As pitchers and catchers get ready to report, spring training is right around the corner! The New York Yankees won the American League East division in 2012 with an impressive 95 wins. The Yankees were able to knock out the upstart Baltimore Orioles before losing to Justin Verlander and the Tigers in the American League Championship series to give Yankees fans misery heading into the winter. With the Toronto Blue Jays stealing headlines this past offseason with all of their moves, the Yankees are getting overlooked.Here are 5 stories heading into Spring Training.
1. Is this team too old?– Derek Jeter doesn’t want you to call the Yankees old, he wants you to call them experienced. There is no denying that the Yankees are old. They will go into the 2013 season as the oldest team in baseball. Almost every starting player on the team will be over 30! Mariano Rivera missed most of 2012 with a gruesome knee injury, and he will be 43 for the 2013 season, the oldest active player in baseball. The pitching staff will depend heavily on Hiroki Kuroda, who just turned 38, and Andy Pettitte, who is now 41. Add in CC Sabathia, now 32 and coming off of a season with two stints on the disabled list, and you can’t help but feel nervous about the team staying healthy. The pitching last year was great, and kept the Yankees in many playoff games, but the real problem in last years playoffs wasn’t for a lack of pitching, but hitting.
“Can Kevin Youkilis, one time hated rival, step up for the Yankees?”
2. Who will replace the lost production?– This past offseason, the Yankees lost Nick Swisher, Russell Martin, Raul Ilbanez and Eric Chavez. That is 80 home runs taken off of last years team. Add in the fact that the Yankees don’t know if Alex Rodriguez will even play this year, and that is a lot of production being taken out of the lineup. Will 34 year old Kevin Youkilis be able to step up and play close to an entire year at third base? Can the 35 year old Travis Hafner fill in and hit some home runs from the DH spot? A lot of players are going to have to step up and help with the hitting. Can Derek Jeter rebound from his broken ankle and hit like he was hitting in 2012? Can Ichiro, now in his first full year in pinstripes, find the fountain of youth and continue to hit effectively? Maybe it will be Robinson Cano, now in a contract year, looking to carry the team on his back and slap 40 home runs. Either way, someone is going to have to step up big time and contribute some offense. Hopefully, the team changes from its home run focused hitting approach. While the long ball is a great way to generate fan excitement, come playoff time the home run hitting teams usually fail. The Yankees need to get back to getting men on base, moving them over either by bunting or hitting a single and just learn how to play small ball. With a combo of Brett Gardner, Jeter and Ichiro at the top of the lineup, the 2013 Yankees should be able to play small ball much more effectively.
3. A-rod problems– I am sick of Alex Rodriguez. While he was worth the money carrying the 2009 Yankees to a World Series title, Alex has pretty much been a bust for his other Yankee years. Yes, he did win a few MVP’s here and there, but for the Yankees and their fans, its about what you do in October, and A-rod has done little. Rodriguez had hip surgery just a few weeks ago, making his status for the 2013 season unknown. Why Rodriguez waited until January to take care of this surgery and not right after they playoffs is beyond me. Now to add on top of the uncertainty, Yankees fans have to deal with yet another steroid scandal story about Mr. Rodriguez, and management clearly isn’t happy. Reports surfaced that the Yankees are desperately looking for a way out of the 5 years, 114 million remaining on his contract, but it looks like there really isn’t much the Yankees can do. If the Yankees try to act, the Players Association will step up to defend A-rod. So, Yankees fans are stuck with A-rod for at least 5 more years, unless there is some miracle and Rodriguez decides to retire early, which doesn’t seem to be the case. But judging by A-Rod’s 2012 playoff performance, in which he was benched numerous times, Rodriguez looks like he has little left in the tank. Rodriguez will go down not only as the worst contract in sports history, but as one of the Yankees that fans overall don’t like at all.
“A few years ago, the thought of trading 24 seemed preposterous”
4. What will the Yankees do with Cano?– Robinson Cano is one of my favorite players on the Yankees. He is a great player to watch swing a bat, and he is clearly one of the best second basemen in the game today. The Yankees face a dilemma now with their star second baseman. The Yankees do not want the payroll to be over 189 million by 2014, to avoid paying the luxury tax. This is why players like Russell Martin and Nick Swisher are gone, surprisingly due to lack of money for the Yankees. Cano is in a contract year, and will look to put up huge numbers in 2013. Good news right? Not exactly. Cano’s agent is Scott Boras, and he gets his clients paid. Boras will definitely be looking for a 8 year, 200 million dollar contract for Robbie. If I am the Yankees, I make one of the hardest decisions of the the past few years, and that is to trade Cano. I know it sounds asinine, but Cano has hit the dreaded 30 mark. The Yankees are old already, and are locked into huge contracts with Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira and CC Sabathia. Paying for Cano would make us get stuck with yet another old, declining player. We would basically be paying for 3-4 more years of good production, but then 4 more years of decline. The Yankees need youth, and prospects. Cano can get you both of those if traded. I would call up the Dodgers or any team at the deadline and see what you can get for Cano. It would be tough to do, but the right move down the road.
Left to right: Mark Buehrle, Jose Reyes and Josh Johnson”
5. American League East- The Yankees division is probably the toughest in all of baseball. Lets look at the competitors. The Toronto Blue Jays made all of the offseason headlines. They traded for Jose Reyes, Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle from the Miami Marlins. The Blue Jays then swung a trade for Mets Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey. Clearly, the Blue Jays are much improved and in win now mode. The Jays are like the Red Sox of a few years ago, they make all of the offseason huge moves, but who knows how they may pan out. All I am saying is, don’t crown the Jays as favorites just yet, especially when many players are coming from an underachieving team like the Marlins. The Baltimore Orioles had a surprise run last year, and many expect them to fall off and miss the playoffs. The Orioles are a young, scrappy and determined team led by Buck Showalter, so you have to give the O’s the benefit of the doubt. The Tampa Rays, led by another fantastic manager in Joe Maddon, have all the pitching to make the playoffs, but it comes down to the hitting. If Evan Longoria can stay healthy and provide some more offense, then the Rays will be a deadly team for the entire American league. Finally, there is the Red Sox. While they may be a disaster right now and have traded half of their team away, I am just not comfortable enough to immediately call them last place favorites. They can come out and surprise anyone, but hopefully not.
The Yankees will have some serious competition in 2013, but every team has a weakness that the Yankees can capitalize on to reclaim the AL East crown again in 2013.