There are reasons for Yankees Manager Joe Girardi to smile in 2013.
The reports of the New York Yankees demise have been greatly exaggerated and they will win the American League East in 2013.
You heard it here first.
It is true that the Toronto Blue Jays made significant changes this off season, which make them a different team. Will they be a better team? No one really knows for sure except that on paper they seem to have improved their rotation, fielding and speed.
The Yankees, on the other hand, made less dramatic splashes in creating the team that will take the diamond for Spring Training in 2013. Most of their activity surrounded re-signings (Ichiro Suzuki, Phil Hughes, Ivan Nova, Andy Pettitte etc.) and the filling of needs at third base (Kevin Youkilis), designated hitter (Travis Hafner) and depth (Matt Diaz, Juan Rivera).
As Richard Justice points out on MLB.com, the American League East Division will be a tight race with most selecting the Blue Jays to finish on top.
This article will give five reasons why the Yankees (who won the most games in the American League in 2012) will repeat as division champions.
CC Sabathia and Mark Teixiera will return to normal performance levels
In spite of finishing the season with 15 wins, Yankees ace CC Sabathia had a very non-typical year. His ERA of 3.38 was the highest since 2005, his innings pitched (200) were the lowest since 2006 and he allowed the most home runs of his career (22). Much can be attributed to time spent on the disabled list with stiffness in his elbow.
Over the three previous years in pinstripes, the southpaw had won an average of 19 games per season, held a 3.19 ERA and posted a 5.8 WAR.
Mark Teixeira also had a disappointing 2012 season. He had career lows in games played (123), slugging percentage (.475), home runs (24), OPS (.807), runs scored (66) and RBI (84). His on-base percentage (.332) and walks were the lowest since his rookie season.
He too spent significant time on the disabled list, and that certainly contributed to the lower than expected results.
Like Sabathia, the Yankees first baseman had established a much higher level of play in his previous three seasons with the "Bombers". Prior to 2012 he averaged 157 games, 37 HR and 113 RBI while giving the team Gold Glove-caliber fielding at first base.
Both Teixeira and Sabathia are 32 years old, so their disappointing campaigns from a year ago cannot be the result of age.
Look for both of them to return to normal levels as they enter spring training fully recuperated from their setbacks.
Suzuki and Pettitte will have a full season together as teammates in the Bronx
Two veteran players who will contribute significantly towards success in 2013, and were re-signed this off season by the Yankees, are Ichiro Suzuki and Andy Pettitte.
The 40-year-old southpaw Pettitte is one of the team's most beloved hurlers and came out of retirement to sign with the "Bombers" in March of 2012. That late spring decision didn't give the big Texan much time to get ready for the season, especially after highly-touted pitcher Michael Pineda was lost for the year with injury.
Despite the quick turnaround for Pettitte, the hurler was arguably the team's best pitcher in the month of June, holding a 2.97 ERA and striking out 37 in 30 innings pitched.
He would come back in September and pick up where he left off, going 2-1 with a 1.67 ERA for the month.
He may be in the twilight of his career, but Andy Pettitte proved that he still competes at a high level and is a critical piece to the Yankees rotation.
Like Andy Pettitte, 39-year-old Ichiro Suzuki is in the final phase of his career, but his second half of 2012 showed he can still be an invaluable part of the Yankees lineup.
It seemed that time was finally taking its toll on Suzuki. He hadn't hit over .300 since 2010 and his OBP had dropped each season since 2009. In the first half of last season, it was more of the same as he headed towards career lows in batting average (.261), OBP (.288) and OPS (.642).
On July 23 his fortunes changed with a trade to the Yankees.
In 67 games with New York, Suzuki hit .322 with a .794 OPS and his highest slugging percentage since 2009 (.454).
More importantly, the outfielder provided the Yankees with solid fielding (no errors in 103 chances) and speed on the base paths (14 stolen bases in 19 attempts).
2013 will be Ichiro's first full season with the Yankees and, if his play down the stretch in 2012 is any indication, this year will mark a return to his Hall of Fame level of production.
The Yankees will be running more in 2013
Last year Manager Joe Girardi emphasized that the team was built around the home run and was not a "small ball" type of squad.
With Nick Swisher, Raul Ibanez and Russell Martin no longer on the team, and Ichiro Suzuki, Brett Gardner, and Francisco Cervelli occupying their spots in the lineup, the Yankees have a very different style.
Swisher, Ibanez and Martin combined to hit 64 HR and steal 11 bases. Suzuki, Gardner, and Cervelli average a collective 17 HR and 79 stolen bases.
It's going to require a different school of thought.
The team will still retain power from the likes of Mark Teixeira, Robinson Cano and Curtis Granderson. But, having a lineup littered with potential base stealers (Jeter, Suzuki, Gardner, Cervelli, Granderson, and sometimes Eduardo Nunez) means that Girardi will have more options at his disposal to generate runs.
Not only will the Yankees have a more exciting brand of baseball on offense, they will have a better offense as a result of their new dimension.
A healthy Joba Chamberlain means seventh inning stability for the Yankees
It had been a long way back for Chamberlain and he finally saw action in August, where he initially displayed some "rust". During that first month, he gave up seven runs in a little over seven innings while yielding 16 hits, four walks and striking out just five.
September was a different story.
During the final full month of the season, Joba held opposing batters to a .196 batting average while striking out 16 in 12-and-a-third innings pitched. Even more impressively, he gave up just two walks and nine hits.
The good Joba was back.
Now Chamberlain is slated as the seventh inning man out of the bullpen. If he can build upon his strong finish to last season, he will boost the club immensely in that role.
Last year, the Yankees ranked 15th in baseball (seventh in the AL) in the seventh inning with an unremarkable 3.78 ERA.
Relievers Clay Rapada, Cory Wade, Chad Qualls and Boone Logan all carried ERAs over five in the seventh inning of games.
The opportunity is there for Joba Chamberlain to provide the team the stability it needs in games prior to handing the ball over to David Robertson and Mariano Rivera.
His bounceback season means less pressure on the starters to go deep into games and less opportunities for opponents to rally.
Rivera jogging in from the bullpen is something every Yankee fan loves to see and every opponent dreads
Mariano Rivera is back.
Those words alone spark joy in Yankees fans' hearts and disappointment to opponents.
Last month the certain Hall of Fame closer reported that his knee is "95 percent" healed from surgery to repair a tear to his right anterior cruciate ligament. He suffered the injury while shagging fly balls at the warning track prior to a game against Kansas City in May.
Prior to 2012, baseball's all-time saves leader had nine consecutive seasons of 30 or more saves. In that time, he has closed out wins in over 91 percent of the games he pitched.
But, statistics only go so far as to what Rivera means to the Yankees.
The sight of Rivera walking in from the bullpen to "Enter Sandman" echoing throughout the stadium gives the team an aura that no other player, on any other team, can offer. It signals a snuffing out of any hope for a comeback and means another "W" for the Yankees.
His presence alone makes this team better than its predecessor.