It’s easy for Yankees fans to forget, but 22 teams actually stop playing baseball after September/early October. A perennial playoff squad is now embracing the reality of missing the postseason for just the second time in the past 19 years.
As the Bronx Bombers tighten their belts in order to avoid paying another luxury tax penalty in 2014, the Toronto Blue Jays are going on a shopping spree, acquiring Melky Cabrera, Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, Josh Johnson and R.A. Dickey.
Despite averaging 95.7 wins over their last three seasons, the Yankees have failed to convert their regular season success into another ring. Constantly performing among the league’s elite still has not been enough to match their 2009 campaign, where they went 103-59 and topped the Philadelphia Phillies in the World Series.
The Yankees will probably make some moves before Opening Day, but now that many of the major names have found a home, here is how their current roster stacks up to the 2009 championship team.
Note: Stats, unless otherwise noted, courtesy of Baseball Reference.
During 2009, the Yankees scored a league-high 915 runs. They also topped all of baseball with 244 home runs, a .362 team on-base percentage and a .478 slugging percentage.
There was no easy out in this offense. Melky Cabrera stood as the weakest link, and he still sported a decent .336 on-base percentage while frequently making his presence felt with late-game heroics.
With exception to Robinson Cano, the infield performed much stronger in 2009 than anybody can reasonably expect this upcoming season. Mark Teixeira still excelled as an elite first baseman, posting a .292/.383/.565 slashing line and 39 home runs.
Alex Rodriguez began to show slight signs of deterioration from his usual star production, but he still offered a .286/.402/.532 line along with one of his last 30/100 seasons. Derek Jeter hit .334 with his highest homer total (18) during the last seven years.
Before falling off the table in subsequent years, Jorge Posada delivered one last season as a premier offensive catcher, producing 22 home runs, 81 RBI and an .885 OPS.
Not only did they also get high quality offensive production from Nick Swisher and Hideki Matsui, but Johnny Damon even joined the fray to smash 24 home runs with a .489 slugging percentage.
New York assembled a terrifying offense in 2009, but don’t expect this year’s club to impose similar fear into opposing pitchers.
Murderer’s Row is now grasping for dear life as the Grim Reaper comes knocking at the door.
Francisco Cervelli could develop into a passable catcher, but he’s certainly no Posada. Though he’ll fail to match recently departed Russell Martin’s power, he can trump his .211 average. Then again, the 26-year-old struck out at a 21.2 percent clip in 2011, so don’t bank on it.
Teixeira’s slumps are no longer secluded to April. The first baseman, who turns 33 in April, has failed to hit higher than .256 or exceed a .500 slugging percentage since 2009. He’s still a formidable power threat but no longer a superstar.
Cano now enters the 2013 season as the team’s clear top dog. Although he hit .320 during their championship year, he has since improved his walk rate while hitting for more power. Back then, he was among the league’s top second baseman. Now he is a legitimate MVP candidate.
Kevin Youkilis, who signed a one-year, $12 million deal to play third base for the Yankees, will fit right in with the Yankees’ disciplined batting approach. If healthy, the Greek God of Walks could bounce back in a major way, but he has yet to amass a 145-game season since 2008.
Rodriguez will likely fill the designated hitter slot upon his return from hip surgery, but don’t hold your breath in anticipation for his season debut.
Now that Curtis Granderson is manning center field, the current Yankees boast an upgrade in the middle of the outfield. Hitting .232 cost him some fan support, but he still collected 43 home runs, his second straight season surpassing 40 homers.
Brent Gardner played a limited role in 2009, but he could potentially bat leadoff this year. With a career .355 on-base percentage and 137 steals through 475 games, the role suits him.
Since Nick Swisher appears ready to leave the Big Apple, with ESPN's Buster Olney reporting Cleveland as his possible destination they will scour the market for someone else with a keen batting eye, a propensity to tally 25-30 home runs and an infectious smile. Good luck with that search.
Last season, the Bronx Bombers managed to bring across 804 runs. They might struggle to match that mark in 2013.
In order to assemble a prolific offense, the Yankees sacrificed a bit defensively.
