27° Good Evening
27° Good Evening

Everything needs to go right, including health, for Yankees to contend

Alex Rodriguez makes a gesture to a teammate

Alex Rodriguez makes a gesture to a teammate during Spring Training at George Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, Fla. March 1, 2015. Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams Jr.

TAMPA, Fla. - Early in spring training, an opposing team executive pondered the mostly ho-hum predictions surrounding the 2015 Yankees.

"It's not that they're bad," he said. "And I think if everything goes right, they can win 90 games and get in [the playoffs]."

The veteran executive paused.

"But," he said with a weary and knowing smile, "when does everything go right for anybody over 162?"

By most objective measures, the Yankees should be better than the injury-ravaged, offensively challenged outfit that went 84-78 last season, Derek Jeter's last in pinstripes and one without the suspended Alex Rodriguez, who has returned.

That the 2014 Yankees somehow stayed in the race for a playoff spot was a testament to manager Joe Girardi, pitching coach Larry Rothschild -- who seemed to hold his staff together with bailing wire and duct tape -- and general manager Brian Cashman, who made quality in-season additions such as Chase Headley and Brandon McCarthy.

This offseason brought a lot of new players, many of them part of a youth movement the franchise has long talked about but has been slow to implement.

Among the faces of that movement are 25-year-old shortstop Didi Gregorius, saddled with the unenviable task of replacing Jeter, and 25-year-old Nathan Eovaldi, a hard-throwing but, to this point in his career, underperforming righthander who routinely hits 98 mph on the radar gun.

Eovaldi will be in what shapes up as a fairly young rotation, joined by Masahiro Tanaka (26), Michael Pineda (26) and -- by late May or June, the Yankees hope -- Ivan Nova (27) when he returns from Tommy John surgery.

The back end of the bullpen has its share of youth with likely closer Dellin Betances (26), lefthander Andrew Miller (29), David Carpenter (29) and, if he doesn't end up as the fifth starter, Adam Warren (27).

But -- and here is where most of the qualifiers come into play for this year's Yankees -- there are plenty of old faces to blend with the new, many of whom will need bounce-back seasons if the club is to avoid missing the playoffs for a third straight season.

One of them is first baseman Mark Teixeira, who turns 35 on April 11 and is trying to put in his rearview mirror for good the right wrist surgery that cost him most of 2013 and contributed to a down season a year ago. And there is Carlos Beltran, who turns 38 on April 24 and is being counted on to play every day in rightfield despite a recent history of nagging injuries.

If they stay healthy, the Yankees' offense should be dramatically better than it was last season.

But, as one AL scout said: "It's asking a lot. You don't get rewarded in this game relying on old players."

The Yankees aren't relying on A-Rod, whom you might have read a thing or two about this offseason and throughout spring training, but they certainly could use whatever he may have left in his bat. The 39-year-old, owed $61 million over the next three years -- the reason Cashman said he was mostly a lock to make the 25-man roster -- spent spring training getting his timing down. Reviews were mixed, though indications are his body made it through March unscathed, itself an upset of sorts.

The same, to a degree, could be said of the rotation, which entered spring training full of potential issues, none of which, to this point, cropped up:

Tanaka showed no effects of the partial tear of the ulnar collateral ligament he suffered in his right elbow last season.

Pineda looked like the top-of-the-rotation pitcher the Yankees thought they were getting from the Mariners three years ago.

Eovaldi threw like an ace rather than a pitcher with a 15-35 career record.

CC Sabathia, who has a degenerative condition in his right knee, at least occasionally resembled the ace he used to be.

And additional pitching help could arrive at some point from the minor leagues from Bryan Mitchell and Luis Severino, a pair of prospects whom opposing team scouts praised throughout spring training.

Still, many of those same scouts fall in line with the prognosticators who simply don't see enough going the Yankees' way to get them in the playoffs.

Asked just before spring training if the Yankees, as constituted, are a playoff team, Cashman intimated yes but added what easily has been the most-used qualifier in recent months about his club.

"If a lot of these guys can stay healthy and live up to their potential, then I think we will be a team to be reckoned with and could very well compete for a championship," Cashman said.

"I do believe that. But I also make no bones about it: We're in the category with a lot of clubs where 'if this, then that' [or] 'if this happens, then that can happen for us.' I'm glad we believe that it can happen for us, but we obviously need some things to take place in a positive way for that to happen."

Teixeira said the low expectations, a rarity for the Yankees in the last two decades, can be a boost.

"That should fuel us," he said earlier in spring training. "I want us to be healthy because if we're healthy, we can win a World Series this year."

But a lot -- and some would say everything -- has to go right for that to happen, and you know how that usually turns out.

New York Sports