Unless you’ve been living under a rock or thinking way too much about basketball, you know that pitchers and catchers have reported. Which is better than TRUCK DAY but not nearly as good as Opening Day. Turns out it’s not just pitchers and catchers, though. As Chad Jennings writes, Mark Teixeira’s in camp, too. Lucky Tex, he gets to show up a few days earlier than most of his non-pitching and -catching teammates because he’s coming back from a wrist injury that limited him to only 15 games last season. A season in which, not coincidentally, Yankee first basemen finished with a collective 690 OPS, 28th “best” in Major League Baseball. As Jennings points out, Teixeira’s performance this season will go a long way toward determining if these new-look Yankees return to the playoffs:
Are the Yankees a championship-caliber team? Right now, it depends.
It depends on Derek Jeter’s production in his final season. It depends on CC Sabathia bouncing back from a down year. It depends on piecing together a bullpen, blending together a reconstructed lineup, and staying healthy.
And it depends on Teixeira being some version of his old self. Maybe not an MVP candidate like he was in 2009, but surely a productive power hitter in the middle of the order. The Yankees don’t really have a backup at first base, so if 33-year-old Teixeira suffers a setback or simply can’t perform, there really is no Plan B.
This is actually good news! Probably. If management had good reason to believe Teixeira wasn’t going to come back strong, maybe they would have actually signed a legitimate second-string first baseman. Then again, you could say the same thing about shortstop, and the fifth slot in the pitching rotation. Maybe management just ran out of roster spots; when you have enough question marks, you have to just take some things on faith.
Sometimes that works out wonderfully. Sometimes it doesn’t. But there’s a larger (or maybe smaller) point here, which is that anybody who tells you what the Yankees will do in 2014 is essentially guessing. I do think the Yankees are better on paper than they were in 2013. But that’s not saying a great deal. Even with better players at many positions, they might still not equal last year’s 85 wins; they were exceptionally fortunate to win 85 games last year.
Typically, the “error bar” — that is, the level of uncertainty — for a team projection is roughly five wins both ways. In other words, if before the season we know just about everything we can know about a team’s roster, as often as not we can nail their record within five wins. Give or take.
But there’s a lot we don’t know about the Yankees’ roster. We don’t know if Teixeira will come back and give the Yankees even decent production at first base (which is about all they might hope for, considering his merely decent 2011 and ’12 campaigns). We don’t know if Derek Jeter can hit or play shortstop any more. We don’t know if Masahiro Tanaka will make a quick adjustment to the planet’s best hitters. And we don’t know if losing a few dozen pounds will help CC Sabathia rediscover his mid-90s fastball that’s gone missing.
All these known unknowns are why we can’t just assume that all the Yankees’ money will pave a trail back to the promised land. Yes, they might roll along to 95 wins and (who knows) maybe even another World Series. But it seems just about as likely that they’ll actually suffer through their first losing season in more than 20 years.
No, I don’t think that will happen. They are, after all, the Yankees. But keep an eye on that error bar. That’s where the interesting things happen.