Will the New York Yankees Undergo an Extreme Makeover?
The New York Yankees haven't faced a challenge like this since before the Core Four arrived and began another era of dominance for the Bronx Bombers.
Hal and Hank Steinbrenner, team president Randy Levine and general manager Brian Cashman are among those who will now begin the task of evaluating the Yankees roster and determining whether it is time for wholesale changes, and if so, is it even possible to make any.
The Yankees are an aging team but depth and experience were counted on to offset the fatigue and injuries that increase with age. They were also a home run-happy team that had its way with back-of-the-rotation starters on most teams during the regular season but could not manufacture runs in the playoffs when pitching is amped up.
The Yankees have to wonder whether Derek Jeter, who is 38 and had a Fountain-of-Youth season, will lose even more range at shortstop after suffering a fractured ankle in the postseason.
They have to decide what to do with Alex Rodriguez, whose contract is now officially an albatross and who fell out of favor during the playoffs for not hitting with a bat but hitting on swimsuit models.
The Yankees will cross their fingers and hope the injuries that plagued Mark Teixeira were an aberration and not the beginning of a steep demise.
They will wonder whether Michael Pineda, Mariano Rivera and Brett Gardner, who were sidelined for most or all of 2012, will be able to provide assistance for the new Core Four -- Jeter, Teixeira, Robinson Cano and CC Sabathia.
And with a goal of reducing payroll to $185,000 to avoid a luxury tax in two years, throwing money around won't cure what ails the Yankees this time.
Right now, there are plenty of questions and not a lot of answers. Let's look at some decisions the Yankees front office will have to make.
The A-Rod Chronicles
How the mighty have fallen.
Alex Rodriguez is only halfway through the 10-year contract renewal the Yankees gave him but is no longer worth half the $20 million-plus the Yankees pay him every season.
Manager Joe Girardi pinch-hit for A-Rod during the playoffs and benched him multiple times.
Then, the controversial third baseman ticked off management and fans when it was reported that he gave an autographed baseball to a young woman sitting behind the dugout and asked for her phone number instead of rooting for his teammates.
Still, how to you trade a player who is 37 years old, injury-prone and owed $116 million on his contract?
Well, you probably don't unless you are willing to eat about two-thirds of that contract to unload him.
The truth is that A-Rod is still productive when he isn't injured. He doesn't produce $20-miilion worth but his numbers are still comparable to the best third basemen in the game. He batted .272 with 18 home runs and 57 RBI in 122 games this season.
If he could play 140 games as a third baseman and DH, he could still bat around .275 and hit 25 homers. He might drive in 90 runs. Most teams would love to have a corner infielder like that.
But A-Rod is no Derek Jeter; he is not beloved by Yankee fans. And his considerable ego will not be able to handle the trend of being benched against hard-throwing righthanders and being replaced by a pinch-hitter.
The Yankees should have seen this coming but were buffaloed by Scott Boras into giving A-Rod a ridiculous contract. Every other move the team makes during the offseason might revolve on what happens with A-Rod.
Granderson's Disappearing Batting Average
Curtis Granderson swung and missed so often this season that he almost became an alternative energy source with all the wind he provided.
Sure I'm being snarky but this talented outfielder has sacrificed every aspect of his game to hit home runs. His averaged dropped to .232 this season and he struck out an alarming 195 times.
Still, he hit 40 homers and drove in more than 100 runs for the second consecutive year and it is difficult imagining the Yankees trading him or letting him walk when he becomes a free agent after the 2013 season. And Granderson's power will be needed if the Yankees make Brett Gardner the everyday leftfielder and bring back Ichiro Suzuki to play right.
Granderson, however, has lost some of his negotiating leverage. The questions is whether the Yankees will try to trade him, say for one of the Upton brothers, offer him a three-year extension this offseason or take their chances and see how he performs next year?
But GM Brian Cashman and manager Joe Girardi should encourage Granderson to try and make more contact at the plate. Ten fewer home runs in exchange for a .260-.270 batting average a lot fewer strikeouts is a fair trade-off.
How Will the Captain Bounce Back?
Derek Jeter found his own Fountain of Youth in 2011. He batted .316 and led the American League with 216 hits. He even hit 15 homers the most since he hit 18 in 2009.
Nonetheless, questions remain about the Yankee icon and captain.
The fractured ankle he suffered during the playoffs was as much about wear-and-tear manager Joe Girardi said as it was just a freakish accident. Jeter played in 159 games and is it realistic for him to be that durable again next season when he turns 39?
The Yankees would benefit by giving him more days off, either using him to DH or to completely rest. There is also a question about how his ankle will heal and whether it restricts his range at shortstop even more.
