Philadelphia, PA – It was a record-setting season last year for the New York Yankees, but one that ultimately ended in disappointment.
Along the way to their 97 wins and the 11th American League East crown in the last 14 years, shortstop Derek Jeter further cemented his legacy with hit No. 3000, while Mariano Rivera became the game's all-time saves leader.
Robinson Cano also continued his pursuit to be considered along with the game's elite, while Curtis Granderson did his best to join him with a career season that saw him slug an AL-high 40 home runs.
CC Sabathia, who agreed to a five-year extension to stay in pinstripes this offseason, put forth another tremendous year, winning at least 19 games and finishing in the top-5 in AL Cy Young voting for the third straight season.
But, when it was all said and done, that great lineup that carried them for most of the season failed them when it mattered most, as the Yankees lost in five games of the ALDS to the Detroit Tigers, dropping the decisive contest in the Bronx.
The Yankees didn't need to make wholesale changes at season's end and were unusually quiet this winter. They did, however, deal top prospect Jesus Montero to Seattle for All-Star right-hander Michael Pineda, while also luring Japanese right-hander Hiroki Kuroda over from the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Actually the biggest addition to this year's Yankees team may have arrived late in spring training when left-hander Andy Pettitte announced he would be coming out of retirement to once again join the club.
If Pettitte is anything near the pitcher he was for the Yankees when he last pitched in 2010, though, he will help. How could he not?
Pettitte was an All-Star with the Yankees in his last season with them after getting off to an 11-2 start. A groin injury, however, sidelined him for two months before he returned late in the season. He finished the campaign with a record of 11-3 and a 3.28 ERA in 21 starts.
The soon-to-be-40-year-old's worth, though, comes in October. Pettitte is the winningest pitcher in postseason history with a mark of 19-10 and a 3.83 ERA in 42 starts. He has pitched in the World Series eight times and owns a record of 5-4 with a 4.06 ERA in 13 Fall Classic starts.
Just another typical spring in Yankees land.
Below we take a capsule look at the 2012 edition of the New York Yankees, with a personnel evaluation and prognosis included therein:
2011 FINISH (97-65) - First Place (AL East)
KEY OFFSEASON ADDITIONS: Hiroki Kuroda (RHP); Raul Ibanez (DH); Michael Pineda (RHP)
KEY OFFSEASON SUBTRACTIONS: Jorge Posada (C), Jesus Montero (DH), Bartolo Colon (RHP), Luis Ayala (RHP)
PROJECTED LINEUP: Derek Jeter (SS); Curtis Granderson (CF); Robinson Cano (2B); Alex Rodriguez (3B); Mark Teixeira (1B); Nick Swisher (RF); Raul Ibanez (DH); Russell Martin (C); Brett Gardner (LF)
PROJECTED ROTATION: CC Sabathia (LHP); Hiroki Kuroda (RHP); Phil Hughes (RHP); Freddy Garcia (RHP); Ivan Nova (RHP)/Michael Pineda (RHP)
PROJECTED CLOSER: Mariano Rivera (RHP)
MANAGER: Joe Girardi
HOW MUCH IS LEFT IN THE TANK OF ALEX RODRIGUEZ?
It's pretty amazing that the Yankees won 97 games last season despite the fact that Alex Rodriguez played in only 99 games and contributed 16 home runs and 62 RBI - both career lows since becoming an everyday player.
Nowhere near the feared hitter he once was, and although he'll still hit cleanup, Rodriguez has almost become an afterthought in the Yankees' lethal lineup. Teams don't fear him anymore. Instead they pitch around second baseman Robinson Cano, who this year will be hitting in front of the three-time AL MVP.
Has Rodriguez fallen so far that teams would actually walk Cano to pitch to him? We'll see, but that will probably be the case early on. If it continues it will be determined on what kind of start Rodriguez gets off to.
Rodriguez claims to be fully healthy this spring. He did say that last year too, though. But, he traveled to Germany this offseason for a blood-spinning treatment recommended to him by the NBA's Kobe Bryant.
The Yankees are going to have to be creative with the designated-hitter role and off-days to keep Rodriguez's legs fresh, but it's not impossible to think that he can and should get back to the levels of 30 homers and 100 RBI, given more than 500 at-bats.
