Mariano Rivera, Derek Jeter, and the 6 Vets the Yankees Will Need to Win in 2012
At 11-8 they’re not quite on top of the AL East with the first month of the season drawing to a close, but the Yankees are still getting it done. They’re fourth overall in runs scored, third in batting average, second in homers, and third in OPS (behind the Texas Rangers and Boston Red Sox).
Still, 11-8 is not much to write home about and frankly the Yanks’ pitching is, at the moment, in the toilet (and that’s being kind.) Their ERA is at 4.41, near the worst in the majors, and with Michael Pineda out for the season it doesn’t show signs of improving. But that’s not even the Yanks’ biggest problem. No, the single largest hurdle facing the Yankees in 2012 is Father Time.
The 2012 Yankees are an old, old team. If they’re going to stand a real chance at competing in the stacked AL East, they’re going to need big-time production out of the following six veteran players.
No. 1 on the list is Derek Jeter.
Jeter’s a great player and though the season has just begun, he’s on pace to have a career year. The question is, can he maintain this crazy pace? Over the past four years, the key metrics of Jeter’s offensive production—hits, homers, steals—have all been in steady decline.
If Jeter can continue to provide a .400 bat—heck, even a .300 bat—at the top of the Yankees lineup, the team should be fine. But if he starts slipping, watch out.
With 600-plus career homers in the bag and a beat on 3,000 hits as well, no one doubts the outstanding all-time offensive production capabilities of Alex Rodriguez.
But here’s the thing: A-Rod broke into the MLB when he’d just turned 19. Now, he’s 36. All that travel and play wears a body down, and on A-Rod, it’s starting to show. His offensive indicators—homers, steals, and batting average—have all been in steady decline since his monster year of 2007.
Sure, he’ll still play every day—he’s Alex Rodriguez, after all—but he can’t produce like he used to, and he’s surely not worth $25 million any more.
The Yanks are relying more and more on Mark Teixeira, not A-Rod, to get it done for them these days, but if the Yankees are going to find that fire to win, Rodriguez has to be one of the players lighting it under them.
The MLB’s all-time saves leader is finally starting to show his age. At last old enough for the license in his wallet to match the number on his back (42) Mariano Rivera must realize that he’ll soon need to start thinking about a career after baseball. Hopefully, though, he won’t get ahead of himself.
The anchor of the Yankees’ bullpen since the departure of John Wetteland in 1996, Rivera is, along with Derek Jeter, the only active player to have been with the Yankees through all five of their World Series wins since the 1994 MLB strike. Also like Jeter, he’s starting to show signs of age.
The Yankees need a healthy and strong Rivera in order to compete. Will he show up, and will he be able to stay on the mound throughout the course of the season?
(Note: Mariano Rivera remains the only player in the bigs wearing number 42 after its league-wide retirement in honor of Jackie Robinson.)
Freddy Garcia and Hiroki Kuroda
At ages 35 and 37 respectively, Freddy Garcia and Hiroki Kuroda are the grand old men of the Yankees rotation. They’re also the biggest question marks.
The whole Yankees staff is off to a slow start, but no one is really worried about mainstays like CC Sabathia and Phil Hughes. They’ll bounce back. However, Freddy Garcia and Hiroki Kuroda are both old and relatively new to New York—they’ve not gotten the goodwill of fans, teammates and ownership just yet.
Since they’re currently combining for a 1-4 record and a 4.95 ERA, one or both of them are really going to have to step it up in order for the Yanks to keep from handing away a game every fourth and fifth day.
While Andy Pettitte is not officially a Yankee—at least, not yet—there’s no doubt the team feels much of its fortunes may hang on the return of this 39-year-old lefty. A career 240-138 pitcher who retired in 2010 after 16 years in the bigs (13 of those in New York), Pettitte hung up his cleats, then abruptly decided to dust them off this spring to try to come back for one last hurrah.
And boy, it could not have come at a better time.
With the year-ending injury of offseason acquisition Michael Pineda looming over the team, the Yankees just plain need another arm. Pettitte is a starting pitcher extraordinaire. The real question remains, though: can he come back?
Pettitte threw in a start for double-A Trenton on Wednesday, and he looked good. But does he still have the juice to come all the way back to the bigs? If he does, and if he pitches like he used to, the Yanks might need any more help from anybody else. Pettitte’s got the goods, and he has those same five titles that Jeter and Rivera share. If he can make it all the way back, he just might carry the Bronx Bombers all the way back to the promised land.