Jeter catches everything he can get too but he he doesn't get to as many ball as as he once did.
The Yankees know he will rehabilitate his ankle as best as anyone can and also stay in great condition for someone his age. They cannot, however, count on him repeating this season. He may very well do that, but they would be foolish to pencil in a .300 BA and 200 hits.
All eyes will be on Jeter during spring training to see whether his ankle will affect him in the field and even at the plate.
Enter Sandman for a Final Bow?
Mariano Rivera is the greatest closer in the history of the game. That is not open for debate. But for a pitcher who will be 43 this winter, the question is whether he will return to the Yankees for one final season and how effective he will be.
Rivera tore his ACL shagging fly balls in Kansas City early in the season. Rafael Soriano did a great job stepping in for Rivera but certainly the Yankees bullpen would be their strongest component if Rivera is able and willing to return.
If he can come back then Soriano could move into the setup role in the 8th inning as well as handle a few closing opportunities. David Robertson, who was injured and had a shaky first two-thirds of the season, came on strongly at the end and would handle the 7th inning role.
With lefty specialists like Boone Logan to complement these three the Yankees may be able to win a lot of one-run games by shutting down opponents in the late innings.
It all hinges on Rivera and how his knee holds up when he is pitching for real, not just tossing on the sidelines. And it depends on whether the Yankees would package Soriano or Robertson in a trade to acquire a youthful bat for the outfield or even infield.
We may not know until near the end of spring training.
Can Russell Martin Catch on Again for the Yankees?
At the All-Star break I would have conceded that Russell Martin would not return in 2013 as the Yankees catcher.
Now, I'm not so sure. Martin hit only .211 this season and his batting averaged has dropped every year for the past five. Still, he is a .260 career hitter and certainly hitting .240 is not asking too much.
He provides power from the catcher's position, hitting 21 homers this season. More importantly he is sound defensively, handles pitchers well and is durable.Those qualities are hard to find in a catcher.
Martin is also only 29, making him one of the younger Yankees. Because the heralded catching prospects in the farm system have not taken major strides this season it might be in the Yankees best interest to offer Martin another 2-year deal, which will give the minor leaguers more time to develop.
Catching is at a premium, remember, so another team might come along and be willing to give Martin more money and more years. That's the risk the Yankees take by offering Martin a short-term deal. But it's as far as they should go to keep him.
Ichiro Revival in the Bronx
For a team that wants to get younger and less expensive bringing back Ichiro Suzuki goes against the flow for the Yankees. Ichiro will be 39 on October 22 and is making $17 million this season.
He is no longer the hit machine he was for his first 10 years in Seattle but he enjoyed a resurgence with the Yankees looking more like the Ichiro of old instead of an old Ichiro.
He finished the season with a .283 batting average but hit .322 in 67 games for the Yankees. He also thrived after manager Joe Girardi moved him up in the order to bat second behind Derek Jeter. That one-two punch gave the Yankees good contact hitters who could get on base and help build runs.
Ichiro also played in 162 games this season counting Seattle and New York. So the Yankees persuade him to stay as the regular rightfielder or fourth outfielder? Or do they let him walk and continue to look for lower-priced, younger alternates?
If Ichiro leaves, I'd put Brett Gardner in the leadoff spot with Jeter batting second. If Ichiro stays and he and Gardner play regularly in the outfield, then Curtis Granderson will have to continue to swing for the fences, batting average come what may.
I don't see the Yankees keeping Ichiro and Raul Ibanez, however. In fact, neither of them might be back next season although I think the Yankees will pick one try and keep around.
It's Time to Lock Up Robinson Cano
The playoffs have not been one of Robinson Cano's shining moments. At one point he was without a hit in 29 consecutive at-bats, a level of futility you wouldn't expect from one of the best hitters in the game.
Cano had plenty of accomplices as the Yankees became hit-less wonders in the postseason. His struggles also shouldn't make the Yankees think twice about giving him a new contract before his walk year in 2013.
Nit-pickers claim that Cano is too laid-back. If being laid back means hitting .313 with 33 homers and 94 RBI, then give me nine guys like that.
He is also a terrific fielder with a strong arm, almost too strong to waste at second base.
Cano will be 30 on October 22. He is in his prime and will be looking for a big contract, perhaps 7-or-8 years at about $20 million per year. That is a lot given how the Yankees are being burned by the length of the contracts given Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira, but what choice do they have?
I suggested earlier this season that perhaps Cano can be moved to a new position such as third if A-Rod is traded. Maybe, with his strong arm, he can play in rightfield. Yankee fans don't want to see him moved but he is a good athlete and it is easier to find a suitable second baseman than a power-hitting former infielder or outfielder.
