Solarte and Johnson prove Yankees' Major League Scouts Among Best in Baseball

20 Bold Predictions for the AL East

Nothing ever happens the way things are predicted - so here are 20 bold predictions for this season in the AL East.

1. Every team has a record 81-81 or better.

2. The fourth-place team is within 5 games of first.

3. Manny Machado is this year's Derek Jeter, missing most of 2014 on an injury that should've healed by or soon after Opening Day.

4. Brian Roberts actually has an above-replacement level season.

5. Koji Uehara flops - but somebody not currently on the 40-man roster locks down Boston's 9th innings from mid-July on.

6. Jose Reyes puts up a season to remember.

7. Masahiro Tanaka and Xander Bogaerts appear favorites to win Rookie-of-the-Year, but lose out to "Random Minor Leaguer" from Houston.

8. James Loney is not worth his contract at all.

9. Ben Zobrist plays an inning or more at every position except catcher - including pitching two innings in a 21-inning marathon against the New York Yankees.

10. The Red Sox put up a horrendous first two months, but after they shave their beards in the first week of June, they start winning.

11. Derek Jeter actually bats low in the order for a few games during a severe slump.

12. Michael Pineda and Chris Archer lead the AL with 21 wins

13. Whoever closes for the Orioles outpitches Grant Balfour.

14. Chris Davis doesn't become a HR machine again - but he does lead the league in batting average.

15. Ubaldo Jimenez goes 8-1 with a 0.97 ERA before the All-Star Break, but 1-5 with a 9.45 ERA after it, sent to the DL with "arm fatigue" in the middle of August.

16. Nobody makes a blockbuster trade at the trade deadline - but a minor, swap scrap heaps kind of trade pays dividends for the Blue Jays, as whomever they trade for leads the team down the stretch.

17. Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner combine for 114 SB.\

18. Dellin Betances and David Robertson go to the All-Star Game.

19. Ichiro Suzuki is designated for assignment in August.

20. The Houston Astros have their way with the AL East, going 24-10 - including sweeping the Yankees to start the season.

Hey, it could happen, right?

If healthy, Yankees not as bad as advertised

Just about everywhere you look, no sports writer speaks highly of the Yankees, often referring to negative possibilities as proven facts and always looking in the worst possible light upon the team.  Honestly, when it comes to the Yanks, such bashing to be expected - they're not called the "Evil Empire" for nothing - and many of their points are valid.

Still, at heart the Yankees are not necessarily the 82- to 86-win team they are often claimed to be.

The Yankees often, while certainly not the best in baseball, is not the pitcher's paradise it was in 2013.  Aside from Brian Roberts, everybody has put up an above-average season at least once in the last two years, and while the team may lack an overwhelming power hitter capable of hitting 40+ HR and driving in upwards of 100 runs, a number of guys - Carlos Beltran, Alfonso Soriano, Brian McCann, Kelly Johnson, Mark Teixeira - are certainly capable of 20 HR and 80-90 RBI, which is not exactly a "weak" lineup.  Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner can easily combine for 80 steals and drive opposing pitchers nuts together, as Boston manager John Farrell has said.  And even Derek Jeter and Brian Roberts, the two weakest links in the chain, have looked good (or at least not atrocious) this spring, despite what their stat lines may say; after all, they are on the field.

On the mound, often considered the Yankees' weakness, the team has, as ESPN even says, quite a bit of depth.  Michael Pineda, David Phelps, Adam Warren, and Vidal Nuno, all candidates for the #5 spot, have been among the team's best pitchers this spring, while Masahiro Tanaka has looked as good as advertised.  Ivan Nova and Hiroki Kuroda have had rough starts, but have also done well, so it's too early to call them major concerns, and the former ace CC Sabathia dominated in his last outing.  Sure, it may have been against the Marlins, but it should offer some hope that he will learn to pitch without velocity.

