It's those penny-pinching Yankees again, who at long last have decided that $189 million is quite enough to spend on a baseball team.
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OK, so there's more to it than that. If they're over the $189 million mark in 2014, they'll have to pay a whole heap of luxury taxes they don't want to pay.
Hence, the penny pinching. While $189 million would go a long way for most clubs, it doesn't stretch quite as far when one-sixth of it is already committed to Alex Rodriguez, who'll spend at least half the season recovering from surgery to repair a torn labrum in his hip (and likely won't perform up to half his pay once he returns). The Yankees have turned to former sworn enemy Kevin Youkilis to replace him, not that he has a whole lot left in the tank himself.
The Yankees are also likely feeling some buyer's remorse on Mark Teixeira, whose three consecutive seasons of .250-ish batting averages give him little hope of rebounding in his age-33 season. His decline hasn't been as dramatic as Rodriguez's or Youkilis', but it has made him a perpetual disappointment among Yankees fans and Fantasy owners.
The Yankees' rotation should be fine, provided ancient ones Hiroki Kuroda and Andy Pettitte hold up for a full six months. So far, that hasn't been a problem for Kuroda, so a repeat of the last three seasons is likely. Ace CC Sabathia dealt with some arm trouble for the first time in recent memory last year, but coming off a strong finish to the regular season followed by a clean-up procedure in October, he should be as good as new come opening day.
Because the Yankees can't just throw money at their problems anymore, they offer more opportunities than usual for relative unknowns. Whichever of Ivan Nova and David Phelps claims the final rotation spot will be a sleeper for strikeouts and wins, and now that Rafael Soriano has moved on, the only insurance for 43-year-old closer Mariano Rivera in his first year back from ACL surgery is setup sensation David Robertson. Take note, AL-only owners.
Injury-risk sleeper ... Brett Gardner, outfield
Gardner has been a sleeper before, but coming off a year in which he accumulated only 31 at-bats because of an elbow injury, never has the hype on him been lower than now. And yet never has the Yankees' dependence on him been higher than now. In the past, he was sort of the misfit of their star-studded lineup -- a scrappy type who'd work the count and steal a base but wouldn't put the ball over the fence. For that reason, he was often the odd man out, getting benched in certain scenarios to give at-bats to some other deserving misfit. Now, though, with the Yankees having to resort to more second-tier players to keep their payroll down, Gardner is poised to become a mainstay. With more at-bats, some of the fluctuation we've seen with his batting average in the past could easily disappear. If he reaches base 38 percent of the time, as he did as recently as 2010, 40-plus steals and 90-plus runs scored are on the lower end of what you can expect.
Buyer beware ... Curtis Granderson, outfield
You may have heard Granderson followed up his breakthrough 2011 campaign with a down year last year -- down, as if it was simply the result of natural fluctuation. But what if the reason was more scientific than that -- biological, even? He'll be 32 before opening day, so he's no spring chicken. Not only did he strike out a career-high 195 times last year, but his swing-and-miss rate was by far his highest in six years, even on pitches in the strike zone, which could indicate his bat is slowing down and explain why his numbers took a nasty turn in the second half. Of course, he may have just been slumping. He did keep homering during that stretch, after all. Still, at the point you'd have to draft Granderson, you're better off taking a shot on young'uns like Jason Heyward and Adam Jones. If you wanted a .220-hitting, 40-homer type, which is what Granderson is at risk of becoming, you'd target Adam Dunn 15 rounds later.
Sleeper ... Eduardo Nunez, shortstop
Let's face it: The Yankees are old. Between Ichiro Suzuki, Derek Jeter, Kevin Youkilis, Mark Teixeira and Curtis Granderson, their projected opening day lineup features five players 32 or older. Those old guys will all need time off and the DH spot is the perfect way to give it to them. You didn't think Travis Hafner would play every day, did you? General manager Brian Cashman has said all offseason that the only place Nunez's bat profiles for full-time duty is at shortstop. Of course, he's also said the 25-year-old could make the team as a utility player, perhaps as the designated fill-in for whichever geezer happens to need a breather that day. Granted, Nunez may lose that role if and when Alex Rodriguez returns from hip surgery, but as a shortstop-eligible player, the 30-plus steals he's capable of contributing with 350-400 at-bats make him well worth the gamble in deeper Rotisserie leagues. And if Jeter's return from offseason ankle surgery doesn't go as hoped, owners in 12-team leagues will want to take notice as well.
Outfield is the position of strength in the Yankees' farm system right now, with Mason Williams, Slade Heathcott and Tyler Austin all profiling as impact players in the majors. Having already advanced to Double-A late last year, Austin probably has the best chances of contributing in the majors this year, but Williams and Heathcott are perceived to have more upside because of their athleticism. Williams is the one most likely to be drafted in long-term keeper leagues. ... The Yankees lack catching talent at the major-league level, but in Gary Sanchez they have a future middle-of-the-order bat at the position. He won't reach the majors this year, but you'll want him stashed in long-term keeper leagues for whenever he does. ... Pitching-wise, the best the Yankees' farm system has to offer is Jose Campos, who missed most of last season with elbow inflammation. He's still far away at age 20, though. Manuel Banuelos is closer, but he's in the earliest stages of recovery from Tommy John surgery and has had trouble locating his pitches in the upper levels of the minors.
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