Core Values: New York Yankees

Old, but still pretty darn good. (US Presswire)

To help prime you for the 2013 season, we here at Eye on Baseball have been examining each team's "core." The march toward all 30 clubs continues today with the New York Yankees, who are coming off their second straight AL East title and the best record in the American League.

If you've been with us for the entirety of this ongoing series, then feel free to skip the blockquoted section that follows, which explains exactly what we mean by "core."

What's a core? For our purposes, a team's core comprises a "cornerstone player," a "face of the franchise" and then the "future face of the franchise."
So what's a "cornerstone player"? For starters, it's one of the best players on the roster and perhaps the very best player on the roster. Beyond that, though, it's the player whom the organization has identified as the talent around which to build by signing him to a long-term deal. In other words, they've backed their faith in the player's abilities with the most powerful statement of all: lots of redeemable U.S. currency. Not only do they see this player as central to their current aims but also to their designs on future contention.
What's a "face of the franchise"? He -- and we're getting subjective here -- is the player who most prominently embodies the franchise in question. He's that player you think about when you think about this team. Is he the same guy as the "cornerstone"? Sometimes. But the cornerstone is primarily a financial designation. The "face" is, for lack of a better term, a cultural identifier. They're not mutually exclusive, but they're not not mutually exclusive, either. What about the word "values" you see in the headline above? After we identify and evaluate the three elements of the core, we're going to slap a letter grade on the whole thing.

And now, the core of the Yankees...

Cornerstone player: CC Sabathia

Believe it or not, the Yankees only have four players under contract beyond the 2013 season. One of those four is not Robinson Cano, New York's best player and the top second baseman in baseball. He'll be a free agent next winter and both the team and agent Scott Boras recently confirmed the two sides have yet to seriously discuss a contract extension, which would surely venture into nine-figure territory. I'm guessing the Dodgers are already practicing their sales pitch for next offseason. Cano doesn't meet the "long-term deal" component for our cornerstone section.

Of the four guys under contract beyond the upcoming season, Sabathia is the only one still worth his lofty salary. Ichiro Suzuki is no longer Ichiro!, the global superstar whose impact on the field was matched only by his popularity off it. Alex Rodriguez's body has been breaking down ever since he signed his ten-year, $275 million scarlet letter prior to the 2008 season -- he hasn't eclipsed 140 games since 2007 and has only once topped 125 games since 2008. Mark Teixeira has seen his OPS+ decline in each of the last four seasons. Ichiro, Teixeira, and A-Rod are under contract through 2014, 2016, and 2017, respectively.

Sabathia, on the other hand, remains a workhorse ace of the first order. The 32-year-old left-hander just completed his sixth consecutive season of at least 200 innings with no worse than a 124 ERA+. He owns three top-four finishes in the Cy Young voting during his four seasons in pinstripes, and perhaps more impressively, his strikeout (8.87 K/9) and walk (1.98 BB/9) rates in 2012 were both the second best of his 12-year career. His 48.2% ground ball rate was the third best of his career.

Despite two disabled list stints -- including the first arm injury of his career, a bone spur that was removed from his left elbow in October -- last summer, Sabathia has shown few signs of slowing down. The Yankees signed him to a five-year, $122 million extension that includes a sixth-year vesting option last winter, so he'll sit atop the team's rotation for another four seasons and possibly five.

Face of the franchise: Derek Jeter

It doesn't get any more obvious than this. Jeter, 38, has been the face of the Yankees since 1996, when he won the Rookie of the Year award and led the team to the first of five World Championships during his career. He's been teammates with countless All-Stars and more than a few future Hall of Famers, but none are as synonymous with the interlocking NY as the Captain. Jeter is coming off ankle surgery and has had a few bouts with baseball mortality in recent years (94 OPS+ from 2010-2011), but he is one of the most recognizable athletes on the planet and arguably the most recognizable player in MLB.

Face(s) of the future: The Single-A Outfielders

One year ago, it would have been the young right-handed duo of Michael Pineda and Ivan Nova. Rather than take a step forward and cement themselves as building blocks for the future, Pineda missed the entire 2012 season with shoulder surgery while Nova pitched to an 83 ERA+ in 28 starts. Given the age of the starting lineup -- Brett Gardner is the team's youngest projected starter at 29 -- and the impending free agency of 26-year-old Phil Hughes, the focus turns to a trio of outfield prospects.

Slade Heathcott, 22, is the oldest of a group that includes 21-year-olds Mason Williams and Tyler Austin. All three had excellent (and injury-shortened) seasons in 2012 that will land them on the various top 100 prospects lists in the coming weeks, but they have a combined eight plate appearances above the Single-A level, all by Austin. Heathcott and Williams are athletic center field types while Austin is more of a brute masher, and all three figure to see Double-A at some point in 2013. Perhaps even as early as Opening Day.

Yankees' core value: D+. The Yankees have little (no?) impact talent on the right side of 30 on their big league roster beyond 27-year-old setup man David Robertson, and their top prospects are at least one year away from the show. That's creates a rather grim picture for the immediate future. Add in ownership's very public desire to get under the $189 million luxury tax threshold by 2014, and New York appears to have run into the perfect storm that, at some point in the next few years, could see them miss the playoffs in consecutive seasons for the first time in nearly two decades.

For more baseball news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnBaseball on Twitter, subscribe to the RSS feed and "like" us on Facebook. Also, individually interact with us on Twitter: @MattSnyder27, @daynperry and @mikeaxisa.

CBS Sports Writer

Mike Axisa joined CBS Sports in 2013. He has been a member of the BBWAA since 2015 and has previously written about both fantasy baseball and real life baseball for MLBTradeRumors.com, FanGraphs.com, RotoAuthority.com,... Full Bio

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