The post-Rivera bullpen has also raised some eyebrows, as many consider the team to lack the bullpen depth to get the ball to Robertson in the ninth, especially after the loss of Boone Logan.  Well, consider this - aside from Rivera, Robertson, and Logan, the team has had vastly different bullpens from year to year, and aside from the remarkably-stable 2013 'pen, from month-to-month as well....and it has always been a strength.  The bullpen is the most volatile position on the team, and manager Joe Girardi has proven that he knows how to maximize his bullpen (except when it comes to Joba Chamberlain, of course).  I think it's way too early for any team to even consider worrying about having a weak bullpen.

Last, but arguably most importantly, I'll talk about injuries and depth.  True, the Yankees are one of the oldest teams in the league and are counting on some injury-prone and injury-recovering players to be major parts of the team.  Three of these I'd like to strike off the list right now: what have Derek Jeter and Brian Roberts done so far to make you believe they'll certainly get hurt, and if Mark Teixeira wasn't feeling healthy, why did he make a diving catch at first base?  Additionally, although Ellsbury is out with calf stiffness, his reputation as being injury-prone is overblown, as most of the injuries he has sustained have been of the "freak accident" kind, not the type that tend to linger and return, never truly healing.  Granted, there's a first for everything, and after 2013's outbreak of the Injury Bug you can never be too careful, but until something happens one can only prepare for the worst, not consider it certain fact.

When it comes to the team's depth....no, they don't have any can't-miss prospects in AAA who will be more than able to fill in for an injury; what they do have, however, is multiple guys who can play fundamentally-sound baseball and who, honestly, are not downright atrocious.  Infielders Yangervis Solarte, Dean Anna, and Scott Sizemore have all done well enough this spring to warrant calls to the big league club if the injury bug strikes.  Zoilo Almonte has had experience last year and willl likely start the year in AAA.  Behind the plate, Francisco Cervelli has been tearing the cover off the ball; if Teixeira goes down, the team's best bet would likely be to put either Cervelli or McCann at first, with the other catching, instead of moving Kelly Johnson or someone else there.  And in the rotation, we mentioned four guys fighting for one spot earlier; likely, 1-2 of the losers will be in the big league bullpen as the long men, with the others headed for AAA.  If a spot starter is needed, all have shown the ability to get the job done at the highest level.

The 2014 Yankees are far from a perfect team, and do not look at all like the best team in baseball.  But at the same time, if the team stays even mostly-healthy, they're not a bad team, or even a mediocre team, by any means.

Constructing the Yankees lineup

For many teams, day in and day out, nothing changes except the starting pitcher; in the Bronx this year, however, that's not the case - just as the Yankees used an absurd variety of lineups last year to try to maximize production, this year Girardi will reach for his binder in an attempt to create the best lineup possible based on the guys who are playing on a particular day and which of the old guys gets to rest, either with a full day off or as the DH.

In any case, though, it's still fun to try to figure out what the "stock" lineup will be, and doing so does shed a lot of light on what's in Girardi's head.  Since this is ludicrously early in spring training, however, it's almost impossible to figure out the binder, so instead I'm just going to put myself in Girardi's shoes, and I ask you all to do the same.

Without further ado, here is the lineup I came up with, with an explanation about each player.

1. Brett Gardner, LF, L

Although he will likely hit ninth, I still like the idea of hitting the newly-extended Gardner leadoff.  He gets on base at a solid .352 OBP, which is actually 2 points higher than the likely leadoff hitter, Jacoby Ellsbury's.  Although his SB totals were lacking last year, I expect them to rise again, as he will no longer be hitting behind Robinson Cano (when he did not run to prevent being thrown out while the best hitter was at the plate) and would be hitting behind the double-play machine known as the Captain.

2. Derek Jeter, SS, R

There's really not much to say here.  The Yankees would obviously prefer the Jeter of 2012, not the Jeter of 2013, to play.  He'll be DH-ing and sitting a lot, for sure, which would give Brendan Ryan more ABs, which is unfortunate.

