Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Coming Back with the Oldies

             After being knocked out of the playoffs by the paws of the Detroit Tigers for a second consecutive year, and hitting historically bad in the process, the Yankees will be back at again with the old squad for a fresh new set of disappointments for a 2013 postseason run.

             With Hal Steinbrenner's $189 million benchmark in mind to avoid paying major luxury taxes down the road, Brian Cashman had to say goodbye to a couple of recent steadies in the lineup who were in their final contract year. Catcher Russell Martin seemed likely to resign again with the club, but wanting more years than the Yanks were willing to offer, Martin bolted to Pittsburgh to reunite with AJ Burnett's awful pitches in the dirt on a three-year deal. Living in fantasy world by thinking the Yankees were going to give him $70 million on a long term deal to be terrible in the playoffs every season, Nick Swisher ended up in Cleveland for the tune of only $54 million. Eric Chavez, after rejuvenating his career by playing two productive seasons for the Yankees, took a three-year deal to play for the Arizona Diamonds, which is closer to his home on the west coast. Cashman didn't even think twice about not asking Andruw Jones to return after doing nothing in the second half of 2012. Jones would fly off and find himself playing baseball in Japan. Raul Ibanez wasn't asked back, despite coming off of the greatest late-season homerun surge in Yankee history!! Last, but not least, Rafael Soriano, who built up his value in 2012 by brilliantly stepping into the Yankee closer role once Rivera went down, opted out of his contract to seek a more lucrative deal. He would shuffle off to the nation's capital for a two-year deal at $28 million to close games for the Washington Nationals.

             With half the clubhouse gone and many holes in the pitching staff and lineup, Cashman went to work retaining the pieces he deemed most salvageable. Starting pitching was a strong point last season, so the GM brought back the guys who helped make it a formidable staff. Andy Pettitte received $12 million reasons to stay from retiring again. After appearing to be headed back to California, Hiroki Kuroda agreed to play another year in NY for $15 million. Although he had a high ERA and was inconsistent, Cashman also worked out a $7 million arbitration deal to retain Phil Hughes. Hoping Ivan Nova's bad second half was a mirage - the starting staff will likely feature CC Sabathia (minus the bone chips he needed taken out of his elbow that plagued his 2012 season) Pettitte, Kuroda, Nova, and Hughes. Both Pettitte and Kuroda hover the forty-year age mark.

             For the bullpen Cashman also locked down one-year arbitration deals with David Robertson and Joba Chamberlain. As promised, Mariano Rivera did agree to return for another season for a one-year deal at $10 million plus incentives. Yankee fans have to pray he doesn't shag fly balls in the outfield anymore before games since the safety net of Soriano is gone.

             When Ichiro joined the Yankees in the middle of last season, it sparked life into his body after the torture of playing in Seattle over the last decade, and the Jeter-Ichiro combo at the top of the lineup became a deadly weapon in Joe Girardi's arsenal. Wanting more than just a one-year deal, Ichiro was able to get the Yanks to up their offer to two years to keep the Japanese import in pinstripes as he continues his quest for 3,000 hits. With a healthy Brett Gardner ready to go in left, Ichiro will slide over in right field while Curtis Granderson stands his ground in center; giving the Yankees perhaps the best defensive outfield in baseball, though losing power with the departure of Swisher. To help bolster the bench and DH spot, Cashman invited the oft-injured Matt Diaz to Spring Training to audition for the role of right-handed slugger, as well as Juan Rivera, who was a good player about ten seasons ago. For catcher, a light-hitting trio of Francisco Cervelli, Chris Stewart, and Austin Romine will battle it out for jobs. There had been some trade rumors concerning Michael Morse from the Nationals to add some much needed power, but so far there's been no significant additions to help offset the power the Yanks have lost and the farm system doesn't contain any real major league-ready hitting. So then that brings the spotlight once again to A-Rod.

              Already with low power numbers before he got injured in 2012, Rodriguez would miss significant time after a pitch from King Felix broke a bone in his left hand. A-Rod did return in time for the postseason, but he had the worst offensive showing imaginable. By the second round Girardi had to bench the one-time 'Best Player in Baseball', and still highest paid, because he couldn't even make basic contact with the ball. There was speculation maybe his hand was never fully recovered, but then things made sense when it was announced he needed off season surgery to repair a torn hip (after having surgery in 2009 to fix the tear in his other hip). At best, A-Rod wouldn't be available till well after the All-Star break, so to fill the void at third base the Yankees dug into the depths of hell and offered a one-year deal at $12 million to bring long-time hated Red Sox foe Kevin Youkilis to join the other side of the rivalry. Youkilis' numbers have been declining in recent years (a theme with several Yankee players), but the only upside is he would turn thirty-four this season, which is "getting younger" compared to what would have been A-Rod's thirty-eight. Once A-Rod would return, him and his recovering hip would likely serve as the steady DH with spot starts at third, while Youkilis could shuffle over to first to spell Teixeira a few games. The plan made sense and all systems were go, but as usual things got more complicated when it came to the subject of A-Rod.

              At first things were a little fishy when Cashman gave an interview that changed the company's line about being confident in A-Rod's return to the lineup in 2013. Then a story from the Miami New Times broke that named Alex Rodriguez with a number of other MLB players who were receiving banned PEDs from a "wellness" clinic in Miami. The worst of it is that the allegations are A-Rod was abusing these substances in 2009, which was the season he had the amazing postseason performance to lead the Yankees to the World Championship. 2009 is also well beyond the 2001-03 seasons A-Rod previously stated he used banned substances when "coming clean" in 2008. Of course A-Rod has denied these allegations, meanwhile the Yankees are trying everything they can behind the scenes to void the rest of his wasteful bloated contract with the built-in moral clauses. With the Baseball Writer's Association of America voting nobody into the Hall of Fame this season, namely Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds with their steroid baggage, Alex Rodriguez can almost certainly guarantee himself no place in Cooperstown with this second PED bust, pending these allegations are true. Either way, it looks like Yankee fans might not have Alex Rodriguez to kick around anymore, or at least during 2013.

             The Toronto Bluejays made huge additions in the offseason and look to replace the Baltimore Orioles as the Yankees' biggest thorn for the AL East. Another Miami (Florida) Marlins player dump after the whole new stadium attraction went bust, yielded the Bluejays great talent such as Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, and Jim Johnson. In addition, Toronto traded for Mets knuckleballer R.A. Dickey, fresh off the 2012 NL Cy Young, and through free agency got Melky Cabrera, who was also named in that PED article along with A-Rod. The Tampa Ray Rays might've gotten a little weaker with the loss of James Shields to Kansas City, and the Orioles wont be catching anyone off guard this time around, which only makes things tougher for them. The Red Sox added Mike Napoli and a few other small pieces, but overall they're still recovering from the train wreck of Bobby Valentine last season. The Yanks might not be hitting as many long balls this time around, and with the likes of Jeter (healed ankle and all), Ichrio, Gardner, Nunez, and now Youkilis, the philosophy might be changing to a grind-it-out-speedster approach to scoring runs after years of people complaining that they rely too much on the homerun ball.

              Through it all, somehow they always find a way to make it to the playoffs.....