As the Yankees quiet off-season comes to a close, it appears that, unless a spare DH-bat type falls off the scrap heap, the roster is pretty much set. While there are a couple of spaces up for grabs, and a few competitions, that Yankees pretty much know what they’re getting in terms of a team make-up in 2013. So, the question remain: With the roster the way it is, and the questions around the health of some guys like CC Sabathia, Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, and Mariano River, or the age of others, like Andy Pettitte, who has to step up the most this year to help the Yankees?
In 2012, pitching was the huge question mark for the Yankees. There was uncertainty about what Hiroki Kuroda could contribute with his transition to the might AL East from the weaker NL West; Phil Hughes had a huge weight in terms of staying healthy, and getting back to being the 18-game winner he was in 2010 after a disastrous 2011 campaign; and while Ivan Nova took a significant step back, David Phelps stepped up, filling out the rotation nicely. With the pitchers stepping up in 2012, the team amassed over 100 wins, which was particularly significant given the large stretches of offensive ineptitude. The ALCS sweep was a microcosm of the season, albeit an ironic one, as the pitching was superb while the offense struggled mightily.
With everyone one year older, the competition getting tougher all around the league, and big questions surrounding the members of the roster, the question remains: Who needs to step up this year? Here are a couple of nominees:
When the Yankees traded stealthily for Ichiro late in the season, it seemed to revive his career. He led the team in steals, and hit over .300 during his time in pinstripes. While he re-signed with the team for the next two years, it will be necessary to maintain significant production. The re-signing gives Ichiro the role of a starter in right-field, which has now lost close to 30 homers with the departure of Nick Swisher. No one expects Ichiro to hit homers, it’s simply not his game. That said, he will need to continue to get on-base to make moves with his legs, as this homer-happy lineup only contains two speed threats in he and Brett Gardner. Further, with the depletion of runs from the lineup, Ichiro has to make the most of his skills in the field by saving runs. With his ability to cover more ground than Swisher, he should be a relative upgrade, but he will be asked to keep that pace as he approaches 40 years old — not the easiest of tasks.
FRANCISCO CERVELLI / AUSTIN ROMINE / CHRIS STEWART
When the Yankees lost Russell Martin to the Pirates early in the off-season, everyone thought a move to acquire catching depth was imminent, but Brian Cashman appears comfortable heading into camp with, at best, two backups and an untested prospect. None of the three are known for their offensive prowess, and Romine is much better regarded as a defensive catcher (though it should be said that Joe Girardi favors this type of catcher). Further, Cervelli may actually be a defensive liability, and Stewart was no prize behind home plate. Losing Martin’s 25 homers will also hurt, as none of these players is a huge power threat. Someone in this group (and it remains unclear who, if any, has the inside track to be the starter), needs to step up big time, and prove that it’s not necessary to acquire a better catching option, and that letting Martin go wasn’t a huge mistake.
Yes, I realize that Robertson had another largely successful season in 2012, despite a lopsided W-L record. However, Robertson did struggle when thrust into the closer role when Rivera tore his ACL in May. It’s worth mentioning that it was also a struggle for Robertson to return to normal following a prolonged oblique strain, and this could have added to the issues. However, Robertson must be on-point this year, not necessarily for his own well-being, but given the uncertainty around Rivera. Yes, he is the best closer in baseball (which sabermetricians continue to believe is an over-valued position), and the best to have ever done it. That said, he’s 43 years old and coming off an ACL tear. Rivera has always been an unbelievable athlete, but bodies are just not the same at healing — or performing — at that age. It remains to be seen if Rivera will be able to return to even some semblance of his former form.
Should that be the case, the Yankees will need Robertson to step up as a built-in insurance now that Rafael Soriano is in Washington. It’s a lot of pressure, but particularly if Robertson will be the closer of the future, he may be called on to test his mettle in 2013.
While any of these players could be called on to up the ante this season, the same could be true of any player on the roster. With increasing age and injuries, the road to Number 28 will not be easy for the Yankees in 2013. So, who do you think will need to step up the most this coming season?