Yanks fall short of playoff goal in Jeter's farewell season

Four-fifths of rotation goes down with injuries; Tex, Beltran limited by lingering issues

Yanks fall short of playoff goal in Jeter's farewell season

NEW YORK -- If someone had marched into Joe Girardi's office this spring with a prediction that four-fifths of the Opening Day rotation was heading for the disabled list, the Yankees manager would have replied that his team was going to have a tough time making it into the playoffs.

Girardi's club missed out on postseason ball for a second consecutive season in 2014, but the pitching was not to blame. This campaign will ultimately be remembered for two reasons: it was Derek Jeter's final season and a year in which the big hitters in the middle of the order just never seemed to get on a consistent run.

"It was a disappointing year offensively for the whole team," Mark Teixeira said. "We all just need to get a little bit better."

Though they opened the checkbooks to sign big hitters in Brian McCann (five years, $85 million), Jacoby Ellsbury (seven years, $153 million) and Carlos Beltran (three years, $45 million), the Yankees spent most of the summer wondering why they ranked near the bottom of the league in runs scored.

"It's certainly something we didn't anticipate and certainly have tried to address in-season," general manager Brian Cashman said. "And we'll try to really analyze it when the dust settles."

Ellsbury turned in a decent first campaign in New York, and others -- like Brett Gardner -- contributed, but hitting coach Kevin Long landed in the hot seat early, as the Yankees were unable to keep that alive long enough to make a serious run at the division.

"It's just been one of those years where the results on an everyday basis aren't there," Long said.

It hurt when All-Star Masahiro Tanaka sustained a partial tear of his right ulnar collateral ligament  on July 8 and wound up missing 10 weeks, but Cashman was improbably able to patch that hole by importing Brandon McCarthy and Chris Capuano, while landing on a gem from within in rookie Shane Greene.

"Obviously, we knew that we would miss [Tanaka]," Girardi said. "But I think our starting pitchers have done a pretty good job in his absence. It sure would have been nice to have him."

Disappointing years from Beltran, McCann and Teixeira highlighted a sputtering offense that forced the Yankees to play a lot of tight games, which in turn had a cumulative effect on a bullpen that was otherwise a season-long strength.

"You look at the games we've lost: 1-0, 2-1 and 3-2 or whatever -- there's not a whole lot of wiggle room," Girardi said.

The Yankees finished the year without a .300 hitter for just the sixth time since 1968 and did not wield a 100-RBI player for the first time in a non-strike season since 1992.

"We've had flashes of being pretty good, but for the most part, we've just struggled to get guys across the plate," Gardner said. "It's frustrating, because with all the injuries we had to our rotation, the guys that have come up and come in from other places have really stepped up and done a great job."

For the second consecutive year, the Yankees mixed and matched on the fly, shaking up their roster and setting a new franchise record for players used.

They rode a hot hand early, giving rookie Yangervis Solarte playing time at third base before shipping him to the Padres for Chase Headley, and by midseason, Alfonso Soriano, Brian Roberts and Kelly Johnson -- all members of the Opening Day lineup -- had also been jettisoned in favor of different personnel.

A remodeled Yankees team tried to mount a run in August, getting a boost from Martin Prado's versatility. McCann's bat came around after a first half that he described as "horrible," and Jeter enjoyed a late-September surge, but the Yankees were still unable to close the gap in their chase for the second Wild Card spot.

"It's definitely not something we expected coming into Spring Training," Gardner said. "The lineup that we had put together, the guys that we had there in February looked pretty good on paper. We've had a few injuries, but you can't make excuses. Other teams have [had injuries], too."

Record: 84-78, second place in the American League East.

Defining moment: You could point to Tanaka's injury as the day that the Yankees began to wonder about their fortunes, but we'll go with the afternoon of Feb. 12, when Jeter clicked 'Post' on the Facebook announcement heard around the world. Jeter's declaration that 2014 would be his final Major League season had a ripple effect through the entire campaign, from the tributes and ceremonies to the patches that the club wore starting on Sept. 6. Girardi bristled early in the season that he "wasn't hired to put on a farewell tour," then rejected outside criticism and continued to bat Jeter second, rationalizing that Jeter had always been at his best in must-win games.

What went right: Betances was dominant in an All-Star campaign. ... Ellsbury stayed on the field for 149 games after averaging just 96 a year over the last four seasons with Boston. ... Gardner set new career highs in homers and RBIs. ... Headley hit a walk-off single in his Yankee debut on July 22. ... Jeter was honored in every road city, did not spend a day on the disabled list and finished his career ranked sixth on the all-time hit list (3,465). ... If this is Hiroki Kuroda's last season, it was a good one. ... McCann hit 20 home runs for the seventh straight year. ... McCarthy found new life after struggling in Arizona and being traded for Vidal Nuno. ... Michael Pineda finally made his Yankees debut and pitched well. ... Prado hit .316 in 37 games. ... David Robertson assumed Rivera's closer role and was reliable. ... Tanaka was 12-4 with a 2.51 ERA in his first 18 starts. ... Chris Young found success in the Bronx after being released by the Mets. ... Tino Martinez, Paul O'Neill and Joe Torre were all inducted into Monument Park, with the Yankees retiring Torre's No. 6.

What went wrong: Slowed by a bone spur in his right elbow, Beltran was limited to just 32 appearances in the outfield. ... Francisco Cervelli missed 55 games with a right hamstring strain. ... Stephen Drew never got his bat going after struggling in Boston. ... Jeter endured an 0-for-28 slump late in the year, the second-longest of his career. ... Johnson played several positions, but never got in a groove, then went on to help the Orioles to the playoffs. ... A back injury knocked Shawn Kelley from a setup role ... McCann posted a .671 OPS in the first half. ... Ivan Nova had an 8.27 ERA in four starts before having Tommy John surgery. ... Pineda was ejected from an April 23 game in Boston for using pine tar, then didn't pitch again until Aug. 13. ... Roberts batted .237 and was released in July. ... CC Sabathia was just 3-4 with a 5.28 ERA in eight starts. ... Soriano's bat, so productive late last year, was out of magic. ... The Yankees discovered Tanaka was injured after his start on July 8 in Cleveland. ... Teixeira had trouble staying on the field and needed three cortisone shots in his right wrist.

Biggest surprise: Betances was a one-time starter when he forced his way onto the team with a dominant spring, showcasing a high-90s fastball as well as a nasty slurve that made life difficult for opponents. The 26-year-old shattered Mariano Rivera's single-season club record for strikeouts by a reliever (130).

Hitter of the Year: Ellsbury was productive in his first season of a seven-year, $153 million contract, batting .271 with 27 doubles, five triples, 16 homers and 70 RBIs while stealing 39 bases and having 45 multihit games. He was used out of his optimal position, batting third often due to injuries, but projects to spark the Yanks' lineup more efficiently at the top of the order in 2015.

Pitcher of the Year: Tanaka. Even though he lost 10 weeks to injury, the 25-year-old gave his club a chance to win almost every time he took the ball, changing the tone of the entire day. Concerns about his adjustment to the American League seemed unfounded as Tanaka had baffled hitters swinging and missing with regularity, especially at his vicious splitter.

Rookie of the Year: Betances. The only other rookie relievers with as many strikeouts in a single season are Mark Eichhorn (166 in 157 innings for the Blue Jays in 1986) and Dick Radatz (144 in 124 2/3 innings for the Red Sox in 1962).

Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @bryanhoch and read his MLBlog, Bombers Beat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.