Early Offseason Big Picture: Optimism vs Pessimism re 2015 - a Group Chat

Scott:The Worst is Yet to Come,” happy sunshine guy Dan Szymborski reports in predicting late-stage-empire decay of the post-90s/2000s Yankees. Let’s discuss: Agree or disagree?          Quick initial take: Agree with Dan that (a) declining oldsters are preventing improvement at many positions, (b) imminent help from the farm is modest, and (c) the free agent pool has gotten shallower now that teams extend young talent before free agency. On the other hand, (a) they’re already an above-average team, (b) some free-agent and rookie talent infusions are likely for 2015-16, and (c) they won't lose literally a whole rotation (5 starters) to injury every year (like in 2014), right? Can the impending improvements exceed the impending declines enough to net the several extra wins they need to make the playoffs?

William: My take on it is this: Predicting gloom and doom sells papers and creates pageviews and makes off season people read ZiPS. Teams like the Orioles in 2014 and yes, the Royals and Giants show that a lot has to go right for a team to get the golden apple and a lot can go wrong too. And it depends on if you write as a fan or write analytically. Anybody looking at ZiPS will say, "Gee, it looks like this is a 78-win team." The fan will say, "Gee, maybe a lot of these guys can get back close to their career norms and the season will be fun." I do not lose my optimism until the team really shows after a couple of months that it just isn't working this year.

         Projections are just that. They are taken with a grain of salt and all it takes is a splash rookie or a rejuvenated veteran or two and some good pitching to turn into the Red Sox of 2013. Those Red Sox came in last place the year before and the year after, so who knows until the games are played?

Moshe: A 78 win projection at the start of the offseason for a team in transition isn't that bad. They add guys like Robertson, McCarthy, Headley, and a SS, they should be in the 84-86 range, which is fine and within striking distance of a playoff spot. We all knew a day of reckoning for their huge contracts would come eventually. If the end result is a half a decade of 85 wins or so and flitting near a playoff spot, I can live with that.

Jason: That's a perfectly reasonable stance, Moshe. I seem to have grown more pessimistic with this team as I've watched it age, like myself. I had a long discussion with a Mets fan the other day and I was weighing the idea of "who will have a better team for the next 5-7 years, Yanks or Mets". And we went through position by position, touching down into the farm system enough without fully raking it over and we both honestly felt that the Mets could have a better cumulative record over that time.

         But the unknowns are many and as Moshe noted, we just don't know. Maybe those millions paid to the international kids will pay tremendous dividends. Perhaps Beltran, CC and Teix will recapture some of what earned them those paydays. Hopefully Tanaka's arm holds up and Pineda and Nova are back strong for the foreseeable future.

         So yeah, I'm a bit pessimistic, but I can easily look a little sideways and see how this team embraces the underdog role and puts up a few good seasons while the youth is served.

Scott: I agree with Moshe on 85-ish wins and Jason’s “unknowns are many” point that the ceiling is higher if a few core guys stay healthy. Sure, any team has “if all are healthy” optimism – but not many have health questions about a strong, but recently injured, but young, top three SP like Tanaka/Pineda/Nova.

         The bigger question: will they accept that they have to gamble on the kids? Free agency isn’t what it used to be, now that teams lock up Poseys/Trouts early, leaving for free agency mainly declining 30somethings like Teix, CC, Beltran, McCann, A-Rod, and (soon) Ellsbury. I’m eager to see if they give Refsnyder the 2B gig, Greene the SP role he earned, Pirela a utility spot, Lindgren a quick promotion, Murphy a higher-playing-time backup role, etc.

         Sure, maybe they’ll decide against one or another youngster based on scouting reports I don't have – but I’ll be really pessimistic about the future if they decide (a) re-signing Headley means Prado goes to 2B so Refsnyder rots at AAA, (b) signing Jake Peavy or another 3rd/4th starter shoves Greene out, (c) Brendan Ryan plus Chris Young equals no room for Pirela, and (d) the A-Rod/Teix need for DH/1B as a rest home means Murphy gets only the minimal 30-40 backup catcher games. But their hope of competing in 2-3 years depends on internal hitting talent: literally nobody in 2014 had an OPS+ above 111; and nobody from 2014 is very likely to exceed that in 2014. If they don’t give shots to Ref, Pirela, Murphy, and eventually folks like Bird/Jagielo, the offense will just decay further as their average to mildly-above-par hitters like Ellsbury, Gardner, Prado, Teix, McCann, Beltran, and Headley (on the expected 3-4 year deal) get deeper into their 30s.

E.J.: The Yankees have a ton of money. They are also badly in need of a rebuild. Brian Cashman's primary focus should be building a team that can win in 2016 and 2017, not 2015. I agree with the consensus that this is mostly likely an 80-something win team, and I'm okay with that. The Royals and Giants were 80-something win teams too.

         Letting David Robertson go and locking up Chase Headley and Brandon McCarthy are great 2016 and beyond moves. The nice thing about having money is you can put together that 80-something team while you rebuild.

         I don't agree that the usefulness of mega contracts is over. I do think that the current Yankee starting roster has too many huge contracts and too little roster flexibility. The harm of having late-contract Teixeira on the roster is less about the money they pay him, and more about having no real choice other than counting on a 1 WAR player in 2014 to be a real contributor. The Yankees need to break up the age cohorts on their roster in the worst way. A 1-2 year break from mega contracts is the way to do that.

         Here is my standard for a successful season: 2015 will be successful if, at the end of the year, the Yankees look poised to win more games in 2016 than 2014. If that means winning a game or two fewer because they gave Rob Refsnyder an early shot at 2nd, or because they traded players away at the deadline, that's okay.

Kenny: I'll agree with you all in terms of a 2015 projection of 80ish wins, though I think the Yankees make some moves to help immediately. They're going to have to sell seats, and while A-Rod will do that, he's not playing 80 home games. I wouldn't be surprised if they traded for a middle infielder.

         I think there are some positives this year. If you bring McCarthy back, that rotation doesn't look all that bad. There are four legit starters there if Nova looks like himself again, and while Sabathia's situation doesn't look good, you could pick worse pitchers to play the role of wild card.

         I also think Brian McCann picks up where he left off. He had a rough transition to the AL in the first half of 2014, but seemed to be hitting his stride late last summer. If his entire rotation doesn't drop like flies again, leaving him the task of learning a new pitcher every week, maybe you get a Brian McCann year out of him. That would at least settle your stomach a little bit when it comes to big contracts.

         If all else fails, we can watch Chris Young hit 40 HRs this year.