NEW YORK (AP) - This year’s New York Yankees look a lot like last year’s team.
The Yankees dominated the AL East for four months. And then they collapsed.
“I think we could have accomplished more last season,” general manager Brian Cashman said. “I thought last year’s club was capable of more and I think this year’s club on paper is better than last year’s club on paper.”
Second baseman Starlin Castro and closer Aroldis Chapman are the big additions, and outfielder Aaron Hicks also was acquired. Chapman will miss the first 30 games while serving a suspension under baseball’s new domestic abuse policy.
With a payroll already well above $200 million, the Yankees failed to sign a single free agent to a major league contract during an offseason for the first time since the free-agent era began in 1976.
New York’s regular lineup is virtually unchanged, with Mark Teixeira at first, Didi Gregorius at shortstop, Brian McCann behind the plate, and Jacoby Ellsbury playing center field flanked by Brett Gardner in left and Carlos Beltran in right. Alex Rodriguez, who turned 40 last July, remains the designated hitter.
“Our goal is to win the World Series, bottom line,” said manager Joe Girardi, titleless since winning in 2009, his second season. “I appreciate how hard our guys played all year, how they never gave up last year, but you know, we didn’t get to where we wanted.”
New York started 57-42 and led the AL East by seven games on July 29, then went 30-33 and finished six games back of Toronto. They Yankees lost the AL wild-card game against Houston 3-0.
“You try to avoid that one-game playoff,” Girardi said. “Our first goal is to win the division this year.”
Here are a few things to watch when the Yankees take the field this season:
STARS OR SLUMPERS?: From Sept. 1 on, Alex Rodriguez hit .224, Jacoby Ellsbury .207, Brett Gardner .198 and Brian McCann .174. New York’s team batting average dropped from .274 in June and July to .236 for the remainder of the season.
Castro, moved from shortstop to second by the Chicago Cubs last summer, provides a right-handed bat in an order that frequently was tamed by left-handed pitching last year.
“I think we’re more balanced,” Cashman said. “If we stay healthy, we can make a lot of noise. But with that being said, I think a lot of teams got better.”
STARTERS: What to do with CC Sabathia, the 35-year-old former ace who was 9-14 with a 4.85 ERA over the two seasons. He pitched effectively with a new knee brace late last season, then missed the playoff game while undergoing alcohol rehabilitation. Sabathia was ineffective for much of spring training and is owed $25 million this year plus $25 million more in 2017 unless he has a significant left shoulder injury this year.
Girardi has delayed deciding whether Sabathia or Ivan Nova will be the fifth starter behind Masahiro Tanaka, Michael Pineda, Nathan Eovaldi and Luis Severino.
IN THE PEN: Acquired from Cincinnati, Chapman won’t be eligible to throw his 100 mph-plus fastball for the Yankees until at least May 9. Andrew Miller, last year’s closer, will retain the role while Chapman serves his discipline. A left-hander like Chapman, Miller sustained a chip fracture of his right wrist when hit by a line drive during the final week of spring training, but he said that won’t stop him from pitching.
After trading Adam Warren to the Chicago Cubs in the Castro deal, the Yankees hoped Bryan Mitchell could fill his role as a long reliever and spot starter, but Mitchell broke a toe while covering first base in the final week of spring training and may need surgery.
With left-hander Justin Wilson also traded, the new-look bullpen will rely on left-hander Chasen Shreve and also include Luis Cessa and Johnny Barbato.
ALWAYS ALEX: After returning from an injury-shortened 2013 season and a drug-related suspension that caused him to miss 2014, Rodriguez hit .250 with 33 homers and 86 RBIs in 151 games. Can his body hold up for a second straight season? No one who started a season as a 40-year-old has hit 30 homers.
STAYING HEALTHY: Teixeira and Ellsbury all missed long stretches with injuries last year, and Gardner, hampered by a hand injury, had his second straight terrible second half. With an older roster, the Yankees need to pay attention to getting players sufficient rest.
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