Still and all, Rodriguez, who's signed through 2017 at an average of $27.5 million per season, turns 37 in July and has not played 140 games since 2007.
HOW IS THE PITCHING STAFF GOING TO PAN OUT?
Even before Andy Pettitte's shocking unretirement the Yankees had a wealth of starting pitchers in camp with CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda, Ivan Nova, Phil Hughes, Freddy Garcia and Michael Pineda.
Sabathia and Kuroda were rotation locks, and most believed Pineda was too. However, that hasn't been the case, leaving him, Nova, Hughes and Garcia in a battle to round out the staff. And once Pettitte is ready - probably sometime in May - he will join the rotation, meaning there are really only two spots for four guys.
And actually it's really one spot since Hughes has been tremendous this spring and is all but certain to head north as a starter.
So, who's out?
Well from everything you read, most assume early on it will be Pineda, who was acquired this offseason from Seattle for top prospect Jesus Montero. All we've heard this spring is that Pineda is out of shape and that his changeup needs a lot of work. Then you add in the fact that his velocity is down nearly 3-to-4 mph from last season and you have a lot of people within the organization scratching their heads.
But, he really hasn't pitched that bad. He, like Nova and Hughes, does have options. So he could start the year at Triple-A and the Yankees could actually recoup a year of service time for him if that's the route they decide to go.
Then the competition will continue between Garcia and Nova until Pettitte is ready. Best guess: Nova winds up lasting, while Garcia is either dealt or relegated to a long relief role.
IS THIS THE END OF THE GREAT MARIANO RIVERA?
Everyone in New York knew the day would come when Mariano Rivera would no longer be closing games for the Yankees. But, that time could come sooner than anyone realizes, as the 42-year-old right-hander has said he already knows what his future plans are, but is not revealing them just yet.
Most, though, have drawn their own conclusions and have guessed that this year will be his last. And if it is indeed it for him, what a career it has been.
It's not even a debate at this point. Rivera is the greatest closer to ever play the game. There is not even a statistical argument anymore, as last year Rivera broke Trevor Hoffman's record and ended the year with 44 saves.
The amazing thing about Rivera's career is just how consistent he has been since assuming the ninth inning role full-time in 1997. In that first year as a closer he saved 43 games, pitched to a 1.88 ERA and struck out 68 batters in 7 1 2/3 innings. Fourteen years later in 2011 Rivera ended the year with 44 saves, pitched to a 1.91 ERA and struck out 60 in 61 1/3 frames.
Oh and his eight walks allowed last season were 12 less than in 1997.
It's going to be a sad day in New York when it's someone other than the Sandman closing games in the Bronx.
X-FACTOR: PHIL HUGHES: As crazy as this sounds, 2012 could be a make-or-break season for the 25-year-old Hughes. At one time the top prospect in all of baseball, Hughes won 18 games as a starter for the Yankees in 2010. However, his 2011 campaign never got off the ground as dead arm issues caused him to miss most of the first three months and he ended the year 5-5 with a 5.79 ERA. Because of Hughes' decline the Yankees were forced to address their starting pitching concerns this offseason. He has responded with a tremendous spring and looks like the top of the rotation pitcher the team envisions he can be. But as we mentioned above, he does have options and there are starters more than able to take his place should he falter. If he doesn't though, and reverts back to the pitcher he was in 2010, the Yankees could be real dangerous.
On paper the Yankees look like they could be better than they were last season. But, games aren't played on paper. If that was the case the Boston Red Sox would have made the playoffs last season and the Yankees wouldn't have lost a decisive game at home to Detroit in the ALDS. This is a team that at times last year looked real old. The pitching staff was overhauled and while Kuroda has looked good in spring, how will he handle a regular dose of the AL East? Hughes is still a question mark and what exactly are you going to get from Andy Pettitte? Curtis Granderson slugged 40 home runs last season. Can he do that again? Probably not, but the power numbers should go up from Alex Rodriguez. At least until another nagging injury pops up. Still, though, there is too much talent on this team not to compete for a division title or a playoff spot.