Are the Yankees now a last-place team? Grab a chair and let’s discuss.
Let’s not bury the lead, to use a time-tested newsroom phrase. No, they are not. On the other hand, it’s not a ridiculous discussion either. You can make a case for them winning the American League East again. If Andy Pettitte, Hiroki Kuroda and C.C. Sabathia can go the distance. If Phil Hughes pitches 200 innings. If Ivan Nova or David Phelps grab the fifth spot in the rotation and emerge as solid, consistent performers. If all those things happen, the Yankee rotation will be as good as any in the American League East.
In fact, given the circumstances in which he operated this off-season, this might end up being GM Brian Cashman’s finest hour. Unlike previous years when he was given a checkbook and told to start spending, he has had to pick his spots. He has also had to find some bargains, Travis Hafner being the latest. I suspect this off-season has been terrific fun for Cashman. He has worked relentlessly to construct a first-rate front office, a front office that combines the best of the new-age analytics with the traditional gumshoe scouting.
Those huge payrolls have sometimes overshadowed the great work Cashman and his people did in acquiring and developing Brett Gardner, Ivan Nova, Phil Hughes, Robinson Cano and others. The Yankee farm system had a tough 2012 with a combination of injuries and disappointing performances. But smart work always pays off, and it could look completely and dramatically different a year from now. That’s how it goes with kids. They thrill you one minute, break your heart the next.
The Blue Jays have gotten way better, adding 600 innings to their rotation and Jose Reyes and Melky Cabrera to their lineup. The Red Sox filled a bunch of hole without spending outrageous money and got a new manager, John Farrell, who should help change the environment. The Rays are significantly different and still good. The Orioles were quieter, but if some of those young pitchers take a step forward, they could very well be right back in contention. GM Dan Duquette did an amazing job acquiring talent last season, so it would be a mistake to count them out.
With Opening Day still 60 days away, here’s a quick power ranking of the AL East:
1. Blue Jays
5. Red Sox
But the division is so tight that the Rays, Yankees, Orioles and Red Sox seem capable of finishing anywhere from first to fifth. Nothing in this division should be a surprise.
Now about the Yankees. I count 112 home runs gone from their 2012 lineup with no dramatic addition. Still, this being so close to the start of Spring Training and all, let’s look at the glass as being at least half full. The Yankees can win again because:
- The starting rotation will be the best in the American League East, better than Toronto’s, better than Tampa Bay’s.
- Mark Teixeira will be healthy and productive, which means he’ll be a huge presence in the middle of the lineup.
- Kevin Youkilis will show that 2012 was a fluke and have a huge comeback season.
- Brett Gardner will stay on the field and match his .723 career on-base-plus-slugging.
- Bullpen depth.
- Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte and Derek Jeter. Yes, the band is back together. And the band will again lead the way.
- Brian Cashman will watch some of his best kids have break out seasons at Double-A, and this will give him the flexibility to either make a deal or fill a hole in the second half.
- The Yankees go to the playoffs every year, and you can check my math. This core of players knows how to win.
- Addition by subtraction, and you know who I’m talking about.