For the fifth straight year, Playing Pepper returns to C70 At The Bat. If you aren't aware, this series helps get a feel for the other 29 teams in baseball by asking those that follow them the closest--their bloggers. We've got spring training action going, so it's time to play a little pepper.
New York Yankees
95-67, first in the AL East, lost in the ALCS
The world shifted a bit on its axis last season, as Baltimore threatened to crash the party usually reserved for those Northeastern types. Instead, the Yankees righted the ship and caught the Orioles right at the wire, then was able to clip their wings again in the postseason before Detroit proved to be too much for the New Yorkers.
In that last game, Derek Jeter went down with an ankle injury and the news overall hasn't trended upward since then for the Bronx Bombers. Two major cogs have gone down in the spring and a team that used to sniff at the luxury tax is now becoming more cost conscious.
So what do we make of these pinstriped players? You and I don't have to make anything of them, because I've got another great lineup of bloggers to do that work for us.
LATB: It's tempting to give the Yankees a failing grade here but when you look at it it's not that bad. The only real downgrade on the team is at catcher. Instead of Russell Martin it'll be either Francisco Cervelli or Chris Stewart. Everyone expects the Yankees to make a huge splash in the off-season but, with their 2014 goal of a $189 million payroll, that wasn't going to happen this year. If I had to give them a grade I'd say a B minus.
YGY: If I had to give the Yankees a letter grade, I would go with a C-. They filled some holes with veteran talent, but they let go of somebody who they shouldn't have in Russell Martin. The Yankees were so dead set on staying under the self-imposed $189 million cap for luxury tax purposes, that they created a huge hole at catcher by letting Martin sign with the Pittsburgh Pirates. Much of their offseason was just welcoming back some of their own players from long-term injuries, like Mariano Rivera and Brett Gardner. Meanwhile, losing Nick Swisher via free agency wasn't a surprise, but it still hurts the offense.
SS: An F. Brian Cashman is not a
good general manager, and it boggles my mind how he gets to keep his
job, year after year, especially now that he seems more concerned
about fulfilling his bucket list than having a well-stocked team.
From overpaying for Kevin Youkilis - he's an ex-Red Sox who spends
more time on the disabled list than A-Rod, and he's going to get $12
million to boot - to not finding a real right-handed outfielder, to
the mess that is the catching situation thanks to letting Russell
Martin walk, this was a horrible offseason.
LLP: This off-season was simply terrible.
Evidently inherited owner Hal Steinbrenner is all about the business, and not the baseball. Hal continues to sell his father's promise of fielding a championship-caliber team every season but evidently that is just white noise.
Fielding a veteran ball club entails having a loaded bench is imperative. The Yankees lack overall depth, which has already been exposed but the recent string of injuries. What I truly believe was the worst move was not prioritizing resigning Russell Martin.
Martin walked to the Pirates without the Yankees making any kind of offer at all. Ironically, last Spring Training the Yankees offered Martin a three-year deal, which he turned down. Martin inked a two-year deal with Pittsburgh, which shows that ownership didn't care if Martin cost one dollar or $100 million they were not budging. When you think about recent World Series Championship teams all had a legit starting catcher.
This mistake will handicap the Yankees throughout the season, along with complete lack of depth, which has already been exposed. Yes, the Yankees have some promising prospects in their farm system that fans could get excited about. Personally, I hold my breath as the moment any seem close to contributing on the major league level they either stop progressing, or injuries derail their development. This makes it hard to trust in the farm system. GRADE: D
C70: What are the expectations for Mariano Rivera this season?
LATB: For a 43 year old coming off a major injury, things could go either way. He could be the old Mo or one diminished by age and/or still affected by the injury. There is really no way to answer this question.
YGY: Business as usual, really. Who knows how he'll come back from a major injury, but he's one of the few players I would feel absolutely comfortable predicting he'll have a good year. I think with him retiring at the end of the year, you can bet his mind will be set on going out with the best season he can assemble. I can see him struggling in April as he tries to get back into the swing of things, but come on strong for the rest of the year.
SS: He is my
favorite player of the 90s dynasty era, and I hope he doesn't get hurt
before the season is over. I'd like to think that he will finish on a
high note, but given that he is now older than his uniform number, and
coming off a serious injury, there is no guarantee of that. I also
think Cashman blundered in letting Rafael Soriano (only the man who
saved the 2012 season) walk out the door; he would have been a much
better safety net than Dave Robertson and Joba Chamberlain.
LLP: Honestly, I expect to see Mo struggle because we tend to forget that the guy is human.
Bottom line is even a young pitcher returning from Mo's knee injury would be expected to struggle, so I am keeping my expectations in check.
Mo is 43-years old, his velocity was already declining and batters were hitting off him more before he went down last May. Mo's impeccable location of his cutter is what has allowed him to survive with success, but the injury is on his push-off leg and that could hamper his precision some.
The Yankees made a big mistake not keeping Rafael Soriano for the future and for added insurance. Soriano single-handily save the 2012 season, as the man thrived under the New York pressure cooker. Keeping Soriano would have made the transition of life without Mo a very smooth one for the Yankees, but once again Hal didn't want to pay.
LATB: The Yankees continue to say that Pineda is progressing well in his rehab from his injury. They expect him to make his Yankee debut around the All-Star break. As long as this is all true, I believe that his joining the team around that time will finally turn into the blockbuster it was meant to be last January.