Although writers laud Jeter with Gold Gloves, most fans know that Jeter’s lack of range during his later years deprived his glove of any value. During 2009, however, Jeter posted a career-high 6.4 ultimate zone rating (UZR), according to FanGraphs.
Teixeira, often admired for his fine handiwork at first base, also received his second-straight Gold Glove that season. After those two, it gets much uglier.
Cano’s critics might have held some merit in 2009, when he posted a minus-2.8 UZR. No longer swiftly maneuvering the hot corner, Rodriguez began to lose a beat defensively.
Swisher and Damon especially did not help in the corner outfield slots, frequently daring eager runners to snatch an extra base on their subpar arms. Cabrera at least presented a serviceable performance at center.
The defense barely did any favors for the pitching staff, but that might change soon.
Assuming that voters continue to award Teixeira and Jeter based off their reputation and past performance, the Yankees could display as many as five Gold Glovers in 2013.
Those who still bash Cano’s laziness are either refusing to let go of the past or perpetuating an ugly stereotype. Fresh off grossing a 9.7 UZR in 2012, Cano has expanded his repertoire to add a commendable glove that netted him a rightful Gold Glove honor. Because he's supremely talented and makes it look so easy, fans mistake his seamless play with a lack of effort.
The left side of the infield is a concern. After witnessing Jeter’s minus-15.2 UZR last season, don’t expect his 2009 production to return. Since 2009, Youkilis, more suited for first base, has cost his squad 8.9 runs fielding third base.
This club will experience a massive upgrade in the corner outfield slots, where swapping Swisher and Damon with Gardner and Ichiro Suzuki will save a bounty of runs. The speedy outfielders fluently cover wide gaps and will chase down balls unattainable by their slower predecessors.
In 2011, Gardner posted a Gold-Glove caliber 25.8 UZR. Ichiro especially thrived after moving from Seattle’s large domain to New York’s compact confinements. New York, who signed the 39-year-old to a two-year extension, must have seen that as well.
Some say that pitching wins championships. Well, don’t tell that to the 2009 Yankees.
Their rotation didn’t blow anyone away, recording a 4.48 team ERA, according to ESPN.
Freshly signed to a lofty five-year, $82.5 million deal, A.J. Burnett reminded the Yankees how laughable it was to invest all that money on A.J. Burnett. He struck out 195 batters through 207 innings, but those punch-outs came at the cost of 97 walks and a 1.40 WHIP. He was their No. 2 starter.
On his final legs, Andy Pettitte delivered a 4.16 ERA and 1.38 WHIP along with a 6.84 K/9 ratio. Not terrible, but clearly that dude was wearing down. No way he could stick around much longer, right?
Switching Joba Chamberlain back and forth from the rotation to the bullpen hindered his progression as a starter, and he registered a 4.35 BB/9 rate right on par with Burnett.
Throughout the entire season, they mixed and matched fifth starters after Phil Hughes flourished in the bullpen. Chien Ming-Wang didn’t last long with a 2.02 WHIP in 42 innings. Sergio Mitre did not fare much better, posting a 6.79 ERA in 51.2 innings.
But oh yeah, C.C. Sabathia was really good. The ace logged 230 innings, going 19-8 with a 3.37 ERA, 1.15 WHIP and 197 strikeouts. His dominance served a monumental role in propelling New York to a championship.
After all this gloomy talk of decay, here’s some good news: Their starting pitching is considerably better now.
They possess a valuable commodity not afforded to them in 2009: a veritable No. 2 starter. Skeptics (including myself) doubted Hiroki Kuroda’s ability to assimilate to New York’s small dimensions, but he has matched and exceeded all expectations. Last season, Kuroda pitched 219.2 innings, earning a 3.32 ERA and 1.17 WHIP.
Somehow, a rejuvenated Pettitte is better now than three years ago, when his career looked finished. He picked up a 2.87 ERA in 75.1 innings last season, all while boosting his strikeouts and slashing his walks.
Back in the rotation, Hughes often fell victim to the long ball last year, but he also offered a promising 3.59 K/BB ratio. Ivan Nova received undeserved praise after winning 16 games on the strength of bountiful run support in 2011, but his strikeout rate jumped from 5.33 to 8.08. When compared to Gaudin and Wang, Nova makes a fine back-end starter.
