By Craig Carroll
With a brand new season about to begin for the New York Yankees, Monday afternoon against the Blue Jays to be exact, we give five bold predictions for the Bronx Bombers.
1. Yankees will win AL East
It's a brand new world in Yankees Universe when winning the division is considered a bold prediction, but that's what the post-George Steinbrenner Bronx Bombers have become The Yankees have missed the postseason two straight years, sending Hall of Famers Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter home for good without a final playoff appearance. What will make this year different? For starters, there is the starters. Masahiro Tanaka and Michael Pineda are at the top of the rotation now, both with Cy Young ability, while CC Sabathia now just has to be a good No. 3 guy to be successful. There are a ton of positive reviews of Nathan Eovaldi as well. At the plate, the team has to be healthier than last season, right? A healthier Mark Teixeira and Carlos Beltran could be worth several wins over last year. Plus, Alex Rodriguez is back, and while that's not exactly a thing that will excite Yankees fans, he does bring a big bat to the lineup. Best of them all, however, is the division just isn't that good. Sure, the Blue Jays and Orioles are very good teams, but are you really scared to play Toronto or Baltimore? The Red Sox are the Red Sox, but expectations aren't high for the Yankees' biggest rival. And the Rays aren't the same team they were just a few short years ago. So, the Yankees can and will win the AL East.
2. Pineda will emerge as best pitcher
The Yankees and their fans are hoping Tanaka comes all the way back from injury and returns to his first-half self from last year. If he can, Tanaka is the ace of the staff, and nobody will think twice about it. But he's not the starting pitcher who will have the best season for the Yankees. That man is Michael Pineda, who will go 17-4 with an ERA under 2.50. Those are some pretty impressive projections for a guy who managed to start just 13 games last year, but Pineda sure did impress in those limited chances. Pineda had a 5-5 record with a stellar 1.89 ERA. If he pitched to that ERA during the Yankees dynasty years, he might have won 30 games. If Pineda stays healthy, he has ace ability. He won't win 30 games, but Pineda will star this season.
3. A-Rod finishes with 20 HRs, 80 RBI
Among the many, many, many negatives surrounding Alex Rodriguez, the one positive is he loves the game of baseball. It's why we could make a bold prediction that he will reach 20 home runs and 80 RBI this season. A-Rod missed all of last season after being suspended for PED use, and while there rightfully are question marks surrounding exactly what kind of player he will be going forward, very few, if any, work harder than he does at the game. It's why Rodriguez could be trusted during his year off to not only keep in shape, but to work tirelessly on his hitting as well. Being used primarily as a designated hitter could help also, as A-Rod will have the whole game to study matchups. Rodriguez could completely bust this season, but they're called bold predictions for a reason.
4. Tanaka lasts full season, injury free
Masahiro Tanaka was on pace to start the All-Star Game last season, and over a longer stretch, could have been the AL Cy Young winner, but injuries derailed all those hopes. Tanaka and the Yankees chose rehab over surgery and Tanaka returned at the end of the year to pitch, without further injuring himself, a huge step in the right direction for this season. Tanaka made it through spring training in perfect health as well, with manager Joe Girardi saying he'll get 90 pitches in the season opener Monday against Toronto. It should be a great start to what will be an injury-free season.
5. Drew will be replaced by youth
At some point this season, the Yankees will sit or release an ineffective Stephen Drew and replace him with either Rob Refsnyder or Jose Pirela, whichever player is having the better season in the minors. We wouldn't be opposed to have this switch be done today, but we'll wait it out and let Drew make the decision easier for the Yankees. Drew is a terrible player, we all know this, hitting .150 in 46 games for New York last year. Both Refsnyder and Pirela have a future with the big ball club, if the Yankees let them. It will likely take an under-.100 batting average through a month or two, but eventually, youth will be served in the Bronx.