lose 20 games worth of players. This team didn’t lose 15 games worth of players.
For those expecting the Yankees to finish under .500 or out of the division race, prepare to be disappointed. I’m not sure if this phrase has ever been said seriously before, but don’t sleep on the Yankees.
Follow Dan on Twitter @DanPizzuta