First, let’s build a lineup using only Cano plus players the Yankees have under control in 2014 who already have accumulated some regular big league playing time:
It wouldn’t invoke too many memories of 1998, but the basic framework of the team is there, and there’s a good core of players you might expect to produce and some solid role players around them. The three starters already accounted for make up a perfectly respectable top of a rotation, with the real possibility of getting ace caliber performance from two pitchers, and there’s an obvious ace reliever on this roster too. Now, let’s add in some prospects currently in the organization who we can reasonably expect to be ready for the big leagues in 2014:
Again, probably not the most fearsome collection of talent to wear pinstripes in recent memory, but that looks like a pretty solid roster, to me, and there’s only one spot unaccounted for (and I considered putting Nik Turley in that spot, but he’s a little too low in the organization at the moment and he’s Rule 5 eligible after this season, so I thought that would be breaking the spirit of my limitations). The only player I’ve used who’s likely to start this season at a level lower than Double-A is Montgomery who, as a relief pitcher with tremendous strikeout ability, is a solid bet to move up the ranks quickly if he continues to fan minor league hitters. And I’m even being a little bit pessimistic in assuming Betances fails as a starting pitcher and is relegated to relief work, so you could easily move him into that role if you want to be a little bit more optimistic.
The thing that probably stands out the most to me about this hypothetical roster is how strong the pitching staff is. The rotation features two guys at the top who are good bets to be studs in that season*, Nova has already established he’s capable of pitching well for a mid-rotation guy, Banuelos is a consensus top 50 prospect who could be in his second year, and Phelps and Warren have both had success in the high minors that makes it easy to imagine them being good fourth starters. The bullpen features Robetson and Betances, both of whom can easily be projected as dominant backend performers. The lineup looks a little bit thin, but I’ve also avoided being aggressive in projecting the players in the low minors, so it’s not out of the question that someone who starts the season at High-A Tampa or Low-A Charleston this year could rise through the ranks quickly enough to get them a shot at the big leagues while the Yankees will be prioritizing cheap production to round out their roster. And if A-Rod is still capable of playing third base everyday, that opens up a number of possibilities in terms of getting more offense with an open DH spot.
Now, am I looking at this roster and finding it impossible to imagine more than one of Tampa Bay, Boston, and Toronto putting together a better roster in 2014? Of course not. But putting aside what’s outside of the Yankees’ control (namely, what those teams do with their rosters between now and then), and just looking at this team, I see a group that I can easily imagine winning 90+ games if things go right with the young pitching in the upper reaches of the system.
*Not to beat a dead horse, but this also illustrates why trading Jesus Montero for Pineda made so much sense for the Yankees. Putting Pineda behind Sabathia at the top of this rotation is quite a bit easier than finding a place for Montero to make nearly as much of an impact if neither he nor A-Rod are really capable of playing the field in 2014, and it definitely yields the Yankees a much larger marginal increase in production.