Published March 26, 2013
| Sports Network
Philadelphia, PA – Saving money wasn't supposed to be this difficult, even for the usually indulgent New York Yankees.
In an effort to get under the $189 million luxury tax threshold by next season, the Yankees allowed Nick Swisher, Russell Martin, Raul Ibanez and Eric Chavez to leave via free agency, severely depleting the lineup for 2013.
To make matters worse, injuries have swept New York much like the Detroit Tigers did in the 2012 ALCS, taking out Curtis Granderson with a fractured forearm, Mark Teixeira with a strained wrist and Alex Rodriguez with a torn hip labrum.
With spring training coming to a close and Derek Jeter also expected to begin the regular season on the disabled list due to inflammation in his surgically repaired ankle, the desperate Yankees are reportedly closing in on acquiring outfielder Vernon Wells from the Los Angeles Angels. The 34-year-old Wells had a .222 average over the last two seasons and still has two years and $42 million left on the $126 million deal he signed after the 2006 season. New York has reportedly agreed to pay $14 million of that contract.
The Opening Day lineup will include some combination of Wells, Travis Hafner, Eduardo Nunez, Francisco Cervelli, Chris Stewart, Brennan Boesch and Juan Rivera.
There are some familiar faces in the starting rotation, but it is not without question marks of its own.
CC Sabathia made two trips to the disabled list in 2012, Hiroki Kuroda and Andy Pettitte are nearly old enough to be collecting Social Security, and Phil Hughes has dealt with an upper-back injury the entire spring.
Ivan Nova regressed from 16-4 with a 3.70 ERA in 2011 to 12-8 with a 5.02 and will have a short leash even if he beats out David Phelps (4-4, 3.34 ERA) for the fifth spot in the rotation.
New York will welcome back closer Mariano Rivera for one last run after he missed most of 2012 with a torn ACL, but he will have more of a sentimental influence on the team than anything else. After all, he can't do much better than fill-in Rafael Soriano did last year (42 saves, 2.26 ERA).
The Yankees' two biggest offseason signings were Ichiro Suzuki, who re-upped for two years after coming to New York at the trade deadline, and former Boston Red Sox third baseman Kevin Youkilis, who signed for one.
Ichiro was revitalized after joining the Yankees and hit .322 in 67 games after batting .261 in 95 with the Seattle Mariners.
Youkilis, meanwhile, had a similar resurgence after being traded from Boston to the Chicago White Sox, but he posted a career-worst .235 batting average and has averaged 115 games over the last three seasons.
Below we take a capsule look at the 2013 edition of the New York Yankees, with a personnel evaluation and prognosis included therein:
2012 FINISH (95-67) - First Place (AL East)
KEY OFFSEASON ADDITIONS: Kevin Youkilis (3B); Juan Rivera (OF); Brennan Boesch (OF); Travis Hafner (DH): Dan Otero (RHP)
KEY OFFSEASON SUBTRACTIONS: Russell Martin (C); Eric Chavez (3B); Nick Swisher (OF); Raul Ibanez (OF); Andruw Jones (OF); Rafael Soriano (RHP)
PROJECTED LINEUP: Derek Jeter (SS); Ichiro Suzuki (RF); Robinson Cano (2B); Kevin Youkilis (3B); Travis Hafner (DH); Vernon Wells (LF); Juan Rivera (1B); Chris Stewart (C); Brett Gardner (CF)
PROJECTED ROTATION: CC Sabathia (LHP); Hiroki Kuroda (RHP); Andy Pettitte (LHP); Phil Hughes (RHP); Ivan Nova (RHP)
PROJECTED CLOSER: Mariano Rivera (RHP)
MANAGER: Joe Girardi
WHERE ARE THE RUNS COMING FROM?
The players in last year's Opening Day lineup accounted for 197 home runs and 610 RBIs, and 149 of those homers and 455 of those RBIs will not be part of the lineup in April 2013.
With Granderson and Teixeira out for all of April and beyond and Rodriguez done for at least half the season, New York will have to rely heavily on Robinson Cano.