YGY: This one is very tough. Pineda isn't expected to do much this season, as GM Brian Cashman has stated. I think it was very important for him to say that publicly rather than privately. By doing that, he has allowed Pineda to take as much time as he needs to in order to come back healthy. The rotation doesn't need the young pitcher right away, so he can take his time, not rush back and risk hurting himself again. When he gets to the Bronx, I think Yankees fans will be pleasantly surprised with his production. His return would be like an midseason acquisition for the Yankees in a department that you can never have too much of -- pitching.
SS: A whole heap of
nothing? He is already scheduled to take longer to recover from his
torn labrum surgery than Curt Schilling and others did with the same
surgery. And given that Cashman, who couldn't stop talking about that
sweet deal he made trading Jesus Montero for him last year, hasn't
mentioned him much at all this year, don't expect Pineda to even pitch
until late summer, let alone make an impact.
LLP: First Pineda has to finish his zillion hours of community service stemming from his DWI last summer. After that he can legally have the ankle bracelet removed, and that is when I will start to give Pineda any thought.
C70: What rookie will make the biggest impact in 2013?
LATB: Now that Curtis Granderson has gone down with a fractured right forearm, there is an open competition for his job, until he returns sometime in May. One candidate that stands out for me is Melky Mesa, a very good outfielder who can play all three outfield positions. If he wins the job he could provide a lot of stability to the outfield until Granderson returns.
YGY: The Yankees won't deploy many rookies on the big club, so it's really difficult to even project which rookie would even make the club. I know it's a cop out, but I'm going to go with David Phelps. The young pitcher is quietly competing for the fifth rotation spot with Ivan Nova. Phelps did a marvelous job last season skipping between long reliever, spot starter, mid-reliever, being sent down to the minors, being recalled to the Yankees; he really did it all for the team last year. I look for him to take over the fifth starter role for the Yankees this season and push Nova to Triple-A, the bullpen, or even expendable in a trade.
SS: The Yankees
aren't big on rookies these days; what does it say about their
supposedly thriving farm system that they would prefer to try to get
Chipper Jones out of retirement than actually give a kid a chance? So
I don't really have an answer for this.
LLP: The closest thing to a 'rookie' that will make the 25-man roster is pitcher David Phelps. Phelps has an arsenal of pitches that reminds me a lot of Mike Mussina back in his heyday.
Phelps is having a solid spring and deserves a rotation spot but knowing the Yankees the odds are already against him. Phelps is battling Ivan Nova for the fifth spot but because of his diversity he will probably start in the bullpen as long reliever. Either way, I expect Phelps to do big things in 2013.
C70: What will be the final record of the team and where will they finish in the division?
LATB: With the recent injuries to Granderson and Teixeira, and still no definite date for Jeter's return, it's hard to feel confident that the Yankees can still win 90-95 games. At this point it looks more like they'll win fewer. I will say between 85-90, and they will fight for the second Wild Card.
YGY: Injuries have ravished this team in the spring so far, so much so that they'll be without their two biggest home run threats in Mark Teixeira and Curtis Granderson. It's nearly impossible to replace that type of power in such short order. It appears the Yankees will go into the season content with using a younger prospect in centerfield for Granderson and Dan Johnson at first base for Teixeira. I think the Yankees before the injuries were a 90+ win team. Now, I think they'll be 87-75 and place third in the division after a tough April.
SS: I don't see them winning more than 86 games
this year, or finishing any higher than third place. The chickens have
come home to roost.
LLP: The 2013 Yankees will finish third in the AL East with around 85-89 wins, and obviously miss the playoffs.
And the Yankee fans that predict this team to win the division fall into one of two groups. The first is living in total denial; and the others really believe another "core four" is on the way.
C70: What one thing from your team are you most looking forward to watching?
LATB: Assuming he continues his performance from last season, a full season of Ichiro Suzuki.
YGY: More of a speed game. They are nicknamed the Bronx Bombers for a reason, but I love watching good pitching and speed on the basepaths. A healthy Brett Gardner adds a certain dimension to this team that they don't regular possess. Add in a full season of Ichiro, and the Yankees have two legitimate base stealers to help set up the middle of the order with RBI chances.
SS: Brian Cashman losing his job? Dare to dream! Actually, that
doesn't seem to be in the cards, no matter how much Fredo blunders. So
I would have to say getting to seeing Mariano Rivera pitch again,
after it looked like his career was over last season.
LLP: I was hoping that a few Yankee prospects would make the 25-man roster but the odds of this happening have recently diminished, as once I heard that the Yankees were pleading to get Chipper Jones, Derrick Lee and Scott Rolen to un-retire and come play for the pinstripes, I knew the youngsters didn't have a shot.
Looking forward to essentially watching an unattractive version of the 2012 team makes it tough to get excited about much.
While there are obvious perks to being a Yankee fan, there's some downside as well. A lot of teams, if they'd lost two big thumpers like Granderson and Teixeira, would be considered an underdog and get a lot of rooters or at least some sympathy. Not so much with the Bronx Bombers. Even weakened, though, I don't think a lot of people will count them out until they actually see it happen!
The BBA has, as a secondary aim, the goal of producing year-end
awards in a similar fashion to the Baseball Writers of America. These
awards can be found at the official site in October with links back to the voters,
ensuring transparency and, most likely, the onset of some good baseball