While it’s obvious the New York Yankees aren’t done tinkering with the roster this offseason, spring training does open in less than 60 days at Legends Field in Tampa, Fla.
So what could the lineup look like on Opening Day when the Boston Red Sox come to Yankee Stadium on April 1? Here’s one theory, based on the assumption that shortstop Derek Jeter will make good on his promise to be ready to go for the opener.
Derek Jeter is coming off a year for the ages in 2012. At age 38, Jeter led the American League with 216 hits, 683 at-bats and 740 plate appearances.
Jeter’s not the base-stealing threat he once was—he had a career-low nine steals in 2012, but the Yankees are not a team that plays for the stolen base.
New York ranked 11th in the American League with just 93 steals last season, so getting on base—something Jeter did at a .362 clip en route to scoring 99 runs—is more of a priority than stealing bases.
Jeter’s been solid at the top of the order for a long time and should do a solid job there again in 2013.
Ichiro Suzuki was a fixture at the top of the Seattle Mariners’ batting order for more than a decade. But after coming to the Yankees last July, Suzuki was much more flexible about how he was deployed than he ever was as a Mariner.
Suzuki batted eighth and even ninth for the Yankees after the trade and also spent significant time in the two-hole, batting behind Jeter.
At this point in his career, that seems like a perfect spot for Suzuki, who is still a magician with the bat; as good a handler of the lumber as anyone who has ever played the game. After the trade, Ichiro’s triple-slash line was .322/.340/.454.
He’s a guy who can not only be counted on to move runners up, but also one smart enough to know how to yank inside deliveries over the short fence in right field. He hit five home runs in just 240 plate appearances for New York after belting only four in 423 trips to the plate in Seattle.
And he still has some speed, as evidenced by his 14 steals in 19 attempts in the 67 games following the trade.
Robinson Cano has spent much of the offseason getting absolutely crushed by fans for his failing with runners in scoring position in 2012. Some of that is deserved; his .268 average in those situations was 45 points lower than his .313 overall mark.
But he also hit a career-high 33 home runs in 2012 and his .268/.393/.436 line in RISP situations isn’t exactly awful.
For his career, Cano is a .274/.331/.447 hitter in those situations and at 30 he’s at the point in his career where he is what he is.
For the Yankees, right now, that means he’s their top offensive threat in an aging lineup.
Mark Teixeira suffered through an injury-plagued 2012 season, missing 39 games after sitting out just 16 in his first three seasons in the Bronx. His production slipped accordingly.
Teixeira hit .251/.332/.475 with 24 homers, a career low, and 84 RBI, which matched the low-water mark for his career set when he was a rookie with the Texas Rangers in 2003.
The trending of his OPS is a concern; it has slipped from .948 in his first year with the Yankees in 2009 to .846 to .835 in 2011 and a career-worst .807 last season.
A pessimist looks at those numbers and sees a player on the decline. An optimist looks at the nagging injury problems he had in 2012 (persistent cough, wrist inflammation and a calf injury that landed him on the disabled list in August) and sees a player capable of bouncing back to his previous form.
This is where things start to get dicey for the Yankees, at least based on the current roster. Curtis Granderson is not an ideal candidate for the No. 5 spot. He’s got plenty of power based on the career-high 43 home runs in 2012, but is also coming off a career-low .232 average.
His triple-slash line last season was .232/.319/.492. But he has 84 home runs and 225 RBI over the last two years and led the American League with his 119 RBI in 2011, so he is a proven run producer.
An X-factor by having Granderson in the No. 5 hole is his speed. He stole just 10 bases in 2012 but scored 102 runs. He could serve as both a run-producer and as a player who can set the table for the bottom of the order with his disruptive ability on the base paths.
Kevin Youkilis should be the stop-gap replacement for Alex Rodriguez at third base to open the season. But he’s coming off the worst season of his career and will be 34 on Opening Day so it’s not certain he has the ability to bounce back.
After hitting .307/.411/.564 in an injury-shortened 2010 campaign for the Boston Red Sox, Youkilis has slid to .258/.373/.459 and /.235/.336/.409 the last two seasons and has the look of a player in the declining stages of his career.
But if he is healthy, there is at least a puncher’s chance that Youkilis will be closer to the guy who killed the Yankees from 2006-10 than the player who struggled to hit .246 the last two seasons combined.
Eduardo Nunez’s ability at the plate has never been a question. Rather, it has been his defensive work at shortstop that has been inconsistent at best, brutal at worst.
In limited duty last season, Nunez hit .292/.330/.393 with a homer and 11 RBI in 100 plate appearances. That came after a 2011 season during which he was a .265/.313/.385 hitter in 338 plate appearances.
Nunez is only 25 and should still be improving at the plate. Using a young player as a designated hitter may not be ideal, but given his defensive shortcomings and his offensive potential, it seems like a natural way for Joe Girardi to get the kid some at-bats while he develops.
This is a pure roll of the dice. But of the three catchers on the roster, Austin Romine certainly has the most potential.
So it’s time to see if Romine is the catcher of the present while Gary Sanchez continues to move through the minor league system as the catcher of the future.
Romine didn’t do much at the plate during a cup of coffee with the Yankees in 2011, hitting just .158/.200/.158 in 20 plate appearances.
While recovering from back surgery last season, he played in just 31 games at three levels (rookie, high-A and Triple-A) and hit .243/.333/.408. But in his last full season in the bushes, 2010 at Double-A Trenton, Romine hit .268/.324/.402 with 10 homers and 69 RBI in 497 plate appearances.
At age 24, it’s to see whether Romine is the real deal, considering the lack of options currently on the roster.
Brett Gardner is coming off a lost season in 2012, when he was limited to just 37 plate appearances in 16 games because of an elbow injury.
But in two seasons as a regular in 2010-11, Gardner hit .267/.364/.374 with 184 runs and 96 stolen bases and is an ideal player to put at the bottom of the order before it rolls over.
Gardner led the American League with 49 stolen bases in 2011 and is an extremely patient hitter, with the ability to foul off pitches and hit with two strikes. He drew 139 walks in 2010-11. The 194 strikeouts over those two years are what prevent him from moving to the top of the order, but he has done well in the past out of the No. 9 spot.