Growing up around the central Jersey shore, a majority of my friends and family are fans of the New York Yankees. This being the case, I have listened to complaint after complaint this offseason about the Yankees approach to free agency. Complaints that we didn't go sign the big name available on the market, that we didn't trade for the player that was just shipped elsewhere; it's extremely tiring. In my opinion, the Yankees brass have put together a team that is poised to win a lot of games this season.
In re-signing Hiroki Kuroda and Andy Pettitte on one year deals, they reassembled the rotation that was so effective for them in 2012, which also features CC Sabathia, Phil Hughes, and Ivan Nova. Now, I understand the argument that the rotation is also another year older (especially as it pertains to Pettitte and Kuroda, the elder statesmen), but one will also have to assume that Pettitte will make more than his 12 starts from last season, and, if anyone falters, David Phelps is waiting in the wings after a strong rookie campaign. The Yanks also have two kids who they are high on in the minors, Manny Banuelos and Dellin Betances, who they are hoping can take the next step and contribute some in the near future.
The bullpen will be a strong point in 2013 as well, returning most of the core that closed out games for the Yankees this past year. Rafael Soriano departs, hoping to find greener pastures, but Mariano Rivera should be fully recovered from his offseason surgery by opening day. Rivera is 43 years old, but he's also showed no signs of slowing down as he chugs along at a remarkable rate for his age. Joba Chamberlain is healthy and ready to put up a strong season after missing much of last year with a freak trampoline injury, and David Aardsma, who saved 69 games for the Seattle Mariners in 2009 and 2010, will be fully recovered from Tommy John surgery and ready to contribute in the back half of games. 1.3 strikeout per inning pitched David Robertson is still here, along with Cody Eppley, Boone Logan, and Clay Rapada, all of whom contributed meaningful innings in 2012.
Between the Yankees starting rotation and bullpen, it is hard to locate a weakness for the 2013 Yankees. Then, unfortunately, you have to look at the fielding lineup. The issues are obvious: Alex Rodriguez requires an extensive hip surgery that will keep him out for at least half of the season, Russell Martin chose to leave for Pittsburgh, vacating the catcher position, and there are no obvious candidates for the designated hitter spot. But, the question needs to be asked: Are these really as big of issues as people would like to make them out to be?
Yes, Alex Rodriguez is still a highly productive player. He's massively overpaid and is crippling any flexibility the Yankees hoped to have for the foreseeable future, but, still, he's productive. However, realizing they needed to fill the spot Alex is leaving behind while he rehabs his hip, the Yankees swooped in to sign Kevin Youkilis, former arch-nemesis to many Yankee fans as a long tenured Red Sock. Some may (and I will) argue that Youkilis is better for this Yankees club right now than A-Rod is; he's a fiery competitor (ala Paul O'Neill), an on-base percentage machine, he sees a ton of pitches each at-bat (wearing down opposing pitchers, as is the Yankee way), and, unlike many of his new contemporaries in the lineup, he doesn't try to jack the ball out of the park on every swing. You don't need to look much further than the Yankees 2012 postseason run to see one of the bigger issues with this club; they simply cannot produce with runners in scoring position. But Youkilis, a guy who'd rather shoot a gap in the outfield than swing for the fences, can help them to mend that issue: he's a career .318 hitter with a .971 OPS (on-base plus slugging) with runners in scoring position. He's played in the big market in Boston, so he knows exactly what he's getting himself into in New York. He signed a one year deal in hopes that he can make a title run with the Yankees this season and produce well enough to earn himself a multi-year contract in the offseason. As a Yankees fan, I certainly wish the same for him.
When Russell Martin jetted out the door en route to Pittsburgh, panic set in. Half of the fans I've spoken to were mad at ownership for not locking him up, the other half were calling for the likes of Mike Napoli and AJ Pierzynski to replace him. But the Yankees don't seem to have tremendous interest in either of them, and for good reason. The Yankees, since longtime catcher Jorge Posada left, have been trying to focus on defense at the catcher position; both Napoli and Pierzynski provide very little of it behind the dish. There aren't many other options available on the market, but will that matter for the Yankees? Some people believe that the solution to their problem is already on the roster. While he won't provide the power that Russell the Muscle did in 2012, it wouldn't be hard for a guy like Francisco Cervelli to top the .211 batting average and .311 on-base percentage that Martin posted last season. His defense is sufficient, as well, and he has experience at the MLB level. In a perfect world, though, many people in the Yankees organization would like to see Austin Romine have a very strong spring and win the job outright. He's the reason that the Yankees decided that Jesus Montero was expendable in the Michael Pineda deal with Seattle, so they obviously have very high hopes for him. His defense has been touted as elite, so all that he'd have to do in order to win the job in the spring, in my opinion, is show some with the stick. While it is being painted that the Yankees have no options at the catcher position, all you have to do is look at it the right way to realize that they have a few.
As far as the designated hitter position goes, they aren't very far from having it filled. The Yankees outfield will enter the season with Brett Gardner, Curtis Granderson, and Ichiro from left to right. Since they are all lefties, the Yankees would love to add a bench outfielder or two who hit from the right side of the plate, in order to give them a day off against tough lefties. Early in the season, the Yankees could use these reserve outfielders to fill the designated hitter position, with Eduardo Nunez filling it when they are subbing for Gardner and Ichiro against Jon Lester types of difficult left handed pitchers. The solution becomes much clearer once Alex Rodriguez returns from injury, as he'll be able to DH early and Youkilis can slide in when A-Rod gets a day in the field.
All things considered, let's take a look at the lineups the Yankees could trot out on opening day:
1. CC Sabathia
2. Andy Pettitte
3. Hiroki Kuroda
4. Phil Hughes
5. Ivan Nova
1. Ichiro - RF
2. Derek Jeter - SS
3. Robinson Cano - 2B
4. Mark Teixeira - 1B
5. Curtis Granderson - CF
6. Kevin Youkilis - 3B
7. Eduardo Nunez - DH
8. Austin Romine - C
9. Brett Gardner - LF
If Alex Rodriguez comes back strong at midseason, Austin Romine (or Francisco Cervelli) shows a little something at the catcher position, and the Yanks add a righty bench bat or two before the season starts, this is a team that could be poised for a deep playoff run. One thing is for sure; contrary to fan complaints, the Yankees ownership has done a great job this offseason of putting the team in a position to succeed once again; it's simply been done in a quieter way than in years past.