There’s been a lot happening in Yankeeland recently. Every day the injuries seem to be mounting for the Bronx Bombers- Mark Teixeira, and Curtis Granderson are both out for the next eight to ten weeks, while Alex Rodriguez may be lost through the All-Star Break. David Robertson had some shoulder issues in his attempt to warm up out of the bullpen the other day. Clay Rapada and Boone Logan, the only two lefties from last season, are on the shelf indefinitely with inflammation. Meanwhile, it cannot be forgotten that Phil Hughes is nursing a bulging back disk, while CC Sabathia and Mariano Rivera are coming off surgeries from last season. And, last but not least, Derek Jeter is taking the field after recovering from a broken ankle suffered last post season. All these injuries will test the Yankees dept in a division that has gotten increasingly stronger. So the question is, Yankees fans: are you nervous yet?
A lot can be said about the fact that the baseball season is 162 games long, and that what happens in April will not necessarily impact what happens in September- remember the free-fall of the Red Sox and Braves in 2011? Further, the good news is that the players lost will miss the early months, giving the Yankees plenty of time to regain some ground, especially if they can tread water and hold their own over the course of five weeks of the actual season that will be lost to the injured players.
But it is also worth noting that the American League East is a lot tougher. Granted, successful seasons are not earned by winning the off-season signing war. However, the Jays have restocked with the additions of Jose Reyes and R.A. Dickey, to name a few. The Red Sox have the pockets to continue to be a strength- particularly by shedding Josh Beckett and the return of John Lackey, ironically- but the injury bug could be a factor. The Rays are always pesky, especially with an added offensive power out of Wil Meyers, and a healthy Evan Longoria. The Orioles may have taken a step backwards from last year, but the division continues to be tough. While it is absurd to call a team with over $200 million dollars in payroll an “underdog,” the Yankees might be the closest thing to it that they have been in a long time, and are certainly not the favorites in the division, not by a long-shot.
A lot of the Yankees success this season is predicated on the ability of the Yankees to tread water over the first couple weeks of the season while Teixeira and Granderson are on the DL. Their depth will be tested, particularly in areas where this is not significant depth; for instance, Mark Teixeira’s DL stint will force Kevin Youkilis, already a fill-in for ARod, to move over to first, leaving another vacuum at third. Granderson can be supplanted by Brett Gardner, but who will take care of left field? And what if Derek Jeter has residual damages from his injury? Who else can fill in for Boone Logan, who pitched in a career-high in games last season and was fantastic out of the bullpen?
Don’t get me wrong. I am not saying that the Yankees are doomed for failure. But I am saying that they may be in trouble. The issue is not an inability to spend, but the lack of available players amenable to a one-year deal with the goal of getting under the $189 million mark next year. And the issue of depth, to that end, does not impact the Yankees from the stand point of not spending money, but rather allocation of the money.
Moreover, it is bad luck that these injuries occurred this year all together, yes. But it may also give a glimmer into the future, as well, when Rivera retires in 2014; when Logan may be as well if he is due a significant raise; when Granderson’s contract will likely cause him to leave the Bronx; when the same might be said of Robinson Cano. And all that will be left is a still-aging team, now one year older. One year further removed from peak performance. And all without the benefit of spending anything and everything due to a self-imposed cap.
All is not lost. I don’t think that the Yankees will fall off the face of the earth this year, and they will certainly have as good a shot as any to make the playoffs, particularly with the additional Wild Card, as the St. Louis Cardinals and San Francisco Giants have shown us the last two years. It isn’t this year that Yankees fans should be panicked about- but the future, that is an entirely different story.