Peter Gammons: New life Yankees thriving with offseason additions

masahiro tanaka brian mccann yankees

No one is more realistic about where the Yankees sit on the morning of April 26 than the Yankees themselves. To begin, the entire American League East is seemingly stuck in crosstown traffic, with cold and rain and a 16-wheeler’s schedule and the fact that 23 games into the 2014 season not one team in the division has a positive run differential.

Joe Girardi has lost one of his starting pitchers (Ivan Nova) to Tommy John surgery, another (Michael Pineda) has been banished to the Pine Tar Penalty Box, and pitching coach Larry Rothschild admits “we’ll have to see about our depth.” There are age and injury issues that will play out, but Girardi is right when he says “right now, everyone is dealing with issues.”

These Yankees have a 4.25 earned run average, are sixth in the league in runs and OPS and 9th in homers and trail the Oakland Athletics and Boston Red Sox in quality starts. “We have,” says Mark Teixeira, “a long way to go.” In a warm weather sport that some of the teams have been playing in cold, windy weather with 5 am flight arrivals, 11 am starting times following games that finished 12 hours earlier, which most managers point out gives the indoor Jays and Rays some advantage when half the country is in a Flin Flon spring.

But, remember, the Yankees won 84 games in 2013 with Lyle Overbay, Vernon Wells and Chris Stewart 4-5-6 in games played, a testament to Girardi’s stable leadership. So to be 13-10 and in first place Saturday morning is no mean accomplishment. “There is a really positive atmosphere here,” says Jacoby Ellsbury, who will be the first person to say that he left a very positive atmosphere when the Yankees came calling and the Red Sox did not even try to compete and did not make an offer. “It’s been great here, even better than I imagined,” says Brian McCann, who breeds good atmosphere wherever he goes.

There is none of the Alex Rodriguez reality show, although Girardi, to his credit, discounts that “it was really a problem last season.” There is the return of Derek Jeter after a season in which eight different players made up the 162 games at shortstop, 13 by Jeter. And while no one knows if the rotation will hold up with CC Sabathia and Hiroki Kuroda in their late thirties and if the line to David Robertson can do what Robertson did to get to Mariano Rivera, one thing is clear: These Yankees have a new life.

Much was justifiably made last season of Ben Cherington, John Farrell and the Red Sox folks finding lunch pail players who had the right makeup for the city, the division and the league. That is what Hal Steinbrenner allowed Brian Cashman to undertake this past winter. Oh, sure, they spend more than $300M on Ellsbury and Masahiro Tanaka, another $90M on McCann, went out and got Carlos Beltran and insured they took care of their own, the energetic, tough Brett Gardner. They were able to take on enough of Alfonso Soriano’s deal last summer to fill a hole, and when he turned out to be a premium clubhouse guy, they kept him and signed a respected clubhouse guy in Kelly Johnson.

Three different coaches mentioned this week that they didn’t realize how good Ellsbury really is until they got to see him every day from the opening of spring training. “He is a destructive force,” says hitting coach Kevin Long. “He changes games and impacts them every day.” When he made his return to Fenway Park Tuesday night, Ellsbury reminded the fans who booed him what they now miss by hitting Jon Lester’s third pitch to the top of the center field fence; going into Saturday, his .326 average comes with a .379 on base percentage and .465 slug. When he and Gardner are in center and left, they cover the big part of Yankee Stadium as it hasn’t’ been covered, and while Beltran is fine in right, when Ichiro Suzuki is in right with Ellsbury and Gardner, it is an outfield to behold.

McCann may be a big-framed catcher, but among qualifying catchers, he is one of the four best in the majors over the last four years in getting strikes on pitches in the strike zone. “I try to work really hard at setting up low and making sure strikes get called strikes,” says McCann, whose work receiving Tanaka’s remarkable repertoire—especially the finishing splitter—has been a notable factor in Tanaka’s dominating four starts.

“Brian did a great job finding players who love to play and can handle whatever it takes to succeed in New York and the division,” says Girardi. “This game is supposed to be fun. When you’re concentrating on the negatives, it can be very difficult.” Especially for anyone who is manager of the Yankees.

How Tanaka, Pineda and the middle of the bullpen hold up in August remains to be seen. So does the health of Teixeira and the durability of Brian Roberts. But, for now, they have faced the world champions and beaten them five out of seven. Jeter is fifth among American League shortstops—sandwiched between Xander Bogaerts and Erick Aybar—in OPS and clearly enjoying the fastballs Ellsbury helps get him.

For Jeter, there are no ARod questions he cannot answer, just a new group of extraordinary teammates who love playing for his victory lap. “I’m having a lot of fun,” Jeter says, because it’s a lot more fun when the Yankees have a chance to win, and the clubhouse is lined with the people Steinbrenner allowed Cashman to get to bring the Yankees back to being a team who can legitimately think about bringing the Yankees back to October.

Comments

  1. ficklefingeroffate says:

    A semi-positive article about The Yankees.I’ll bet Peter Gammons head wanted to explode after he wrote it.

  2. John999999 says:

    I’ve always felt Gammons was more than fair to the Yankees even as a diehard Sox fan…I have no problem with him…