On Friday, Neil Keefe got in touch for a question exchange for the Yankees-Twins series. He's written for WFAN and CBS New York since February of 2010, and you can find my answers on his website Keefe to the City here. With the Yankees in transition and the Twins still trying to find their feet after being TKO'd the last three seasons, neither team looks like the powerhouse or familiar foe they were just a few years ago. That makes it an interesting time for both organizations.
Thanks to Neil for getting in touch.
Its been an interesting season for the Yankees. How does this team keep their record above .500 with the way things have gone?
It’s a mystery to me how this team is 28-24 given how many injuries they have had to sustain through the first two months of the season with 60 percent of their Opening Day rotation on the disabled list. I’m not sure how many Yankees fans would have felt confident knowing that in May they would be relying on David Phelps, Vidal Nuno and Chase Whitley to pitch three of every five days and I’m not sure how many feel confident now even with the way things have gone. I know I don’t.
The Yankees have been able to stay afloat and above .500 and weather the injury bug thanks to their bullpen, which has the best shutdown combination in the game at the back end in Dellin Betances and David Robertson. I don’t want to say those two look like the Mariano Rivera-John Wetteland combination from 1996 because replicating that kind of success is nearly impossible, but they have been as good so far as Robertson and Rivera ever were together.
With the injuries up and down the roster, what's the latest on all these guys? When are they expected to return?
I’m not sure when CC Sabathia will return to the team, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing considering how bad he was before he hurt his knee. (I’m only joking. I will gladly take Skinny Fat CC over Nuno or Whitley.) Michael Pineda is expected back sometime in June and obviously Ivan Nova won't pitch again this season. But as long as CC can come back and be more reliable than his placeholders (which shouldn't be hard) and Pineda can be as good as he was before his suspension and injury, then the Yankees will only need to rely on one of three from Phelps, Nuno and Whitley, and I'm guessing it will be Phelps.
The good things about the Yankees is that they always seem to get help from unlikely places, which is ironic since they're the Yankees and they're not supposed to rely on non-roster invitees from spring training to carry the offense. But this year they have gotten more than anyone could have dreamed from Yangervis Solarte, who has saved us from having to watch Brian Roberts and Kelly Johnson play every day, and has taken over a starting role on this team after having never been given a chance at the majors. Solarte has been what the Yankees have missed since Alex Rodriguez could no longer produce consistently at third base and even Solarte cools off like most expect him to, the first two months of the season pulling for him have been special.
It's hard to believe that Derek Jeter is 40. How's his farewell tour coming along?
His farewell tour is moving along, but for me it hasn't fully set in yet and I don't think it will until September.
Jeter has been the starting shortstop for the Yankees since I was in fourth grade and nine years old, so seeing him play every day is pretty much all I have ever known. I don't want to think about the Yankees without Jeter any sooner than I have to and I can't even fathom watching someone else start at shortstop starting in 2015. Well, unless that someone is Troy Tulowitzk. Then I will have an easier time wiping the tears away.
Speaking of Jeter's final season, who are some of the young players we should be looking out for over the next year or so? Is there anyone coming in the Bomber pipeline who could be the next franchise player?
I think the Yankees' next franchise player is probably in another organization right now and I only say that because of how poorly they have drafted position players in recent years. But I hope, I really hope the next Derek Jeter is in the system or someone they can trade for because the Yankees need to get back to what made them successful starting 20 years ago and they need to start to develop their own players once again.
Having the money to be able to fill holes and enhance the team through free agency is a great asset to have, but it shouldn't be relied upon to build a team because as we've seen more times than not that doesn't result in championships. They had the blueprint for success in the '90s and need to revert back to it, so they don't go through a losing period of losing like they did in the '80s.
What's the long-term outlook for the Yankees? What do they need to do to stay competitive in the coming years?
I compare the 2014 Yankees to the 2013 Red Sox in that everyone seemed to pass over them as a contender before the season began because of too many question marks and unknowns. Now I know no one wants to be compared to a team that won the World Series due to what was basically a long list of miracles and incredibly fortunate health since the 2014 Red Sox are proving to be what the 2013 Red Sox should have been. But this Yankees team has the talent and ability when healthy to be in the upper class of the American League and even for as bad as they been at times, they have put themselves in position to make a run once they get healthy.
I believe this team will win the AL East because I think when healthy, they are the best team in the division. They have a strong pitching staff, which will get stronger as players return from injuries and a deep lineup. And I believe this team will win the division because they have to. I can't sit through another postseason-less October for the Yankees, and yes, I realize how greedy and ridiculous that sounds.