3. Jacoby Ellsbury, CF, L

Many project him to leadoff; not surprising, since he has almost exclusively led off for Boston; I, however, would like to hit him third in the order.  He is a double and triples machine, and although he hasn't shown much HR pop since 2011, doubles and triples both drive in runs and set up for the next guy in the order. And when Gardner and Ellsbury are on 1st and 2nd at the same time.....look out, catchers; not that the warning will help you much.

4. Carlos Beltran, RF, S

Beltran is arguably the best pure hitter on the team; he has power, hits for average, and draws walks.  With a healthy (and performing) Mark Teixeira behind him, expect him to get pitches to hit, and while he doesn't have the speed he used to, he has *just* enough to be able to take advantage of it in the right situation.

5. Mark Teixeira, 1B, S

Tex may very well make or break the Yankees season; a strong season from the first baseman recovering from wrist surgery will bolster the weak infield.  At this point in his career, he is not a spray-it-all-over-the-field hitter, merely resorting to a hit-it-over-the-shift approach, in which case he needs to work on capitalizing on whatever pitches he gets over the plate.  Expect opposing pitchers to try to pitch him outside so he can't turn on the ball and drive it as well.

6. Alfonso Soriano, DH, R

If he hits like he did last year, then he will be the best #6 hitter in baseball, and in all honesty the only reason he would be hitting this low is to provide protection for the guys in front of him.  As always, expect him to swing at anything, everything, and then some, and we know he'll be lucky to have an OBP that cracks .300.  But in this lineup, it is his power that is most important, although he also has the ability to make plays on the basepaths with his legs.  Another 15+ SB season is not unthinkable.

7. Brian McCann, C, L

It's mostly unthinkable to have such a big-market free agent signing hit seventh in the order, but that's what we have here; it's more a testament to the lineup's strengths than anything else.  Interesting to note is the fact that he has not had a 25 HR season, and has not had 80 RBI since 2009, but the ample opportunities he will have with this lineup and the short porch in right should rectify that.  Do not, however, expect him to hit for average.

8. Brian Roberts, 2B, R

The classic example of hitting your worst hitter eighth, not ninth.  That said, although nobody expects anything significant from Roberts, he does have the capacity to be a top-of-the-order....well, threat isn't the word, but factor.  Yea, he could be a factor at the top of the order for most teams; instead, he hits in the bottom third.  The Yankees are hoping his strong September (.250/.306/.450, 5 HR, 10 RBI) are a sign of things to come, not a fluke.

9. Kelly Johnson, 3B, L

The super-utility player who has under the radar hit 16 HRs on a consistent basis; expect the lefty to take advantage of the short porch in right significantly.  I hit him ninth to provide a strong link back to the top.

And there you have it; obviously on a daily basis this will change, when different guys take days off. 

What do you guys think?  If you were Girardi, what would you do?

The Rivalry Continues: Part II - Position-by-Position Breakdown

The Rivalry Continues - Part I: Overview

Let's be honest - this rivalry hasn't been all that big for years.  Last year, the Red Sox dominated and won the World Series for the 3rd time in a decade, the Yankees merely scraped by and missed the playoffs.  The year before, the Yankees won a tough 3-team division race and reached the ALCS, while the Red Sox lost as many games as the second-place Orioles won (93).  In 2011, the Red Sox collapsed down the stretch, watching the Yankees win 97 games but lose in the ALDS.  2010 saw the Red Sox fail to reach the playoffs and the Yankees reach the ALCS, and 2009 saw the Yankees go 103-59, 8 games in front of the 2nd-place Red Sox, en route to their 27th World Series title.  There have been no major brawls (Dempster hitting A-Rod was not a brawl, it was *almost* a brawl) in years, no epic mid-season series that dramatically changed the face of the division race (remember the Boston Massacre in 2006?), no major defections.  The last time the Yankees and Red Sox met in the playoffs was TEN YEARS AGO.

But things are about to change.  Yet another Boston outfielder - Jacoby Ellsbury - has defected to the Bronx.  Fresh off watching their hated rivals hoist the World Series trophy while sitting at home playing golf all October, the Yankees spent big, adding Ellsbury, Carlos Beltran, Brian McCann, Masahiro Tanaka, Kelly Johnson, Matt Thornton, and Brian Roberts.  Mark Teixeira, Derek Jeter, Michael Pineda, and others are finally healthy.

