Joe Girardi faces his most challenging year in the Bronx.
Two weeks from today, the New York Yankees will start the 2013 season with one of their weakest lineups in recent memory. Free-agency attrition and injuries have decimated a previously powerful Yankee lineup.
The players soon taking their place don't cause a groundswell of optimism among the fanbase.
Yankees manager Joe Girardi turned in perhaps his finest managerial effort last season in taking the Yankees to the American League summit once again before falling short in the ALCS against the Tigers. Incredibly, given all of their injuries, the Yankees finished the 162-game slate with the best record in the junior circuit.
But if Joe Girardi thought last year was a challenge, he had better be prepared for what will undoubtedly be his biggest challenge yet in the Bronx, given all the changes in the batting order he'll put together for each game.
For one, Mark Teixeira may not suit up at all for the Yankees this season and, at the very least, will likely miss the first two months. Given the Bombers' famously conservative approach to injuries, it's now very reasonable to expect Teixeira will sit the year out.
Or maybe have minimal impact when he recovers.
It's expected that Curtis Granderson will arrive full-time in the Bronx during the month of May, but both he and the Yankees will likely be very careful in making sure he's completely healed before he resumes baseball activities.
Granderson will also need to play in more extended spring training or minor league games to help get him prepared for the big leagues, since he will end up missing most of spring training.
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Girardi cut his managerial teeth with the Florida Marlins in the National League, so he's no stranger to winning games by "small ball" and relying on his famous binder for strategy and decision-making. This year's projected lineup is not built to be the bashing, home run clubbing Bombers of last year.
And while that does not necessarily portend that the 2013 Bombers' fate will be an old-school ballclub replete with classically executed bunts, hit-and-runs and safety squeezes, expect Girardi to emphasize the importance of advancing runners and stealing bases with greater frequency.
He may not have another choice given the players who will comprise this year's team.
The state of affairs is not all dour in Yankeeland, particularly when you consider that this season's pitching staff may be the best the Bombers have had in several years. You'd have to go back to the 2003 season for the last time Yankee starting pitchers placed in ERA in the top three in the American League.
Interestingly enough, the Bombers went to the World Series that season before falling to the Florida Marlins in six games. The Yankees had the second-best lineup in the AL that year, but it was their pitching staff that propelled them to the Fall Classic.
If the Yankees have any hope of making it to the postseason—much less deep into October— they will need their ace, CC Sabathia, to have one of the best seasons of his career.
Hiroki Kuroda? How about a repeat of the 2012 season, if you don't mind. The Japanese hurler was simply one of the best pitchers in the AL in 2012 and the star of the Yankees' staff. He finished eighth in the AL in ERA and WHIP, fifth in pitching WAR and fourth in overall innings pitched.
Kuroda was a workhorse and his sizzling summer helped keep the Yankees atop the AL East. Girardi will also need to lean on his former battery mate, Andy Pettitte, for a healthy 2013 campaign and yet another return to excellent form.
Some combination of Ivan Nova, Phil Hughes and David Phelps should be a fine back-end of the rotation to help the Yankees limit the bats of Toronto, Baltimore, Boston and Tampa Bay. If healthy, there's no question this Yankee pitching staff could be one of the league's best.
Don't forget the return of "you know who," the Great Mariano Rivera, as Yankee radio man John Sterling is so fond of saying. Rivera's return to the closer role should bring back that feeling of comfort Girardi has enjoyed for the last several years in New York.
Boone Logan, Joba Chamberlain, David Aardsma and especially Dave Robertson are all capable setup men who should get the ball to Rivera with a lead more often than not.
Nevertheless, Girardi will need to be patient with his aging star, Derek Jeter, who is returning from a gruesome ankle injury suffered during Game 1 of last year's ALCS. Girardi's brilliance in finding rest for A-Rod, Teixeira and Jeter last season should benefit him in his management of the newly acquired Kevin Youkilis.
Much of the rest of Girardi's managerial work will be determining whether the likes of Thomas Neal, Brennan Boesch, Ronnier Mustelier, Melky Mesa and Juan Rivera should be getting significant playing time in 2013.
Who the Bombers decide to bring up with them from Tampa to the Bronx will play a big role, particularly early in the season, in shaping the Yankees' 2013 season.
The legions of fans who claim the job of an MLB manager is easy should consider the situation of Joe Girardi right about now. Given all of the injuries and lesser options from which he has to choose, the Yankees skipper may have his most difficult job yet.