SCOUTING THE AL EAST IN 2013
3. New York Yankees
2012: 95-67, 1st place, 2 games ahead
2013 projection: 85-77, 3d place, 8 games back
Is there enough magic for one more run? The Yankees claimed the AL East title last year for the 13th time since 1995 before getting swept by the Tigers in the ALCS. The more things changed for the other teams in the AL East this winter, the more they’ve stayed the same for the Bronx Bombers, who shied away from making any major moves thus far. The defending AL East champs won 95 games last season despite battling injuries that are often commonplace with an aging team.
What’s changed? Some veterans left the Big Apple for smaller markets this offseason.
Nick Swisher turned down a qualifying offer before signing with the Cleveland Indians.
Veteran catcher Russell Martin signed a two-year deal with the Pirates, and infielder Eric Chavez will be with the Diamondbacks in 2013. While Francisco Cervelli is expected to start the season, the hope is that Austin Romine will eventually handle the duties at catcher with Chris Stewart, or possibly Bobby Wilson also waiting in the wings.
Free agent outfielder and late-inning long-baller Raul Ibanez will be playing in Seattle next season.
Outfielder Brett Gardner, who missed most of 2012 with an elbow injury, will be back to start the 2013 campaign, penciled in as the left fielder.
In years past, the Yankees might have been the frontrunners for marquee free agents, but these aren’t George Steinbrenner’s Yankees. New York had needs, but GM Brian Cashman stood on the sidelines while big prize outfielder Josh Hamilton secured a five-year, $125 million deal from the Angels and pitcher Zack Greinke landed a six-year, $147 million contract with the Dodgers. While The Boss would traditionally take on big contracts with wild abandon, his son, Hal Steinbrenner, is now looking to keep payroll under the luxury tax threshold of $189 million by 2014.
The Yankees did sign former Red Sox Kevin Youkilis to play third base to the tune of $12 million for one year to fill in for the rehabbing Alex Rodriguez.
Reliever Rafael Soriano is gone along with his 42 saves and top pitching prospect Manny Banuelos underwent Tommy John surgery in October and will not pitch at all next season.
What’s stayed the same? The Yankees are old and keep getting older. Captain Derek Jeter is now 38, coming off a solid season before suffering an ankle surgery in the ALCS, and was last seen limping around in a cast in South Beach packing a few extra pounds.
All-star second baseman Robinson Cano and slugging outfielder Curtis Granderson, both in their walk year, and first baseman Mark Teixeira, are all back to power the lineup. Teixeira’s average has been sliding the last three seasons, and he was slowed further by injuries in 2012. The Yankees will need him to put up the power numbers that saw him hit at least 30 home runs and at least 100 RBIs from 2004 through 2011. Cano had another big year in 2012, batting .313 with 33 home runs and 94 RBIs. Granderson hit 43 homers last season, but struck out 195 times.
The handsomely-paid Rodriguez is coming off another average season with only 18 homers and 57 RBIs and he isn’t expected to be ready until the second half in 2013 while he recovers from a hip injury.
Ten-time All-Star and 10-time Gold Glove outfielder Ichiro Suzuki is back and is expected to patrol right field in Swisher’s absence. Suzuki was re-signed to a two year, $13 million deal.
Eduardo Nunez is expected to start at DH.
On the pitching end, five-time World Series champion Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera, the world’s greatest closer who is coming back from knee surgery at 43-years-old, return on one-year deals. The 40-year-old Pettitte posted a 5-4 record with a 2.87 in a half-season of work in 2012.
Hiroki Kuroda, the Yankees’ best starter a year ago (16-11), re-signed for another season to join a rotation led by lefty ace CC Sabathia (15-6 with a 3.38 ERA), who had surgery to remove a bone spur in his left elbow in October.
Phil Hughes hopes to keep the ball in the park more this season after allowing 35 home runs to go along with a 16-13 record and 4.23 ERA in 2012.
Ivan Nova, who slumped to a 12-8 mark and 5.02 ERA in 2012, and David Phelps should be able to provide quality innings in the back end of the rotation until 23-year-old prized phenom Michael Pineda can come back from having surgery on his right shoulder last season.
David Robinson, Boone Logan, Clay Rapada, Joba Chamberlain, and old friend David Aardsma are expected to get the call leading up to Rivera in the Yankees bullpen.
It’s always dangerous to bet against the Yankees, who have won the AL East crown 13 times in the wild-card era and have been to the playoffs in 17 of the past 18 seasons. But father time will catch up with the banged-up Bombers in 2013 as a couple of younger teams should pass them by. The rotation, led by Sabathia, who is more of an injury risk, is loaded with question marks. The vaunted lineup has the potential to remind Yankee fans of the glory days one more time if Teixeira and eventually A-Rod can return to form, but the prediction here is for a third place finish for New York and coming up just a bit short for the second wild-card slot in the AL.