The New York Yankees are in a much better position heading into 2013 than many are making them out to be. Will there be question marks? Of course, there are in any season. Pundits will point to their age, lack of a defined designated hitter and a catcher position to be determined in Spring Training as detriments to their success. In my view, the Yankees have done an admirable job putting together a roster which has the ability to defend its 2012 American League East crown.
I can’t argue with any of the issues presented by those who place the Yankees behind other teams in the East let alone the Detroit Tigers, Los Angeles Angels and Texas Rangers. They are lacking in those spots, but let’s be honest are these issues any different from when they entered last season?
The Yankees are indeed one year older across the board. Derek Jeter, coming off ankle surgery will turn 39 in June. Recently signed Ichiro Suzuki is 39 now. Hiroki Kuroda will be 38 in February. Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera are in their 40′s. Each of these players presents a case for concern, except, each of them showed in 2012 why we can’t make assumptions about players and their ages in Major League Baseball.
We can look to statistical analysis and it is proven that on average players at these ages are typically headed out the door, watching at home or coaching. All but Suzuki and Kuroda went through some serious surgeries last season, but would you count any of them out after watching them play all these years?
Jeter has been supposedly set to push up roses for a few years now, yet he continues to defy the end of his career. Pettitte has shown he is a viable middle-to-top of the rotation arm and Rivera, well until he falters for an extend period of time, I like his chances of having one last magical season.
Looking at the designated hitter spot, the Yankees haven’t exactly filled that role with the conventional player the last few seasons. Did anyone truly expect Andruw Jones to perform as he did in 2011? What about Raul Ibanez this past season? The Yankees have purposely and arguably correctly left the position somewhat vacant in an effort to give half-days to Jeter, Alex Rodriguez and even Mark Teixeira so that their time on the field does not take a toll.
They’ll be without their third baseman, Rodriguez for a better part of the season, but the acquisition of Kevin Youkilis should stunt some of the bleeding in that area. Youkilis is coming off a poor season, but he’s a better option than anything they had in-house and who was available at the time to fill the void. Should Rodriguez get back, the designated hitter situation clears up, at least from the right-side, by one or the both of these players. So, don’t look at the Matt Diaz signing as a long-term solution for the season. It was a necessary depth move; one Yankees general manager Brian Cashman has become very successful with the last few seasons. While Scott Hairston remains on the radar, I only see the Yankees signing him if he comes off the desire to net a multiyear deal.
As for catcher, the Yankees do find themselves in uncharted waters for the first time in a long time. The Yankees were fortunate to have Jorge Posada behind the plate from 1998 (when he started more than half the team’s games for the first time) through 2010 when he was slowly being pushed out of the starting spot. From there, the Yankees signed an experienced, yet suspect Russell Martin to a one-year deal. He had a bounce back season in 2011, which isn’t really saying much as he recorded a .732 OPS. Martin was downright atrocious at the plate in 2012, besides the homers of course. For much of the season, Martin was virtually non-existent with a bat in his hands. He played well for about a month and a half at the end of the season. Letting him walk to the Pittsburgh Pirates for the cash he received, two-years at $17.5 million, was not a hard decision for Cashman.
My point is this; could the Yankees be that much worse off with Francisco Cervelli, Chris Stewart or Austin Romine behind the plate? In the power department, they’ll be lacking, there is no denying that. Stewart is a backup catcher and I truly have no confidence in Cervelli, but the more I think about Romine behind the plate the less concerned I am about the position. Call it a hunch, but I’d much rather go with the younger kid with upside than two veterans who have never displayed much more than backup capabilities. Forget about Cervelli’s time in 2010, he’s got a .692 career OPS in just under 500 plate appearances in the majors and .713 in the minors over seven seasons.
The Yankees were on the older side in 2012. They suffered through multiple injuries during the season, oddly enough to players like Brett Gardner, CC Sabathia and Teixeira, who are spring chickens when compared with the now core-three of Jeter, Pettitte and Rivera. Rodriguez missed significant time as well and guys like Jayson Nix and Eric Chavez filled in admirably.
They won 95 games with Ibanez and a much less helpful Jones at DH, not to mention they each had to play in the outfield more than expected. The Yankees even had Chavez and Eduardo Nunez pick up some starts at DH toward the end of the season.
The Yankees were second in runs scored to the Rangers (just four runs less at 804) in MLB with Martin scuffling through much of the season. Rodriguez and Teixeira missed about one-quarter of the season each and had down seasons when they were on the field.
Each team enters Spring Training with questions. Even the teams who have spent loads of cash in the offseason have issues if you truly investigate their rosters. For the Yankees, it may seem that the aging lineup is bound to flounder. It is easy to suggest the DH spot is a big void. The notion of a rookie taking over the catching role is a dubious proposition.
But, the Yankees have a deep starting rotation, an above average relief corps and their lineup will still cause problems for opposing pitchers. The Yankees are not built like the team of the late 90′s, but in reality they haven’t been in a quite a while and have still managed to reach the playoffs each season except 2008, the first time the pundits said the Yankees were too old.
Speculation is our business, but in the end the games need to be played on the field. I’m not ready to count the Yankees out, are you?