And Sabathia is still great. His 3.38 ERA is nearly identical to his 2009 rate.
Their 2009 bullpen was not the deepest bunch, but a few significant arms led the way.
Then 39-year-old Mariano Rivera went on with business as usual, registering a 1.76 ERA, 0.90 WHIP and 44 saves. Knowing that any lead transmitted to the ninth inning would stay secure provided the Yankees with a luxury few other teams truly enjoy.
Due to Hughes’ emergence as a prominent set-up man, any advantage in the eighth felt pretty safe too. Shining in his new gig, Hughes tallied 18 holds and 96 strikeouts during 86 innings.
Alfredo Aceves rose as the unsung hero of the Yankees’ pitching staff. When the fifth-starter carousel failed to provide quality innings, Aceves stepped up to deliver key innings in games about to turn disastrous if not for him righting the ship. In 84 innings, Aceves notched a 3.54 ERA, walking just 16 batters while striking out 69.
The championship season also saw the rise of David Robertson, who plays a bigger factor now despite posting a 12.98 K/9 ratio in 2009.
In the postseason, the Yankees rode a three-man rotation and pawned Chamberlain back to the bullpen. Back to his familiar role, Chamberlain allowed two runs and fanned seven batters in 6.1 playoff innings.
So while the bullpen’s 3.91 ERA hardly seems dominating, their power arms paved the way to the second-lowest opposing batting average (.231) in baseball.
Can Mariano Rivera revisit his prior dominance after returning from knee surgery that sidelined him last year?
Robertson will serve the Hughes role this season as Rivera’s right-hand man working the eighth inning. Although Robertson has always possessed filthy stuff, his walk rate dissolving from 4.73 to 2.82 allowed the 27-year-old to establish himself as an exemplary option.
As of now, the ancillary pieces remain up in the air. If New York plans on Boone Logan, Clay Rapada and Cody Eppley shouldering the load, they could face a rude awakening.
If David Phelps does not snatch a rotation spot from Nova, he could pay dividends as the second coming of Aceves. Dangled between the rotation and bullpen, the 26-year-old rookie produced a 3.34 ERA, 1.19 WHIP and 8.67 K/9 ratio during 99.2 innings last season
Chamberlain and David Aardsma are the wild cards in New York’s relief corp. Over the past three years, Chamberlain has struck out 123 batters while walking 35 in 121 innings. A complete recovery from Tommy John surgery last season is vital for the Yankees’ success.
Once a prestigious closer for the Seattle Mariners three years ago, Aardsma closed out the 2012 season by returning from Tommy John surgery. He’s only pitched one inning in the past two seasons, but Aardsma is a worthwhile gamble at $500,000.
Its lineup has deteriorated, but New York now benefits from an enhanced starting rotation and defense. Will these shifts offset, or is the Evil Empire in danger of crumbling?
Their lineup still features Cano, Granderson, Jeter and Teixeira, which is much more than most other clubs can say. Unfortunately, the Blue Jays can now respond with Reyes, Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, Cabrera and Brett Lawrie while the Angels boast a deadly trio of Albert Pujols, Josh Hamilton and Mike Trout.
A starting rotation that formerly plagued the Yankees as their Achilles' Heel now must work as their strength for them to avoid watching from home this October.
Although they have a stronger group of hurlers surrounding Sabathia this time around, their success still rests on the arms of a 40-year-old and an unproven youngster in Hughes who struggles to avoid home runs at Yankee Stadium.
Suffering through the rapid decline of their stars and the loss of several key power bats, the Yankees' offense is riddled with some holes that will hold them back unless properly filled before the season commences.
Bolstering their rotation helped them stay on top in 2012, but is that group prepared to pick up the slack for an offense unlikely to score the second-most runs next season? If healthy, the Blue Jays' group of Dickey, Johnson, Buehrle, Brandon Morrow and Ricky Romero surpasses their division foes, and the Rays—even without James Shields—still might display a stronger staff.
Don't expect the 2013 Yankees to win 103 games. Don't expect them to outscore their opponents by 162 runs. Don't expect them to win their 28th World Series championship.
For the first time in my baseball-viewing life, it's hard to envision the Yankees finishing higher than third place in the American League East.