It's just a thought but even at second base, Cano is invaluable to the Yankees immediate future.
All Eyes and Radar Gun on Michael Pineda
Remember Michael Pineda, the young, hard-throwing pitcher the Yankees acquired for Jesus Montero? thus far, it's a trade that fans and general manager Brian Cashman would like to forget.
Pineda missed the entire season because of a anterior labral tear in his right shoulder, an injury he suffered during spring training. there are some Yankee fans, however, who are convinced Pineda hurt himself during the second half of his rookie year in Seattle in 2011 when his performance dropped sharply.
No one accused the Mariners of hiding the injury but that's not to say that Pineda didn't tell anyone that his shoulder hurt until he couldn't ignore the pain. While Tommy John surgery is now almost routine and pitchers can comeback within two years as good as new, shoulder injuries are more problematic.
Johan Santana suffered a similar injury pitching for the Mets in 2011 and while he threw a no-hitter this season, his performance tailed off sharply afterward and he was shut down early.
So what can the Yankees expect from Pineda?
They should expect that any contribution in 2013 will be a bonus. He will be watched closely and management will be fanatical about his pitch-and-inning count.
Pineda will be 24 in January and the Yankees aren't going to jeopardize his future for some short term returns on the trade. At least Montero didn't light it up in Seattle.
The Yankees might be happy if Pineda can come back by mid-season and start a dozen games. They may delay his spring training only to be cautious. If Pineda can make a full recovery he has the potential to replace CC Sabathia as the ace of the staff.
That is a big if, however. Fans shouldn't expect Pineda to slip into the No. 2 rotation spot he was supposed to have this season. Maybe by 2014...
Teixeira Needs a Big Year in 2013
Watching Mark Teixeira bat against Justin Verlander in the ALCS made me wonder: Was he trying to go the other way in three at-bats against the ace of the Detroit Tigers or was Verlander simply overpowering Teixeira?
Verlander can throw a fastball past anyone but a power hitter like Teixeira can also catch up to a few of those from time to time. So more questions for the Yankee front office to ponder.
Is Teixeira losing bat speed or were his multiple injuries in 2012 a primary reason why he didn't generate the power he usually does? One reality is that his batting averaged has dipped every year he has been with the Yankees. His power numbers, though, have held up.
Teixeira was limited to 123 games this season and hit just 24 home runs. He hit 39 as recently as two seasons ago.
He has four years remaining on his contract at $22.5 million a season. Teixeira is still only 32 and should be productive for the remainder of his contract. He is a Gold Glove first baseman and until this season, he had played in 156 games or more in his first three years in New York.
He doesn't hit for average any more but that may be because of the over-shift teams use against him when he bats lefthanded. The Yankees have their fingers crossed that this season was an aberration and that Teixeira can still hit close to 40 homers and drive in 100 or more runs during the life of his contract.
Will Andy Pettitte Be Back or Should the Yankees Move On?
Even at the age of 40 Andy Pettitte demonstrated he could still pitch and win. The problem is that he didn't have a chance to pitch enough when he came out of retirement to help stabilize the Yankees rotation.
Pettitte broke his fibula in June and was sidelined until the last week of the regular season. He made just 12 starts and was 5-4 with a 2.87 ERA.
He hasn't determined whether he will ask the Yankees to give him another year but it is apparent that even if he returns injuries have become an obstacle for him, not just this season but in 2010, when he was 11-3 but limited to 21 starts.
Maybe the Yankees should just thank Pettitte for all he has meant to them but say it is time to move on and get younger. But if they make only a handful of changes and give it another run while the minor league prospects get more experience then Pettitte could be a valuable addition to the rotation.
Swisher Probably Looking for a New Team
Nick Swisher hit 24 home runs, drove in 93 runs and batted .272 this season. And yet he has fallen out of favor in the Bronx and will probably sign a free-agent contract elsewhere.
The fans in rightfield who are his biggest fans have booed him during the post season because he hasn't produced. Manager Joe Girardi even benched Swisher for one game against the Detroit Tigers in the ALCS.
Swisher is 31 and could command a five-year contract from another team. the Yankees, though, are not inclined to give him a long-term deal.
Swisher is great in the clubhouse and offers insurance at first base if Mark Teixeira gets injured again. But the Yankees consider him a postseason flop. His postseason batting average in 45 games was .167 entering the fourth game of the ALCS against the Tigers. He had only four home runs.
So, regular season notwithstanding, Swisher is probably going to be allowed to walk. Finding a replacement not named Josh Hamilton, however, might be harder than you think.
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