The time for discussing team MVP and team Cy Young passed months ago. There’s little sense bringing up the obvious postseason disappointment and injury frustration. At this point, it seems more important to look back at what worked and what didn’t work; what had an impact and what fell flat.
January 13 has been etched in our memories because of the Michael Pineda trade, but it was also the day Hiroki Kuroda signed his one-year deal. He wound up pitching more innings than ever in his career, and for a significant stretch of the season he pitched like a Cy Young candidate. This was a season when CC Sabathia went on the disabled list twice, Andy Pettitte missed a ton of time with his ankle injury, and Ivan Nova took a significant step back. The rotation needed someone to lead it, and Kuroda did just that. Last winter was fairly quiet except for one day, and that one day did have a significant silver lining.
Worth mentioning: Sticking with Raul Ibanez; giving David Phelps a chance; trading for Ichiro Suzuki; dumping A.J. Burnett.
It’s too easy to chose the Pineda trade. Truth is, the Yankees rotation isn’t the reason they were knocked out of the postseason, and Jesus Montero didn’t do enough this season to suggest he would have made a difference. Long-term, that deal looks bad, but for this season it wasn’t crushing. What hurt the Yankees in the end was making Casey McGehee and Steve Pearce their big power-bat additions. Alex Rodriguez was a shell of his former self, Mark Teixeira was hurt late in the year and Curtis Granderson had a bad second half. Ichiro helped, and Ibanez came up big, but the offense disappeared at the worst possible time.
Worth mentioning: Giving up Justin Maxwell; sticking with Andruw Jones; not trading Dellin Betances when his value was high.
Frankly, there were a lot of pleasant surprises on this team. The Yankees found some minor league free agents and signed some cheap big league deals that had a real impact, but the surprise that kept giving and made the greatest difference was the return of Derek Jeter as a superstar. Hard to call a Hall of Famer a big surprise, but Jeter had been dismissed for a year and a half before showing signs of getting back on track late in 2011. This season was his return to the game’s elite, legitimately one of the best leadoff hitters in the league. And he just kept doing it until his ankle wouldn’t let him do it any more.
Worth mentioning: Ichiro Suzuki’s final month; Eric Chavez’s steady production; the arrival of David Phelps; the emergence of Tyler Austin.
Maybe this is where Michael Pineda truly fits. There was so much expectation considering the cost and the potential, and to have Pineda go down without throwing a single meaningful pitch created immediate disappointment and long-term concern. He might never be the pitcher the Yankees expected. In a year full of long-term injuries – Joba Chamberlain, Brett Gardner, Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte, Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira — the Pineda injury wasn’t necessarily the most crushing blow, but it was the most disappointing because of all the factors attached: The trade, the loss of Montero and the promise of strong arm wiped out by a faulty shoulder.
Worth mentioning: Brett Gardner’s many setbacks; Russell Martin’s batting average; Ivan Nova’s season; Robinson Cano’s postseason.
Bigger impact than expected
The best answer here is probably Rafael Soriano, but we’ll get to that in just a moment. In their own ways, guys like Hiroki Kuroda, Derek Jeter and Phil Hughes also made an impact beyond expectation, but those guys were each expected to play a significant role to begin with. The one who stands out as clearly exceeding expectation is Eric Chavez, if only because he opened the season with no role whatsoever. Eduardo Nunez was supposed to get regular at-bats against lefties, and Chavez was supposed to be a qualify left-handed bat off the bench. Instead, the Yankees needed someone to get regular at-bats as a designated hitter and third baseman, and Chavez stayed healthy enough to deliver a standout season as a regular platoon player that the Yankees truly needed.
Worth mentioning: Raul Ibanez down the stretch; Jayson Nix on a minor league deal; Cody Eppley and Clay Rapada in very specific and occasionally crucial situations.
Smaller impact than expected
Do you remember the sense around the team when Mariano Rivera crashed to the warning track? At the time, the Yankees were barely a .500 club, and losing the game’s greatest closer — in the season that many believed would be his last — seemed too much. It was hard to imagine a bigger blow. But the Yankees had Rafael Soriano, and frankly, the Yankees bullpen remained a strength even without Rivera (and for about a month, without either Rivera or Dave Robertson). Can’t understate the brilliance of Rivera, but the Yankees were actually able to move on without him.
Worth mentioning: Eduardo Nunez failing in the field; Russell Martin’s batting average; Freddy Garcia’s step backward
Risk that paid off
Sometimes the risk comes from doing nothing, and last season the Yankees took a risk when they let Phil Hughes work through his early struggles. He was coming off a lost year and had a 5.64 ERA at the end of May. The Yankees yanked Freddy Garcia from the rotation early enough that he didn’t do much harm, but they let Hughes keep going, and he delivered with a 3.70 ERA in his final 22 starts. He found a new slider/cutter hybrid that was effective, and he showed improved comfort with his changeup. Hughes and Hiroki Kuroda were the only Yankees to make at least 30 starts, and that only happened because the Yankees let Hughes work through some early trouble.
Worth mentioning: Trading for Ichiro Suzuki; getting Andy Pettitte out of retirement; being aggressive with Tyler Austin and Chase Whitley
Patience that didn’t pay off
Andruw Jones kept getting at-bats. There’s not much more to say about the situation. The Yankees needed a right-handed outfielder, Jones was the guy chosen for the job, and despite his constant struggles, his role never changed until the very, very, very end of the season. He finished with a .197 batting average, and more than a quarter of his home runs came during one three-game series in Boston.
Worth mentioning: Alex Rodriguez in the middle of the order; waiting for Joba Chamberlain as an immediate bullpen boost; the early medical diagnosis of Manny Banuelos
Associated Press photos