NEW YORK (AP) Derek Jeter is gone, the final remaining link to the New York Yankees’ last dynasty. He left behind a team in transition, that failed to make the playoffs in consecutive years for the first time in a generation and is beset with an older core coming off injuries.
Alex Rodriguez’s return from a season-long drug suspension is the most interesting aspect of the Yankees, who enter the season with a health-challenged rotation, rebuilt bullpen and lineup that was among the least potent in the American League last year.
”I think we’ve added a lot of good young arms,” manager Joe Girardi said. ”Added some good young players, as well. I think we’ve really seen an improvement in our young minor league players and the impact they are capable of having. I think we will continue to see that for years to come.”
If the Yankees founder, young players could be given more of a chance. Top prospects include pitcher Luis Severino, infielders Jose Pirela and Rob Refsnyder, and outfielder Aaron Judge.
But first, many of the old, beaten-up players will be given a chance to show they have something left.
Left fielder Brett Gardner (abdomen) and right fielder Carlos Beltran (elbow) return from surgery, and Jacoby Ellsbury (oblique) missed a significant stretch of spring training. First baseman Mark Teixeira (wrist) hit .216 last year, 143rd among 148 major league qualifiers in his return from an injury that sidelined him for most of 2013.
After signing a big-money deal with the Yankees, catcher Brian McCann was hitting just .209 in May before improving in the second half to finish at .232. Third baseman Chase Headley, acquired from San Diego in July, was given a new contract by the Yankees because they have no confidence in A-Rod’s ability to play the field. New York also re-signed Stephen Drew under the theory he can’t be as bad as he was in 2014.
Didi Gregorius, obtained from Arizona in a trade, is the primary offensive newcomer and replaces Jeter at shortstop. Left-handed-hitting Garrett Jones hopes to earn at-bats.
”Jeter is still Jeter. Everything that everybody is going to talk about is Jeter,” Gregorius said. ”But for me – I’m learning and I’m there just to play the game, so just trying to focus on the game and trying to win every game, that’s all I can say, not worrying about what’s going on around.”
LIGHTNING ROD: The three-time AL MVP, who turns 40 on July 27, has not played a full season since 2007 because the suspension, operations on both hips and other injuries. New York owes him $61 million over the final three seasons of his contract, so he will be given a chance to earn at-bats as a DH, especially against left-handed starters.
RICKETY ROTATION: Masahiro Tanaka missed 2 1/2 months in his first season because of a small elbow ligament tear the Yankees say didn’t need surgery. CC Sabathia, limited to eight starts last year, has to show he can pitch effectively with reduced velocity. Michael Pineda, back from shoulder surgery, had a 1.89 ERA in 13 starts last year but missed a long stretch because of the shoulder. New York hopes hard-throwing Nathan Eovaldi can learn to be effective after his acquisition from Miami. With Chris Capuano on the DL and Ivan Nova not expected back from Tommy John surgery until May or June, Adam Warren was the leading contender for fifth starter.
BULLPEN: A strong point last year, the Yankees rebuilt the `pen. David Robertson was allowed to leave for the Chicago White Sox, and David Phelps, Shawn Kelley and Shane Greene were traded. Lefty Andrew Miller and Scott Baker were signed, and Justin Wilson and Chris Martin acquired in trades. Miller and Dellin Betances competed in spring training to replace Robertson as closer.
HOPS: The Yankees are sharing their ballpark with Major League Soccer’s expansion New York City team, and Teixeira complained before the soccer team’s home opener that the infield would get torn up, leading to bad hops.