For New York, the time is now.  And, since the Red Sox have the big target on their backs, the time for the rivalry is also now.

Next time we'll take a position-by-position analysis of the team's starting lineup.

Former Ace Curt Schilling battling cancer

In a statement on Wednesday, former pitcher Curt Schilling revealed that he is battling cancer, and that he will fight it "with resolute faith and head on."

The star pitcher, who pitched for the Baltimore Orioles, Houston Astros, Philadelphia Phillies, Arizona Diamondbacks, and Boston Red Sox, played for 20 Major League seasons, winning two World Series titles (2001 in Arizona, 2004 in Boston, breaking the hearts of Yankees fans both times), making 6 All-Star appearances, posting a 3.46 ERA, accumulating 216-46 record, and contributing 80.7 WAR.  He is perhaps best known, however, for pitching with a stitched-up ankle in the famous (or, in NY, infamous) 2004 ALCS, helping the Boston Red Sox overcome a 3-0 deficit to win the series; his bloody sock is currently in Cooperstown.

Since retiring following the 2007 season, Schilling has become an ESPN Sports Analyst and started 38 Studios, a Rhode Island-based videogame company that went under last year.

As a Yankees fan, I loved to hate Schilling, but he is the type of pitcher I have always had the deepest respect for - he was a fierce competitor who would do whatever was necessary to help the team win, as evidenced by his bloody sock game and by joining the shaky Red Sox bullpen in the middle of 2005, accruing 9 saves.  May he find comfort in these trying times for him and his family.

Yankees not done yet, eyeing Ervin Santana?

After already committing to half a billion dollars in free agent signings this off-season, many thought the Yankees would be content to sit out the rest of the offseason, as they had apparently no interest in anybody still on the board.

But this is New York, and this is the Yankees.  Who is not surprised that, according to recent reports , the Yankees have become major players for Royals starter Ervin Santana.  Last year, Santana went 9-10 with a solid 3.24 ERA in Kansas City, accruing 2.9 WAR (baseball-reference). 

At the moment, CC Sabathia heads a Yankees rotation that contains Hiroki Kuroda, Ivan Nova, recently-signed Masahiro Tanaka, and Michael Pineda/David Phelps - a solid group, but not the best in the league, or even the division.  Question marks abound - is Sabathia in the decline, will Kuroda perform like the ace he was last year, has Nova finally turned the corner, what are we getting out of Masahiro Tanaka, is Michael Pineda still a good pitcher, who truly is David Phelps?  Signing Santana would ease some fears by adding depth to the rotation.

But while adding depth, Santana would pose his own set of question marks.  By far, 2013 was his best season, and uncharacteristically so.  He averages 13-11 with a 4.19 ERA, 1.74 WAR, and has had 3 seasons with a 5.00+ ERA and was below-replacement level.  At 31 years of age, we still don't quite know who he is - is he the solid #2 starter he was last year, or is he an inconsistent #4 or #5 starter at best?

All I can say definitely is that you can't count the Yankees out of any free agent yet.

Masahiro headed to New York on 7 Year, $155M deal

According to sources, star Japanese pitcher and the New York Yankees have agreed on a 7-year, $155M contract that includes an opt-out after the fourth year, which averages out to roughly $22M annually.

With the signing, the Yankees, although failing to reach the previously-mandated $189M threshold and will not be able in all likelihood to come in under the luxury tax threshold, the Yankees have managed to add more talent than any other team in baseball - catcher Brian McCann, outfielders Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran, and now Masahiro Tanaka were all ranked at or near the top of their positions in the 2014 free agent class.  After failing to make the playoffs in 2013, they have made it clear they intend not to repeat with a dismal 2014 campaign.

