AL preview: Yankees back to being the Yankees again

New York wrote checks in its attempt to solve that 2013 third-place problem.

New York Yankees starting pitcher Masahiro Tanaka delivers in the first inning of a spring exhibition baseball game against the Atlanta Braves in Tampa, Fla., Sunday, March 16, 2014. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira scanned a clubhouse with several new and established faces and was convinced his team had improved in every area.

Brian McCann was a few feet away, holding court with media. Jacoby Ellsbury wasn’t far away, settling into new surroundings after a career with rival Boston. Japanese reporters were waiting for Masahiro Tanaka to say or do anything.

Because of these, and other, newcomers, the Yankees are ready to distance themselves from a 2013 season dominated by Alex Rodriguez’s Biogenics scandal and injuries to Teixeira, Derek Jeter and Curtis Granderson that left the on-field product with no identity — and the team in third place.

“You look at our lineup, we’re back to being the Yankees again,’’ Teixeira said. “Last year we weren’t the Yankees.’’

The Yankees’ 85 victories last season were their fewest in a full season since 1992. They finished tied for third, a depth they have reached only one other time since ’92. All you need to know about last year’s broken-down baseball machine is that the Yankees scored 650 runs — only 36 runs more than the Twins. And we all know how the Twins did.

It was enough to send lefthander CC Sabathia to the gym during the offseason, and the staff ace reportedly lost 40 pounds. Now he must find his fastball, which averaged around 91 miles per hour last season after years at around 94.

“Nobody wants to go through that again,” Sabathia said. “It sticks with me a lot — just being disappointed in not being able to help this team win. I feel like if I could have been a little better we might have made the playoffs. I blamed myself for a long time in the offseason.’’

Did the Yankees do enough — spend enough — to return to prominence in a beast of an AL East? The Red Sox are baseball’s defending champs and the pesky Rays and surging Orioles are on the rise, making the Yankees’ challenge daunting.

“There are no easy series with the emergence of Tampa Bay and Baltimore,’’ Teixeira said.

They signed Tanaka, a talented Japanese righthander, for seven years and $155 million after paying a $20 million posting fee. Ellsbury received $153 million over seven years. McCann is getting $85 million over five years. Savvy veteran hitter Carlos Beltran was signed for three years and $45 million.

Those moves need to offset losses elsewhere. Robinson Cano is off to Seattle, with Brian Roberts — who hasn’t played more than 77 games in a season since 2009 — replacing him at second base. A-Rod and his daily drama are out of the clubhouse as he serves a seasonlong suspension — but his replacement at third base is Kelly Johnson.

Sabathia, Tanaka and Hiroki Kuroda form a solid rotation, and the Yankees are encouraged by 25-year-old Michael Pineda, who has missed the past two seasons because of injuries. David Robertson, effective as a setup man, replaces the legend Mariano Rivera as the new Yankees closer.

Rivera and Andy Pettitte retired after last season. Jeter, who missed most of last season because of a broken ankle, is retiring after this season, his 20th. He is the last link to the Yankees dynasties under late owner George Steinbrenner.

“I know he has a lot of championships, but I have none,’’ Beltran said. “Hopefully I can win one.’’

The season will be one long farewell tour for Jeter. What is unknown is when that tour will end — September or well into October? The Yankees haven’t missed the postseason in consecutive nonstrike years since 1992-93.

“I don’t know how far we will go,’’ Beltran said, “but at least we have to do something positive, and better than what they did last year, no doubt about that.’’



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