It's December—the season of office holiday
obligations parties, the realization that the Jets are a mess and the Yankees making the biggest splash at baseball's winter meetings. Well, at least two out of three are true this year. It's almost eerie how quiet the Yankees have been, and will presumably continue to be during this free-agent signing period normally dominated by the team from the Bronx.
The 2012 Yankees are led by George Steinbrenner's much more cost-conscious, spreadsheet-balancing sons. Hank and Hal have stressed the importance of reducing the franchise's salary by setting a precedent of running the team with one eye on a championship and one eye on their wallets.
This thought process is the main contributing factor to the team staying relatively quiet during this year's winter meetings. But do the Yankees really need to make a blockbuster move to win the AL East in 2012? Short answer: no. Here's why...
So much can be said for the ability to act like you've been there before. Take a team like last year's Baltimore Orioles. The youth from which that team thrived is a great thing to have for the long stretches of the season when older guys may tire out.
When clubs encounter those three-week spans where you're taking the field for 20 games in 21 nights in six different cities, it's a definite advantage to have guys in their early 20s staying fired up, both physically and mentally on a nightly basis. But when it comes down to a one-game win-and-you're-in situation, it helps to have a strong veteran presence in the clubhouse.
The Yankees possess a solid core of players who have encountered numerous pressure situations throughout their careers. Where the team may lack in other areas on the field, they certainly make up for it with their veteran leadership.
The phrase, "veteran leadership" is thrown around a bit cavalierly throughout sports, but when you consider the combined pedigree of the Yankees' 25-man roster going into 2013, it is completely justified to count on the aggregate experience of this team as a tangible difference maker.
On his own, Brett Gardner is a "nice" player. He's a great defender with exceptional speed, but he'll never wow you with his batting average or his power. His potential contributions to the Yankees, however, are so much more than what appears on the back of his baseball card.
To really understand the importance of Brett Gardner to this team, you must go deeper than the stats. With him missing most of the 2012 season, the Yankees were a home-run-or-bust club. It's not like his presence in the lineup will change the Yankees' entire strategy and transform them into a small ball team, but Gardner does add another dimension that was so obviously missing in 2012.
It's no secret that the Yankees struggle with manufacturing runs. The team's inability to move runners over and produce runs without the aid of the long ball has been well documented. When you have guys like Brett Gardner in the lineup and on the base paths, that changes everything.
It completely alters the mindset of the pitcher, the positioning of the fielders and the overall strategy building by opposing managers. So no, Brett Gardner will never put up MVP numbers, but the added dimension that he can bring to the 2013 Yankees is a crucial piece that the team was missing last season.
Simply put, the Yankees don't need the big-name signing. They have plenty of these guys up and down the roster as it is. In fact, it would probably benefit the team to lose one or two of these monster personalities, as that many egos in a clubhouse could prove to be detrimental to a ball club.
Either way, the fact remains that the team had enough big-name superstars to secure the best record in the American League last season, so adding another one at a bank-breaking price doesn't seem to be the answer.
What this team needs is more of the "small pieces." The Yankees are rumored to be targeting experienced utility guys like Scott Hairston; this is exactly what this team should be focusing on during the winter meetings. Getting to the playoffs is one thing; doing damage late into October is about role players stepping up and doing their part to contribute.
Obviously the big names are going to carry a team throughout the majority of the season, but when the sample size is cut down to one game in October where the loser goes home, it oftentimes comes down to one of these veterans making a timely contribution. The Yankees look to be gearing their focus toward acquiring more of these types of players—a strategic move that should prove beneficial in 2013.
Make the case all you want for Rafael Soriano having as effective of a 2012 campaign as you could ever ask for. With 42 saves and 2.26 ERA, you'd be justified in your argument. The fact remains, however, that nobody directly affects the latter portions of a game quite like a healthy Mariano Rivera.
Even at his best, Rafael Soriano is not instilling the "we have to score now" feeling in the opposing manager's mind around the sixth and seventh innings. That is a skill unique to the only man in baseball wearing No. 42. Assuming he can come back healthy and regain his form, Mo is the only closer in baseball that begins making an impact three innings before he even steps on the mound.
There's no name on the free-agent market that could push the Yankees to winning the division in 2013 more than the club's internal need for redemption.
After being embarrassed on a national stage in what may have been the most dismal four-game stretch of baseball this franchise has seen in decades, the chance to make up for that shameful performance against the Tigers in the 2012 American League Championship Series should be motivation enough to come out and roll through the regular season.
This team enters 2013 on a mission. Only one thing can erase all the story lines, drama and tabloids from the end of last season—winning. Winning solves everything, especially in a "What have you done for me lately?" sort of city like New York.
With the black eye that the end of last year's playoffs laid on the Yankees' franchise, redemption is the single most powerful driving force that will lead this team to the top of the division in 2013.