With Spring Training starting yesterday, there’s a lot to look forward to for Yankees fans. While the jury may still be out on whether or not the Yankees off-season moves will pay off, or whether the Yankees will still be tops among the American League East with a revamped Toronto squad and a strong Tampa Bay Rays group, there are several storylines to look at throughout the course of the season for the Yankees:
What Form Will Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera Return To?
We all remember that moment in October when The Captain fell awkwardly to the ground at Yankee Stadium and broke his ankle. Jeter has been on an offensive tear since cracking the 3,000 hit mark, hitting well over .300, and making us forget he’s much closer to 40 years old than 30 years old. The question, however, is how long can it continue, particularly with a healing ankle? Jeter has been diminishing defensively for years, but still is a very solid defender. However, breaks and injuries don’t usually get easier to come back from or heal faster with age (it took Andy Pettitte close to three months to return from his broken ankle last season). It will be interesting to see the mobility Jeter will hold in the field, but overall, I would assume an offensive regression based on age would occur anyway, regardless of injury. He will still be an above-average hitter, but it will be something worth watching.
As for Mo, the same issues hold true. While Adrian Peterson set the gold standard this past NFL season in terms of returning from this injury, it is also worth noting that Rivera is almost 15 years older than the running back. Combined with the lack of “emergency closer” depth with the loss of Rafael Soriano this off-season, it will be necessary for Rivera to be a serviceable closer, even if not the 600+ save winner that he has been all these years. His arm will be well-rested after not pitching much in 2012, but his ability to push off his surgically-repaired knee will be worth watching.
What Will Happen With Alex Rodriguez?
This saga can have entire novels dedicated to it (and probably will, let’s be honest), but for our purposes, it can be separated into two parts: the PED part, and the injury part. As far as we know for sure, despite rumor, lacking the benefit of the doubt, bad record-keeping and innuendo, A-Rod has not tested positive for, nor be definitively caught using banned substances. While we can all jump to conclusions, you know what they say about assumptions… Without an out and out confession, I’m not exactly sure what MLB can do to step in and prevent him from playing for an extended period of time. Further, I’m not sure if an admission without a complimentary positive test would be enough for a suspension within the confines of the CBA, and I imagine that the MLBPA will wage a fight if he was to be suspended without a positive test. I’m a big believer in waiting for all the facts before rushing to judgment, and I don’t think we have reached that point yet. Let’s hold this one in abeyance until we know more.
As for the injury, so far, there hasn’t been a set-back in terms of rehab. That said, the same questions apply to ARod as to Jeter: how will age, and a more significant injury, affect healing and performance when he finally does coming back? His production has dropped off remarkably in the last few years, and there remains the outside possibility that he won’t see the field this year. We know that the contract is an albatross — but now that we are here, it would be best to prep for continued diminished production and offensive decline. For this, or other reasons, it remains to be seen whether or not Alex has seen his last game in a Yankees uniform.
Will the Yankees Lock Up Robinson Cano Before He Hits Free Agency?
This one will be very interesting. The Yankees have had a long-standing policy of not negotiating extensions or contracts during the season — something that was held firm even when it came to Jeter. But Hal Steinbrenner has admitted that the team has already approached Cano about an extension. It would be in the best interests of the Yankees to do so — he will command a hefty payday on the open market, particularly with Scott Boras as his agent. By preventing him from testing the waters, the Yankees might get an as-friendly-as-possible-under-the-circumstances deal. That said, I don’t see this happening.
Nobody hires Boras to give a hometown discount. Cano will most likely test the market, and it will be worth noting whether the Yankees will stay true to their financial budget, or have learned from the mistakes of the A-Rod deal by granting the talented second baseman and let Cano walk, or if they are doomed to repeat the same mistakes.
Who Will be the Catcher?
This one will be a toss-up. With neither Francisco Cervelli or Chris Stewart (my pre-season picks to make the roster) able to distance themselves from one another either offensively or defensively, it may be a platoon situation. When it comes to the catcher’s job, Joe Girardi might also put together the lineup in a match-up situation, depending on history, pitcher, stats, etc. At the end of the day, the important thing is that CC Sabathia is comfortable with either player catching him — beyond that, the key issue will be the offensive drop-off from the now-departed Russell Martin.
Will CC’s Elbow Be An Issue?
While everyone was thrilled (myself included) when CC signed his extension to remain a Yankee last off-season, questions about his elbow have cropped up a bit. Given the amount of innings he has logged over his career, and the struggles he endured last season, combined with a surgery to “clean up” his elbow, it is a bit worrisome. (For what it’s worth, these are some of the reported issues holding up the Felix Hernandez deal, so it is not just a Yankees problem, but also an issue to be expected with power pitchers who throw a lot of innings.)
While elbow surgeries are now a science and are pretty much commonplace in baseball circles, and recovery time is predictable, as opposed to say, a shoulder issue, it still bears watching. There is a lot of money tied up in Sabathia, but also a lot of expectations, particularly as the ace of the pitching staff, and the seemingly “one sure-thing” among two successful, yet aging players in Hiroki Kuroda and Pettitte, and two young guns who have been up-and-down (at best) in Phil Hughes and Ivan Nova (again, my two pre-season picks to round out the rotation).
So with that, those are just a few of the many storylines that we here at Yanks Go Yard will be watching heading into Spring Training, but also throughout the season. What issues and storylines will you all be watching as we prep for another long baseball season, that will hopefully result in Number 28?