Cano has been the Yankees' best hitter for the past four seasons, hitting .314 with 115 homers, 406 RBIs and an .899 OPS in that span.
The Yankees also are going to have to manufacture runs with small ball. That means Ichiro and Brett Gardner will have to be on the move often.
If the Yankees are looking for some pop in April and May, one or two of the players New York picked up off the scrap heap -- Wells, Hafner, Boesch, Juan Rivera -- will have to provide it.
That quartet, though, combined to hit just 44 home runs and .237 in 1,244 at- bats last season.
WHO IS THE EVERYDAY CATCHER?
Russell Martin was a .221 hitter in 2012, but he hit 21 homers and helped Yankees pitching record the fifth-best ERA in the American League.
The closest Francisco Cervelli came to playing every day was 2010, when he logged 93 games. He drove in 38 runs and hit .271 that year. The major issue with Cervelli playing every day is that he has thrown out just 13 of 92 runners (14 percent) over his last 134 games behind the plate, well below league average.
Chris Stewart has nailed 30 of 91 (33 percent) potential base stealers the past two seasons, but he is a 31-year-old career backup with a .217 batting average.
The 22-year-old Austin Romine could be the best option, but he is coming off a season in which he played 31 minor league games due to a back injury. Plus, Romine only has 106 plate appearances above Double-A.
WILL ALEX RODRIGUEZ RETURN?
Last spring, we wondered if Alex Rodriguez would return to form. Now, we question whether he will even return at all.
Even if A-Rod gets through rehab from hip surgery without any complications, the earliest he will return is the All-Star break. A setback or two could add months to his timetable.
Then there is that little MLB investigation with the Biogenesis Clinic in Miami that allegedly distributed performance-enhancing drugs to Rodriguez and a number of other players.
If Major League Baseball can prove A-Rod purchased PEDs from the clinic, he would face a 50-game suspension.
If Rodriguez does make it back by mid-July, he'll also have to deal with declining skills. He hasn't slugged .500 since 2010, and his HR/FB rate over the last three seasons is just 16 percent. He had a HR/FB rate above 20 percent in seven of the eight seasons prior to 2010.
Rodriguez' 21.9 percent strikeout rate in 2012 was his highest since becoming a full-time player in 1996.
X-FACTOR: KEVIN YOUKILIS: Yes, New York's X-factor for 2013 is notorious Yankee killer and former Boston Red Sox infielder Kevin Youkilis, who has ditched the beard to don the pinstripes. My, how times have changed. The third baseman has never played more than 147 games in any season and hasn't exceeded 122 over the past three seasons. He had the worst walk rate of his career last season and has been a liability at third base since moving back to the position in 2011 to accommodate Adrian Gonzalez. The Yankees are in dire need of the old Youkilis to step in, get on base at a .370 clip, hit 20 homers and drive in some runs; basically, everything Nick Swisher did for this lineup but at a much more demanding position. If he can, the Yankees might be able to at least get by offensively early in the season with the core of Ichiro, Jeter, Cano, Youkilis and Gardner.
There wasn't a move the Yankees could have made that would have shown more desperation than trading for Vernon Wells, a player who has been overpaid since the day he put pen to paper and signed his contract. Wells has barely been above replacement level over the last two seasons.
The rest of the American League East is looking better than ever, with Toronto making some big moves, Baltimore coming off a playoff appearance and Tampa Bay hanging around with dominant pitching and defense. Boston has retooled as well and will likely improve from 69 wins last season.
But let's not overlook that the Yankees still have one of the most talented rosters in the American League; they just won't have everyone together for Opening Day.
The offense might have a bit of a different look this season but a lineup that includes Derek Jeter, Ichiro, Robinson Cano, Mark Teixeira, Curtis Granderson, Kevin Youkilis and Brett Gardner still can be dynamic.
And with CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda, Andy Pettitte and Phil Hughes, New York's pitching staff stacks up against most of the other teams in the division, save Tampa Bay.
If New York can avoid bottoming out in April and May while Granderson and Teixeira are on the sidelines, it should be able to compete for a playoff spot once again.