After an 18-season run of dominance that included 17 postseason appearances, 13 division titles, and five World Series titles, the New York Yankees have fallen on hard times. They have missed the playoffs two years running, an eternity for an organization as decorated as theirs. Their "Core Four" of Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte, and Jorge Posada have all retired. They don't even have the highest payroll in the game anymore, bequeathing that distinction to the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2014.
Despite this topsy-turvy world we are living in, Tanya Bondurant, the managing editor of Pinstripe Alley, SB Nation's excellent Yankees community, was willing and able to answer a few questions about the Yankees prior to this week's series.
1. For the first time in two decades, the Yankees are without soon-to-be Hall of Fame shortstop Derek Jeter. They have also missed the playoffs in the past two seasons, and entered Sunday's action in last place in the AL East. What do the Yankees need to do in order to get back to being the Yankees that everyone loves to hate?
The biggest thing they need to do is stay healthy. A rotation without Masahiro Tanaka and Michael Pineda, two big injury risks, just isn’t going to propel the Yankees much of anywhere. Guys who have been given big contracts haven’t performed at the level expected of them. Carlos Beltran, Brian McCann, Mark Teixeira, and Jacoby Ellsbury need to hit the way they have been expected to for the team to get back to being the Yankees as people know them. Ellsbury is the only one of them that hasn’t really found a way to disappoint yet. Alex Rodriguez being back on the team and hitting well may help up the hate factor for everyone too.
2. The Alex Rodriguez saga was largely viewed as a joke during spring training, but a hot start from A-Rod seems to have quieted all but his staunchest doubters. Have the Yankees and their fans come around, or is the relationship still as cold as it seemed in February? How good would his numbers have to be for the hard-headed columnists of the BBWAA to actually name him MVP?
I can’t imagine the Yankees front office is sending flowers to A-Rod or anything. There is a lot of bad blood there and I don’t think a couple weeks of good hitting has thawed it out. All but those Yankee fans who are just obsessed with hating A-Rod are loving what he’s doing right now. I never thought it would happen (and it probably won’t last forever) but this is the best start anyone could have hoped for. He doesn’t seem bothered by the boos, which is good because he’s going to hear a whole lot of them.
3. The Tigers will see Masahiro Tanaka for the first time on Thursday. Tanaka was on the disabled list with an elbow injury when these two teams played one another last season. Are there still concerns about Tanaka's health? Is he still the ace-caliber pitcher he was in 2014?
I’ve stopped holding my breath every time Tanaka throws a pitch, but that worry is still in the back of my mind. It seems like no one really knows how long someone can pitch after receiving PRP injections on a partially torn UCL. The tear was said to be very, very small. Less than 10% small. Hopefully that works in his favor. As far as whether or not he’s still the guy we saw last season, there have certainly been glimpses of that. His start against the Rays on Saturday was absolutely brilliant. I hope that’s a sign that he’s starting to trust in his arm a little bit more, instead of holding back to try and preserve his elbow.
4. Speaking of Tanaka, he was one of several players that the Yankees signed in a half-billion-dollar spending spree prior to the 2014 season. Which player among that group was the best acquisition for the Yankees? Who has been the biggest bust?
I would say that Tanaka has been the best acquisition of the spending spree, just because there is really no replacing what he has brought to the team. Ellsbury has been great in New York, but Brett Gardner could have played center field without too much of a noticeable drop off. We’re still very happy to have Ellsbury on our side after watching him torture us in the Red Sox outfield for so long, though. The biggest bust, without question, has been Carlos Beltran. His elbow impacted his play last season, but he has looked pretty terrible this season while being totally healthy. I’m not saying that he’s done as a player, but I wouldn’t be surprised for his lackluster production to never be what it was expected to be when the team gave him a three-year contract.
5. Shane Greene has gotten off to a phenomenal start with the Tigers, while Didi Gregorius has done the exact opposite with the Yankees. The three-team trade obviously looks lopsided right now, but do you think that the Yankees made the right move? If Gregorius continues to falter, will the Yankees explore the long-rumored trade for Troy Tulowitzki?
I love Shane Greene and I still miss him very much. My gut reaction is to say that Cashman made the trade he needed to make, selling high on Greene in return for a strong defensive shortstop in Gregorius. What Greene did in New York last season was so surprising and sort of came out of nowhere, so I can see why the decision was made to use that to acquire a player for another area of need that is much harder to obtain than a middle rotation guy. That being said, Didi has looked rough to start the year. Hopefully that’s more of a case of jitters than a sign of things to come, but the better Greene does in Detroit, the worse letting him go will feel. Obviously.
6. Do you think that the Yankees can make the playoffs this season? Where will they finish in the standings?
The AL East is pretty up in the air this season, which could give a more lackluster team a chance to make the postseason. No team is without a fair share of question marks. Everything would need to go right for the Yankees to make it, I think, and they haven’t so far. If I had to guess, I’d say that they don’t make the playoffs and finish third in the division. However, they could easily do better or worse than that, just based on how ridiculous the division is this year.
Once again, a big thank you to Tanya and the rest of the staff at Pinstripe Alley for taking the time to answer our questions. Be sure to check out their site all season long for any and all Yankees news and analysis.