That said, the Yankees are still not a team without holes - second and third base are question marks thanks to Robinson Cano's departure and Alex Rodriguez's suspension, left with Kelly Johnson, Dean Anna, Brian Roberts, and Eduardo Nunez to man the positions, and nobody knows whether Derek Jeter or Mark Teixeira will be at full strength, half strength, or able to play much at all.  And in the post-River bullpen, many are worried about David Robertson's ability to close games and the rest of the 'pen's ability to bridge the middle innings.  Still, by signing Tanaka, the Yankees have shored up their rotation to some degree, leaving only one spot, not two, open for competition when spring training opens.

And more so, Hal Steinbrennar has finally demonstrated that winning, not money, is his most important goal, just like his father's.

Yankees' Internal "Third Base" Options

For months - and especially since A-Rod's suspension became official - people have speculated about the big gaping hole on the left side of the infield, at both shortstop and third base. As we all know, Derek Jeter is no longer the infielder he once was, but to be honest nobody in the organization has the guts to put him at third. That said, with Robinson Cano's departure, the Yankees are projected to start Kelly Johnson at third and Brian Roberts at second, with perhaps instead a double platoon where Johnson plays either position depending on the day.

That doesn't have to be the only option, especially since many (myself included) expect a Brian Roberts injury or two over the course of the season. At the moment, the Yankees minor league infield depth is shorter than Miley Cyrus's shorts, so if such an injury happens, the team would be stuck. Or would it?

Because of this, I've decided to explore a few options the team has within the organization, guys who either have or could learn to play the hot corner in the infield. Hey, if it works, you might see them on a regular basis there, with Roberts on the bench, since the most important thing is putting your best players on the field at all costs.

1. Francisco Cervelli, C

This time last year, Cervelli was the favorite to land the starting catching job, which he ultimately did, but he played a mere 17 games before being sidelined by a broken hand, followed by a shoulder injury and a 50-game Biogenesis suspension. Now, with Brian McCann's arrival, he is relegated once again to backup duty.

Question is, is that where he belongs? The career backup does have a career .271 average with a .367 SLG; if you're into sabermetrics, he has a career WAR of 3, and in just 17 games last year he had a WAR of .8. He hits in the clutch. He already has experience (albeit extremely limited) at the hot corner, and a slight amount at 2B. If he hits better than Roberts, would it be worth having someone else back up McCann and turn Cervelli into an infielder?

2. Ronnier Mustelier, OF, AAA

What people might forget is that, before his injury last spring, he had a serious shot to make the team out of spring training; don't be surprised if he does the same again. In parts of 2 seasons in AAA (173 games), the 28-year-old outfielder has hit .288 with 17 HR and 88 RBI. Additionally, he has played 69 games at 3B and 8 at 2B, which would provide not only fill the whole on the big league club but also give Girardi additional flexibility. However, he is not on the already-packed 40-man roster, so that means if he comes to the bigs, either somebody has to be placed on the 60-day DL or somebody has to go. Either way, if he hits like he did last year, I'd be surprised not to see the Yankees make room for him somehow.

3. Dean Anna, 3B, recently acquired

A career minor leaguer at 27, Dean Anna was recently acquired from the Padres back in November, slipping under the radar. While he has not been a part of the Yankees Universe-wide discussion over next year's 3B, Anna could be a dark horse to earn the spot in spring training. Last year, in his first season at AAA, the infielder hit 9 HR and 73 RBI with a .331/.410/.482 line (AVG/OBP/SLG). He has shown an ability to play all infield and both corner outfield positions with some skill, which could potentially allow him to spell the aging outfielders once in a while. As with Mustelier, this might come down to how he hits in spring training; if he performs, I see no reason why he should not break camp in pinstripes.

In my opinion, any three of these options would work as either potential alternatives in case of injury or even as the 3B themselves, making Johnson man Cano's old spot. Sure, everybody has their drawbacks - Cervelli would have to learn the position, Mustelier would have to prove himself enough to make the 40-man, and Anna has yet to see big league action - but when you're looking at the trash heaps, it's not about finding a pot of gold, it's about turning the lead you find into gold.