MLB Hot Stove: 5 Things the Yankees Need to Contend in 2015

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A glance at the Yankees’ failures in 2014 would suggest offense was the team’s most pressing problem. Underachieving power bats certainly left the team in pitchers’ duels throughout the year. Putting a light-hitting shortstop in the designated hitter role didn’t help, nor did recurring injuries to Carlos Beltran and Mark Teixeira. Looking forward, the front office needs to build upon the progress made with Brian Cashman’s late-season trades. Here are five things the Yankees need to contend in 2015.

1. Starting pitching

Masahiro Tanaka dazzled early; Michael Pineda threw smoke when healthy; and Brandon McCarthy was a dominant force in the stretch run, but there was only one reliable starter for the Yankees in 2014: Hiroki Kuroda. The 39-year-old righty threw a team-high 199 innings — 63 IP more than any other pitcher — and posted a 3.71 ERA and 1.14 WHIP for the season.

With the Yankees unlikely to resign Kuroda (who may retire), they currently have the undependable rotation of C.C. Sabathia, Tanaka, Pineda, David Phelps, and Ivan Nova, who is returning from Tommy John surgery. Their rotation was one of the team’s big strengths in 2014, but they will need to solidify its core to contend in 2015. Bringing back Brandon McCarthy should be a priority. Continuing the revival of Chris Capuano in a starting role ( big Cashman success in 2014) is another good idea.

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2. A defensive shortstop

One could argue the Yankees needed a shortstop in 2012 and 2013, but it’s no longer a point of contention now that Derek Jeter has officially retired. This being the Yankees organization, everyone from Elvis Andrus to Troy Tulowitzki to Alexei Ramirez has been envisioned in pinstripes. Though it normally goes without saying, the Yankees ought to prioritize defense at the position, something that was lacking in Jeter’s decline years. It is unlikely the team has the prospects to trade for a big-ticket player like Tulowitzki, but it would be unwise to prioritize upgrading offensively at short.

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3. Middle relief

If David Robertson signs elsewhere, as many expect he will, that would move flamethrowing Dellin Betances into the closer’s role. Betances’s performance in 2014 proved he’s ready, but it also opens up a hole in the middle-inning relief corps. Joe Girardi did not hesitate to use Betances for two innings (or more) during his breakout season. It will be impossible to duplicate that production internally, so the Yankees are going to have to find a new option for 2015. Left-hand specialists are another priority, even following the Cervelli trade that landed Justin Wilson from the Pirates.

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4. A third baseman

Anyone who has been near a tabloid in the past two months knows Alex Rodriguez is coming back to the Yankees in 2015. (Cue the media circus and every other trapping that makes New York Post headlines fun.) Since the team does not expect A-Rod to play third base for much of the season, they have to consider alternative plans. Late-season acquisition Chase Headley was a rock defensively and a clutch offensive player for the Yankees in 2014, so he would be a legitimate insurance plan for Rodriguez.

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5. A designated hitter/backup first baseman

When the Yankees needed a jolt offensively (as they so often did in 2014), they found themselves without a solid DH in the lineup. Mark Teixeira took the role when he could not take the field, but that weakened the club dramatically as they did not have a backup first baseman on the roster. Kelly Johnson’s disastrous experimentation at the position exposed a hole that Brian Cashman left open. Moving forward, the Yankees cannot consider Teixeira a reliable everyday player. Any slugging corner infielder will do, but the Yankees need pop from a player who can adequately cover first base as well.