After not making the playoffs for just the second time since 1995 (19 seasons), the New York Yankees‘ front office set out on a clear mission this offseason: a spending spree.
They have been busy, spending $471 million on nine players including Jacoby Ellsbury, Brian McCann, Carlos Beltran and now Masahiro Tanaka. This theory of spending more to win more was personified in 2009 when the Yankees acquired C.C. Sabathia, A.J. Burnett and Mark Teixeira en route to their 27th World Series title.
The Yankees have had some success when adding players from Japan as Hideki Matsui was the 2009 World Series MVP. However, they have also had some bad luck (see: Kei Igawa). In Japan, pitchers throw a lot of innings and a lot of pitches with little regard for arm safety. The Yankees just have to hope that Tanaka is more Yu Darvish than he is Igawa.
The Yankees rarely struggle offensively partially because their stadium is the definition of a hitter’s park, and the other reason is because they have a lot of big bats in their lineup. Their struggles are usually surrounding their starting pitching. In the upcoming season, that weakness may have now become a strength.
Sabathia, who is coming off the worst year of his illustrious career, has been a workhorse for the Yankees since 2009, leading the team in innings pitched, wins and strikeouts. He has trimmed a ton of weight and looks to be in the best physical shape of the year. Even with the signing of Tanaka, there is no doubt that this accomplished southpaw will be taking the mound on Opening Day.
Hiroki Kuroda will likely be the no. 2 starter. He has proven to be durable even though he is nearing 39 years of age. He was sensational in the first half of the season last year, posting a 2.65 ERA. He faltered towards the end of the season and as his innings count went up, so did his ERA.
Surrounded by a much better supporting cast this season, look for Kuroda to win 15 games and thanks to the depth that the Yankees have, he should be able to throw fewer innings to stay fresh all year.
The newcomer Tanaka went 24-0 in Japan, which is okay I guess. He has a devastating split-finger fastball. A pitcher with a polished splitter not only has an out-pitch, but it also means the pitcher can keep the ball down in the zone, which should translate to Tanaka keeping the ball in the yard. He is a real X-factor for the Yanks as he gives them starting pitching depth. If he’s as good as advertised, he makes them an immediate title contender.
Ivan Nova will likely be the no. starter this season. Nova has no. 1 stuff when he is on and no.7 stuff when he is off. That has been his biggest problem so far in his young career: consistency. Look for him to mature a little more this season. The big question left is: who will be the fifth starter? Michael Pineda, David Phelps, Vidal Nuno or Adam Warren? Give the edge to Phelps at the start of the season, but it won’t be determined until Spring Training.