Yankees at Twins series preview: Bombers caught in spending cycle

Rich Schultz

Jesse and Neil are back at it again, exchanging questions in advance of 2014's second Twins-Yankees tilt.

About four and a half weeks ago, I exchanged questions and answers on the Twins and Yankees with Neil Keefe of Keefe and the City. He's also written for WFAN and CBS New York. Now that the teams are facing off once again, this time at Target Field in Minneapolis, it was time that we caught up with our familiar foes. Thanks to Neil for his time!

Be sure to check in on the answers I gave to Neils' questions, too.

Masahiro Tanaka walked through the Twins the first time these two teams played each other this year. Can this guy take home not just the AL Rookie of the Year award, but the Cy Young as well?
Why stop there? Add AL MVP to this list too! I'm only half kidding when I say that because if the Yankees do end up playing the way they should have already been playing this year and win the division and make the playoffs, then Tanaka would have to be in the conversation for MVP. He is 11-3 with a 2.10 ERA and leads the AL in wins and ERA. Here are the lines for his three losses:

6 IP, 8 H, 4 R, 3 ER, 1 BB, 7 K

7 IP, 6 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 1 BB, 6 K

9 IP, 7 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 1 BB, 8 K

And here are the lines for his two no-decisions:

7 IP, 7 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 1 BB, 10 K

6.1 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 4 BB, 11 K

He has been as close to a guaranteed win whenever he pitches as you can be. If Justin Verlander could win the AL MVP in 2011 at 24-5 with a 2.40 ERA and 250 strikeouts in 251 innings, Tanaka could be on his way to having a very similar season.
Chase Whitley pitched well against the Twins last time, but his effort was ruined by a David Robertson implosion. Looking at Whitley, he's posting a better-than-average swinging strike rate but that's not translating into very many strikeouts. The slider looks good though. Are those strikeouts going to come?
I don't think those strikeouts are going to come and after three strong starts to begin his time in the rotation, he has turned into the Chase Whitley I expected when he joined the rotation, losing his last two starts and allowing 13 earned runs and 24 baserunners in just 7 1/3 innings.

Whitley needs near perfect command to succeed as a starter in the majors because he doesn't have the velocity to bail him out. When the command isn't there, you get what he gave in his last two starts. Unfortunately, I don't think those strikeouts aren't going to come.
David Phelps is also an interesting character as far as strikeouts are concerned. His swinging strike rate is way below average, but he's managing quite a few strikeouts by catching guys looking at strike three. What is it that's catching batters so off-guard that they're stuck with the bat on their shoulders?
David Phelps is at his best when he's throwing strikes and not nibbling around the corners (but who isn't?) the way Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy liked to do when they were Yankees. It's amazing how much better a starter Phelps is when he throws first-pitch strikes (again, who isn't?) and he has the stuff and ability to be a solid back-end starter and get major league hitters out. But like the other two rotation fill-ins in Whitley and Vidal Nuno, Phelps isn't consistent enough to trust even if he is the most consistent of the three.
Do the Yankees already regret signing Brian McCann of the Fun Police? Or are you hoping, like I am with Ricky Nolasco, that he finds a way to provide more value down the line?
I was driving the Brian McCann bandwagon starting as early as last season with him being an impending free agent for the Braves and was ecstatic when he signed a five-year deal with the Yankees in the winter. But after three months of embarrassing offensive production from a catcher who is supposed to hit 25 home runs, I have had enough of McCann. He has been accountable after his many hitless games and leaving countless men on, but so was A.J. Burnett when he would lay eggs in starts. At some point taking the blame and being sorry for losing isn't enough and you have to start actually producing.

I don't regret the signing of him because the Yankees needed an upgrade and stability at catcher, but he has to start playing like the Brian McCann I thought we were getting and not the one we have gotten
Following on from that question a little bit, the Yankees gave up their first round pick and a pair of comp picks to sign McCann, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Carlos Beltran. It feels like mortgaging the future to stay relevant in the here and now, but is that a situation into which the Yankees have forced themselves? Can the Bombers really afford to ever go into a rebuild?
The Yankees can never go into rebuild mode and they won't ever go into rebuild mode because New York City won't allow for that and rightfully so. With the money the Yankees command and also demand, putting a weak product on the field for a few years in hopes that it will create another dynasty isn't going to work out. The last time the Yankees went with young players and let them grow it turned into the late-90s dynasty, but ironically that strategy has forced them to never be able to return to it.

I don't mind that they gave up draft picks for proven talent because I will always pick the proven over the prospect and given their recent draft history, the players they would have picked would likely be having email exchanges with you and me in a few years rather than playing for the Yankees. The Yankees will always have to be built through trades and free agency unless something drastic happens, but because everyone in the front office is scared for their own jobs and future, rebuilding isn't an option.
The Yankees are 18-23 at home but 23-19 on the road, which bodes well for you in this series, but does it also give you hope for the rest of the season since teams typically perform better at home anyway? Or what is it that you could take away from your reverse home/road splits?
The Yankees are built for Yankee Stadium and vice versa and because of that, they have a roster filled with left-handed power hitters and power pitchers. The problem is their left-handed power hitters like McCann and Beltran and Mark Teixeira haven't hit for power the way they used to and Ellsbury, who was supposed to take advantage of the short porch in right field, has watched his power disappear. As for the power pitchers, well CC Sabathia, Michael Pineda and Ivan Nova are all on the disabled list, so the Yankees' home formula is pretty much non-existent.

I think the Yankees will be much better at home in the second half as players return from injury and other players return to their usual form and if they don't it will be the first time the Yankees have missed the playoffs in consecutive seasons since 1992-93.
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