2013 New York Yankees Preview
The Bronx Bombers got swept in last year’s ALCS and lost both Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez to injuries. Will their age finally catch up to them this season, or can one of the oldest teams in baseball avenge 2012 to win their first World Series of the 2010’s?
The New York Yankees are old, and this offseason they got older. General Manager Brian Cashman allowed OF Nick Swisher (Cleveland), 3B Eric Chavez (Arizona), OF Raul Ibanez (Seattle), OF Andruw Jones (Japan), C Russell Martin (Pittsburgh), RHP Freddy Garcia (San Diego), and RHP Rafael Soriano (Washington) walk away in free agency. In return, the Yankees signed aging DH Travis Hafner, utility man Juan Riveras, infielder Kevin Youkilis and outfielder Matt Diaz, none of which are considered to be spring chickens anymore.
What the Yankees failed to address in any fashion was the fact that their ball club is aging quickly and they have very little in the way of young talent to replenish it with. The good thing for the Yankees is that they are the Yankees, and they can address this issue mid-season if needed through trades given that they have a stockpile of veterans that could be shipped off to get, say a young arm to help out their rotation.
That rotation will be captained by CC Sabathia (15-6, 3.38) once again this season and the Yankees will need the big man to stay healthy and provide stability in a rotation that was a bit of a mess last season. Sabathia lost a bit of his velocity last season, with his fastball averaging 1.5/mph slower than 2011, dropping to 92.4/mph from 93.9. Part of that decrease was likely attributed to Sabathia’s injury woes last season, but if the velocity continues to drop this year, the Yankees could be in trouble. Following Sabathia will be Kiroki Kuroda (16-11, 3.32) who did a fantastic job eating up innings for the ball club last season, pitching in only 8 games which didn’t see him make at least the 6 th inning.
Andy Pettitte will return to the rotation for 2013 after going 5-4 with a 2.87 ERA in a very surprising comeback season. Pettitte is certain to regress a bit this season, and with a fastball that averages less than 88/mph he is going to have to rely on ground balls and crafty pitching to keep himself from getting into too much trouble. Phil Hughes will follow next and if he can give the club 16 wins again this season it will make his 4.23 ERA a little bit easier to swallow. Hughes pitched a career high 191.1 innings last season, so it will be interesting to see if that has any effect on his performance this season.
Ian Nova will round out the rotation and will look to improve on a slightly disappointing 2012 which saw him go 12-8, but finish with a 5.02 ERA. The youngster is still learning, so it would be fair to say that his control in the zone will improve this season to help bring that ERA back down in the 4’s. All five Yankees pitchers are innings-eaters, though Pettitte will likely see the number of meaningful innings he can provide decrease this season due to his age. Nova is good for about 180 innings of work, which is a huge upside for a Number 5 starter in any rotation.
The Yankees’ bullpen will have Mariano Rivera back in the fold this season as he is now fully recovered from his ACL injury that shut him down for the 2012 campaign. Rivera is 43-years old, so how effective his comeback is going to be remains to be seen. The Yankees relied on Rafael Soriano last season in Rivera’s absence, but his is gone now and they have few reliable options to choose from in his absence. If Rivera flops, they could be in real trouble and will have to acquire a stop-gap through trades quickly. The one internal candidate would be David Robertson, who is expected to become Rivera’s set-up man for the 8 th inning. Robertson struggled last season developing his cutter, but if he can get it down he will be effective in the set-up role. It remains to be seen if he will be able to step into the closer role, but the good money is on him getting a shot at it sometime this season. Joba Chamberlain, who did not give up a run in his final 11 appearances last season, Boone Logan and Clay Rapada will round out what looks to be a very good Yankees bullpen, provided that Rivera can make a true comeback from his torn ACL.
Offensively the Yankees have lost some of the power they had in 2012 when they hit a franchise-record 245 homers as a ball club. Only the Texas Rangers scored more runs overall than the Yankees and two of the men responsible for a large majority of those runs are no longer on the ball club. To make up for the 45 combined home runs that Nick Swisher and Russell Martin posted in 2012, the Yankees have brought in Hafner and Youkilis. Hafner’s best days are long behind him and he has missed significant time in each season since 2007, which was also the last season to see him appear in 100 games. The Indians finally gave up on Hafner this winter and allowed him to leave in free agency and the Yankees have taken a huge chance by signing him to be their designated hitter. Last season Hafner averaged .228 in just 66 games with the Indians, the Yankees are going to need a lot more than that out of him this year for their offense to remain a powerhouse in a very competitive AL Eastern Division.
Youkilis has also seen his best days and is now in the decline of his career. The Yankees have brought in a player that will more-or-less be an improvement over A-Rod offensively, but his defensive skills have diminished greatly over the past two seasons, so how effective Youkilis will be at third remains to be seen. The combination of Hafner and Youkilis will probably be good enough for 35 homers in the hitter-friendly Yankees stadium, but that’s a full 10 fewer than Martin and Swisher provided the ball club in 2012. That means that someone else is going to have to step up to the plate if the ball club plans to contend with the likes of Toronto this season.
The rest of the Yankees offense will look much the same this season as last, with veteran workhorses center fielder Curtis Granderson (.232), right fielder Ichiro Suzuki (.283) both returning after playing a combined 322 games last season. Suzuki is not quite the defensive player he was three or four years ago, but he will still give the Yankees solid presence at the plate. In the infield, first baseman Mark Teixeira (.251), second baseman Robinson Cano (.313) and shortstop Derek Jeter (.316) will join Youkilis who is expected to start at third base until Alex Rodriguez returns sometime this summer. Teixeira and Jeter need to stay healthy if the ball club is going to succeed this season. Getting Rodriguez back could take some of the pressure off of Youkilis, but he’s still going to have to be the Yankee’s primary third baseman even when A-Rod returns to the line-up. The Yankees will benefit from the return of left fielder Brett Gardner to the line-up for a full season. They missed Gardner’s speed and power last season, and he could be the key factor to make up the 10 homers lost with the departure of Swisher and Martin.
At catcher, the Yankees will look to Francisco Cervelli and Chris Stewart to fill the void lost with Martin’s departure. Neither man has much in the way of power, and Cervelli will be coming into camp with a shot at making the club as a true rookie so expect him to struggle if he wins the starting job as he gets used to Major-League quality pitching. Depending on how the Cervelli experiment goes, the Yankees could look to add some experience here through a trade come mid-season as a Lou Marson-type player could be available if the price is right.
The Yankees simply didn’t do enough this offseason to combat what is likely to be an injury-riddled season from their aging roster. Rivera coming back from a torn ACL at age 43 is very unlikely, and his struggles will be just the beginning. Expect Hafner to miss a lot of time again this season, along with Teixeira and Youkilis which leaves the Yankee’s offense looking a little thin. The ball club will contend, but I think that Toronto’s going to be too much for them. They’ll finish in third place behind Toronto and Baltimore, and win 84-87 games which might be good enough for the second Wild Card berth.
By Robert Gonzalez