Kevin Youkilis looks to rebound after last year and become a very key player for the Yankees
Every year, the New York Yankees find themselves signing veteran players to cheap, one-year deals to add depth on the bench and in the rotation. With the Yankees trying not to commit themselves to any more long-term contracts, they have signed even more of these older veterans in the last couple of years.
For the most part, these moves have worked out, like Raul Ibanez delivering so many huge hits last year and Bartolo Colon's revival giving a thin rotation a boost two years ago. Some of them haven't, like Freddy Garcia in his second year with the Bombers (though he did have a 3.62 ERA with them the previous year) and a platoon of Austin Kearns and Lance Berkman three years ago.
This year is different, however, because of the massive amount of injuries sustained by several key Yankee players. Many of the veterans the Yankees have brought in will play a bigger role than their predecessors did.
In the offseason, the Bronx Bombers went and added Travis Hafner and former Red Sox nemesis Kevin Youkilis. They also re-signed Ichiro Suzuki and Hiroki Kuroda, who were huge down the stretch last year.
During spring training, the injuries started to pile up, especially to Mark Teixeira and Curtis Granderson, so the Yankees went out to add depth. They signed Lyle Overbay, Brennan Boesch and Ben Francisco right off the scrap heap and took Vernon Wells off the Los Angeles Angels' hands.
Many fans and media pundits were indifferent to these moves. Hafner has averaged just under 300 at-bats a year since 2008. Youkilis hit just .235 last year and Wells hit just .222 in two years as an Angel.
And the rest of those guys? Don't get me started
With injuries to Teixeira, Granderson, Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter, along with the departures of Ibanez, Russell Martin and Nick Swisher, the Yankees' Opening Day lineup looked dramatically different from last year's, with just Robinson Cano and Brett Gardner the only constants.
Because of this, fans and media alike completely wrote the Bombers off at the start of the year, and with the team losing four of its first five games while looking totally awful in almost every game, things looked bearish.
Luckily, the veteran mercenaries have so far done more than their jobs. Youkilis and Wells have torn the cover off the ball to start the year, continuing their hot spring training performances. Hafner also has provided some pop. All three have two homers.
Obviously it's only eight games in, but it's very encouraging to see.
All the Yankees need to do for the months of April and May is tread water. There is hope for the offense to get better once Jeter, Teixeira and Granderson return.
The pitching staff is supposed to be a strength, and boy does Andy Pettitte look fantastic. He gets better with age. CC Sabathia will be CC Sabathia, and Hiroki Kuroda will do his grinding thing. Phil Hughes came back sooner than expected and is pitching for a contract.
The only question, obviously, is the health and consistency of the guys that are playing. Youkilis and Hafner have been plagued by injuries in the last couple of seasons, and both are very important to this offense right now. Wells had a .667 OPS in the last two years, so it remains to be seen what he does for the year. Still, he does look very good right now and it only helps the Yankees.
With the Yankees in their most dire situation in years, the question is: Can the veteran replacements carry the club until key players come back? So far they have, but other people like Cano and Sabathia also need to get back to their usual excellence. Only this way can the Yankees succeed this year.
Right now things aren't too horrible. All hope isn't lost, Yankees Universe. It ain't over. The way I see it, we've only just begun.