The 2013 New York Yankees are an undeniably weaker team than the 2012 Yankees. First, Nick Swisher and Rafael Soriano became free agents, and will most likely not return. Then, Russell Martin signed with the Pirates. Then, it was reported that Alex Rodriguez would miss much of the 2013 season. With Brian Cashman and the Steinbrenners not budging on getting below the $189 million 2014 competitive balance tax threshold, it’s unlikely that the Yankees will make a big splash before the season starts.
What does this mean? It means that the Yankees are in trouble. There’s no point in denying it. The Blue Jays have made themselves contenders. The Rays look to be a threat once again. The Red Sox are signing free agents left and right in order to put themselves back in contention. And then there are the Orioles, who almost took the division last year. Only one of these five teams can win the division, and the other four will compete with the rest of the league for the one game playoff to make the “real” postseason. The Yankees have done little to ensure that they will capture one of those spots.
Yes, they re-signed Hiroki Kuroda and Andy Pettitte, and they will have Brett Gardner and Mariano Rivera back. The latter two will no doubt improve the team, but the Yankees need more than Gardner and Rivera to make up for the loss of others, as well as a decline in production from most of the aging starters.
To illustrate this, let’s look at each position and see whether they are likely to improve, decline, or stay about the same in 2013:
C: Worse – With Martin gone, there are very few options at catcher, and most are worse than Martin. Martin wasn’t great last year, so this position won’t be too much worse, but it’s hard to imagine how it could be any better.
1B: No change – On the one hand, Teixeira turns 33 next year, and is clearly in decline. On the other hand, he had an abnormally bad 2012 season, and should still provide similar value next year.
2B: Worse – Robinson Cano is an amazing player, and will continue to provide exceptional value for the Yankees. But he will be 30, and is coming off a career year. Don’t expect another 8-win season.
SS: Worse – See above. Derek Jeter is great, but he’s old, coming back from an injury, and almost surely cannot repeat what he did in 2012.
3B: Worse – A-Rod will miss significant time, and even though he hasn’t been terribly productive recently, he is still, in all likelihood, better than anyone the Yankees will replace him with, especially now that both Jeff Keppinger and Eric Chavez are off the market.
LF: Better – Raul Ibanez was a nice pickup, but he’s no Brett Gardner. Gardner will be a huge improvement in left, and could provide 5+ wins if he continues to be an exceptional defensive left-fielder.
CF: Slightly better – This is a tough one. Granderson was pretty awful last season, at least compared to expectations, but there are a lot of warning signs indicating that he’s declining as a player. His power potential and a bounce back defensively, should make him a slightly better player in his final year. Another possibility to consider is if Granderson moved to left and Gardner played center. This would make both positions better, as Gardner’s elite range would play better in center field.
RF: Worse – Ichiro Suzuki, or some other free agent right fielder, would be a nice piece to have, but whomever the Yankees sign is unlikely to come close to the value that Nick Swisher provided. Even if they re-sign Swisher, which is unlikely, he will likely regress slightly due to age.
DH: No change – It’s nearly impossible to tell who will fill this role next season, so I’m just going to assume no change here. The spot will probably primarily be filled by resting veterans anyway.
Bench: No change – Again, the bench is too difficult to predict, and has too little of an impact, to say one way or another.
Rotation: No change – It’s looking like the rotation will be essentially the same as last year. Most of the starters are old, and will therefore decline in production, but a full season from Andy Pettitte and an improvement from Ivan Nova, plus any additional signings, will hopefully offset that. There’s a good chance the rotation will be worse next year, but I’ll be optimistic and say no change.
Bullpen: Slightly better – A full season from Mo and Joba Chamberlain should make up for the loss of Soriano. It won’t be a huge improvement, but it will be an improvement nonetheless.
Final tally: 3 better, 4 no change, 5 worse.
This is obviously a very simple way of looking at the team, and there’s tons of uncertainty involved. Maybe Teixeira or Granderson will have a monster season. Maybe Ivan Nova will figure it all out. Maybe the Yankees sign a big-name free agent. But as of right now, all signs point to the 2013 Yankees being a worse team than 2012. The biggest addition is Brett Gardner, but he’s not valuable enough to offset the decline of most of the aging team.
In an increasingly competitive AL East, the Yankees can’t afford to get worse. Yes, they won 95 games last year, good for first in the division and in the AL, but they were just 3 games from missing the playoffs. Are the Yankees a 92-win team next year? I’m really not so sure. I admire the ownership’s commitment to the $189 threshold, and I’m not sure that the Yankees should make a big move this offseason. But Yankees fans need to be realistic and understand that the playoffs are not even close to a sure thing right now. In fact, I might go so far as to say that the Yankees are more likely to miss the playoffs then make them – or, at the very least, miss the ALDS. Fiscal responsibility is new for the Yankees, and it could have serious consequences in the short term. Whether the long-term benefits are worth the risk is another question entirely.