For just the second time in the last 19 years, the Yankees missed the playoffs in 2013, and though it wasn't the scandal it would have been under George Steinbrenner, the team ended up making some drastic changes in response.
For starters, Robinson Cano is now in Seattle. Normally, giving up your best player of the last five years isn't the best way to make up ground in the standings, especially when the replacement is a 36-year-old who has averaged 48 games the last four (looking at you, Brian Roberts), but the Yankees used the money they would have paid him to address several other needs, signing Jacoby Ellsbury, Carlos Beltran and Brian McCann to multi-year deals. Yes, gone are the days of them counting on Vernon Wells for 400 at-bats. Or even Ichiro Suzuki. The 40-year-old speedster, a mainstay in Fantasy lineups since breaking into the big leagues in 2001, is now confined to a backup role, buried beneath the Yankees' latest assortment of sluggers.
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Notice anything special about this particular assortment? Yup, they all bat left-handed (or primarily left-handed, in Beltran's case), which means they'll get every last benefit of playing half their games with a short porch in right field. McCann in particular is known for being a dead pull hitter. Ellsbury may not be a "slugger" in the truest sense, but he showed he's capable of hitting for power with his 32 home runs in 2011 and seems like the type of well-rounded player who would adapt his game based on his surroundings. Given everything else he does, he's a stud either way, but Fantasy owners would certainly welcome a resurgence in home runs.
The coup of the offseason for the Yankees, though, was landing Masahiro Tanaka, a 25-year-old right-hander who was putting up record numbers in Japan. Going in, he was considered the best free agent available at the Yankees' biggest position of need. He doesn't have Yu Darvish's stuff by all accounts, but with better command and a deep secondary arsenal, he's a legitimate top-of-the-rotation guy. Of course, he'll probably be in for an adjustment period, but as long as he's not the first pitcher you draft, you'll be satisfied with the results.
The only other major change to the pitching staff is at closer, where longtime setup man David Robertson takes over for retired legend Mariano Rivera. CC Sabathia showed last year he may be on his last legs at age 33, but fortunately, the cost on Draft Day should reflect it. The same is true for Mark Teixeira and Derek Jeter. Not so much Alfonso Soriano, who is entering crash-and-burn territory at age 38, but players who consistently deliver 30-plus homers have become so scarce that he's worth a middle-round pick, even with the risk.
No mention of Alex Rodriguez, huh? It's only fitting. Fantasy owners turned the page on him long ago.
Breakout ... David Robertson, relief pitcher
Buyer beware ... Mark Teixeira, first baseHis right wrist surgically repaired and his spirits high after a long layoff, Teixeira is poised this year to pick up where he left off in 2012, some would have you believe. Maybe he will. Maybe he won't. But no matter where you fall on that spectrum, you shouldn't lose sight of what exactly that means. In 2012, his OPS dropped for the fifth straight year, settling at a .807 mark that wasn't too unlike what Darin Ruf delivered last season. He began to have trouble staying on the field, his batting average hovered in the .250 range for a third straight year, and his walk rate dipped to where it no longer made up for his shortcomings. Now, he's coming back from surgery to his wrist, which, like the shoulders and hips, doesn't regain its strength as quickly as it heals. So in Teixeira, you have a first baseman quite evidently on the decline whose latest injury is a threat to the one area where he still excels, hitting home runs. Yeah ... a late-round pick sounds about right.
Sleeper ... Michael Pineda, starting pitcher
Prospects ReportCatcher Gary Sanchez is the one prospect in the Yankees system who Fantasy owners can trust to become an impact player someday, but that's at least partially because of the position he plays. He has legitimate middle-of-the-order power but underwhelmed between high Class A and Double-A last year and is still a ways from breaking into the big leagues ... Mason Williams looked like a front-line outfield prospect at this time a year ago but then hit .245 with a .641 OPS in 478 at-bats between high Class A and Double-A. Tyler Austin's stock also plummeted, but at least in Williams' case, the tools are good enough for long-term keeper owners to hold out hope for a rebound ... Slade Heathcott has long been a tools-over-production prospect, but he's practically to Triple-A now with nothing to hang his hat on. Don't hold your breath on him contributing this year ... In terms of ceiling, second base Gosuke Katoh has some Fantasy appeal for his combination of power, speed and patience at a premium position, but at age 19, he's for dynasty leagues only.