2013 Team Preview: New York Yankees
Our 2013 Team Preview series continues on Friday with baseball's villain, the New York Yankees.
With owner Hal Steinbrenner shooting to get the club's payroll south of the $189 million luxury tax threshold by 2014, the New York Yankees showed relative restraint this past offseason. Relative is the key word here because they still spent more than $60 million on free agents, though they did limit themselves to one-year contracts to retain future flexibility. Ichiro Suzuki was the only player to receive a multi-year contract. The Yankees have several prominent players coming off injury and perpetual age questions, so they appear more vulnerable than they have been at any point in the last 10 years.
1. Ichiro Suzuki, RF
2. Derek Jeter, SS
3. Robinson Cano, 2B
4. Mark Teixeira, 1B
5. Curtis Granderson, LF
6. Kevin Youkilis, 3B
7. Travis Hafner, DH
8. Brett Gardner, CF
9. Chris Stewart, C
Under-the-radar offseason transaction
The Yankees dealt with a number of injuries last season, specifically losing Gardner (elbow) for most of the year and Alex Rodriguez (hand) for most of the second half. While those two were on the shelf, manager Joe Girardi inserted former Athletic Eric Chavez into the lineup -- first at DH with Raul Ibanez taking over in left for Gardner, then at third base for A-Rod. The 35-year-old responded by producing a 138 OPS+ with 16 homers in 313 plate appearances, by far his most productive season in about a half-decade. It's unclear if Chavez can repeat that performance -- or avoid the DL again -- but the Yankees won't get a chance to find out since he took a one-year deal with the Diamondbacks and moved closer to home. That leaves a big hole on New York's bench while A-Rod recovers.
Fantasy bust: Curtis Granderson
You might have heard Granderson followed up his breakthrough 2011 campaign with a down year last year -- down, as if it was simply the result of natural fluctuation. But what if the reason was more scientific than that -- biological, even? He'll be 32 before opening day, so he's no spring chicken. Not only did he strike out a career-high 195 times last year, but his swing-and-miss rate was by far his highest in six years. Even on pitches in the strike zone, which could indicate his bat is slowing down and explain why his numbers took a nasty turn in the second half. Of course, he might have just been slumping. He did keep homering during that stretch, after all. Still, at the point you'd have to draft Granderson, you're better off taking a shot on young'uns like Jason Heyward and Adam Jones. If you wanted a .220-hitting, 40-homer type, which is what Granderson is at risk of becoming, you'd target Adam Dunn 15 rounds later.. -- Scott White [Yankees fantasy preview]
The Yankees are a relatively balanced team with no standout strength. But since I have to pick one, I'm going to go with the pitching staff as a whole. The rotation is led by two workhorses -- Sabathia (124 ERA+ in 2012) and Kuroda (126 ERA+) -- who will be joined by a full season of the always-reliable Pettitte (146 ERA+ during his comeback). In the bullpen are super-high strikeout setup men Robertson (12.0 K/9 in 2012), Logan (11.1 K/9) and Chamberlain (9.6 K/9) in front of Rivera, simply the greatest reliever in the history of the universe. That's a strong rotation front three and a dynamite bullpen back four.
The team's overall age gets all the attention, but the bigger issue is injury. Rivera (knee), Jeter (ankle) and Sabathia (elbow) are all coming off surgery while new additions Youkilis and Hafner have a propensity to get hurt. Gardner (elbow), Teixeira (calf), Robertson (oblique), Pettitte (leg) and Chamberlain (ankle, elbow) all spent time on the DL last summer, plus A-Rod's latest hip injury will keep him on the shelf until at least the All-Star break. Ichiro and Cano are two of the most durable players in the game -- both are among the top four in games played since 2007 -- but nearly every other important player on the roster has some kind of injury concern. There is no easier way to sink a season than having to overuse the DL.
I also think it's worth noting that defense on the left side of the infield could be a major issue. Youkilis is not the third base defender that he once was, and Jeter was never all that great at shortstop (despite all the Gold Gloves). Add in the ankle injury, and he could be even less mobile that usual. Ground-ball pitchers like Pettitte (56.3 percent in 2012), Kuroda (52.3 percent) and Sabathia (48.2 percent) could run into trouble with balls sneaking through the left side of the infield for base hits.
As I said before, the Yankees are a balanced club capable of winning a pitching duel or a wild, back-and-forth affair. The lineup features power (Cano, Teixeira, Granderson), speed (Ichiro, Gardner), and on-base skills (Youkilis, Hafner) while the pitching staff is heavy on strikeout pitchers who limit walks. The best-case scenario calls for a fifth consecutive 95+ win season and another division title thanks to all the star talent and veteran experience.
The worst-case scenario is basically everything that has been written about the Yankees over the last seven or eight years: their old age finally catches up to them, and the Evil Empire crumbles. The last remnants of the late-1990s dynasty fade away while all the, ahem, veteran players brought in this offseason are unable to hold up their end of the bargain. Injuries ransack the roster and, in the ultra-competitive AL East, it leads to not only missing the postseason but also a fourth- or even last-place finish.
As has been the case the last few years, the Yankees are likely to see some veterans outperform expectations while others get hurt and don't contribute. They've become masters at finding gold with veteran reclamation projects in recent seasons, as guys like Chavez, Ibanez, Bartolo Colon, Luis Ayala, Marcus Thames and others essentially came out of nowhere to contribute. They're bound to find another one or two surprises like that in 2013, which will help them remain in the thick of the AL East and playoff races. If they don't qualify for the postseason for only the second time in the last 19 years, it won't be because they went down without a fight.
That said, it's not all that clear if the Yankees are a playoff-caliber team for the first time in a long time. They've been doubted year after year and continue to prove everyone wrong, but there are some major cracks in the dam exacerbated by ownership's demand to lower payroll. Steinbrenner is reportedly "freaked out" by the negative reaction to the payroll slashing -- seriously, what did he expect? -- and could scrap the whole thing. That would mean major upgrades at the trade deadline if necessary. Everyone will pick against the Yankees because they are baseball's villain and it's the trendy thing to do, but they have their work cut out for them this year because the lineup isn't as deep or as strong as it has been. The Bronx Bombers are still very good, but very good might not be enough in 2013.
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