By Richard Cuicchi | March 03, 2013 at 08:56 PM EST | 1 comment
The recent loss of slugger Curtis Granderson by the New York Yankees for 10-12 weeks may yet be another nail in the coffin for the team. This bad news is following on the heels of a disappointing off-season that saw three of their 2012 starting position players signed by other teams, the loss of Alex Rodriguez to off-season surgery, and only two free agent players signed. The relatively “old” team did not re-stock with any younger players from outside the organization.
The Yankee offense has reason to worry in 2013. They led the American League in several key offensive categories last year—home runs, total bases, slugging percentage, and on-base percentage. A team that slugged 245 home runs last season lost the following players who contributed significantly to the total: Nick Swisher (24), Russell Martin (21), Raul Ibanez (19), Eric Chavez (16), and Andruw Jones (14).
Losing Granderson (44 home runs) and Rodriguez (18) for good parts of this season will further exacerbate their offensive woes. Kevin Youkilis and Travis Hafner were added through free agency, but they combined for only 27 home runs in limited action last season. The Yankees could easily be at a point to hit only half of last year’s home run total, which would place them roughly at the bottom of the American League. They won’t likely be able to out-slug their opponents as they did last year, often winning games with 6-8 runs.
Long-time Yankee stars Derek Jeter and Marino Rivera are coming off major surgeries from last season, and their full returns have some elements of doubt because of their ages. Veterans Robin Cano, Mark Teixiera, and Ichiro Suzuki will be forced to shoulder the load this year. (Note: Yankee fans lost a few heartbeats over the news this past weekend that Ichiro was involved in a car accident in Florida. However, it turns out he was not injured.) The issue of an aging team has been looming for several years now. The free agent market was not utilized to address the problem for 2013, and player development within the Yankee system in the near-term does not appear to be a promising solution either.
In past years, the Yankees would have surely gone after free agents like Josh Hamilton, the Upton Brothers (B. J. and Justin), and Zack Greinke in the offseason to bolster a weakening team. However, the Yankee GM Brian Cashman seems intent on keeping the team’s salary below the cap to avoid paying the luxury tax. Why, when you have the Yankees’resources? WWGSD (What would George Steinbrenner do?)
It’s not as though the Yankees’ farm system has a bevy of upcoming stars in their farm system. USA Today Sports Weekly recently had a column featuring the “100 Names You Need Know,” which focused on up-and-coming prospects who are most likely to make it in the major leagues. The Yankees only had two players included. Baseball America had three Yankee players in its recent “Top 100 Prospects” list, but they were all estimated to reach the majors in 2015. By mid-season, it’s very likely outfielder Brett Gardner will be the only player in the Yankees regular starting lineup under 30 years of age this year.
Ironically, what many observers feel is a “suspect” pitching staff may turn out to be the strongest component of the Yankee team, given the forecast for the offense. CC Sabathia is really the only rock-solid starter going into the season. However, if the aging Andy Pettitte (40) and Hiroki Kuroda (38) can give the Yankees a bunch of innings, then maybe the Yanks will be more competitive than the skeptics think. These two veterans were effective in 2012, but there are reservations about whether they can repeat strong performances of prior seasons. Furthermore, Phil Hughes’ back problems will need to be nonexistent, and Ivan Nova will have to get his arm strength back in order for them to replicate some previously successful seasons.
The likelihood of the Yankees changing their style of play from “bashers” to “grinders” does not seem likely either. Only Gardner, Suzuki, and reserve Edwin Nunez have any substantial speed on the bases, so employing stolen bases, sacrifice hits, and hit-and-run plays as core parts of the offense are not plausible. Besides, Manager Joe Girardi would have to change a big part of his game-management approach. I don’t see that happening or him being successful if attempted.
The competition in the American League East Division will be even tougher in 2013. Toronto made significant additions to its team with jaw-dropping, off-season acquisitions. Boston figures to be better than last season as well, with new manager John Farrell and some new and healthy players. Buck Showalter’s Orioles seemed to turn the corner last year with a squad that made the playoffs. The Rays have always been a pesky opponent for the Yanks. So, even if the Pinstripers could field the same team as last year, they would get fewer wins due to this upgraded competition.
I know the die-hard Red Sox fans are really feeling a lot of empathy (tongue in cheek) for the Yankees’ current situation going into this season. They are just chomping at the bit for the Yanks to have their turn at a below-.500 season. Plus, they will never forgive “Youk” for now teaming up with the Evil Empire. After all, the Yanks have been in the playoffs for the last 18 seasons, except for 2008 when they still won 89 games.
I saw in the news that Paul O’Neill just turned 50--maybe he could suit up again for the Yankees to replace Granderson! But wait, Johnny Damon’s only 39 years old—I’m sure he’d like his old position back!
As a Yankees fan, it pains me to have to write this gloomy, but truthful, blog post. However, I’d love nothing more than to say at the end of the season, “I was wrong about the Yankees!”
Let me hear from some of you other Yankee fans. Any Red Sox Nation folks want to chime in here? Will the Blue Jays live up to the pre-season expectations?