Yankees fans will have a very different team to cheer for in 2014
This year has been filled with injury and disappointment for the New York Yankees, and the team will see major changes in 2014.
As the final remnants of the 2013 MLB season play out, the Bombers find themselves desperately trying to remain relevant to the playoff chase after suffering three straight losses to the Boston Red Sox. With 12 games remaining in the regular season, the team trails the Texas Rangers by two-and-a-half games for the final postseason spot.
Many can point fingers at numerous key injuries to the likes of Derek Jeter, Curtis Granderson, Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez, Francisco Cervelli and Kevin Youkilis as the reasons for the team's struggles. Others will look at the players well beyond the productive years of their careers that GM Brian Cashman brought in to give depth.
While Vernon Wells, Travis Hafner, Chris Stewart and Lyle Overbay offer nice bench choices for a manager, their productivity as regulars on a daily basis is well below those that they replace.
The four aforementioned players are hitting a combined .221. The men that occupied their spots last year (Mark Teixeira, Nick Swisher, Russell Martin and Raul Ibanez) hit 25 points higher (.246).
As a team the Yankees have hit 136 home runs this season. That ranks 26th in MLB. It represents a complete turnaround from last season when the team hit 245 dingers and ranked first in baseball.
Regardless of how the season plays out, the Yankees fans can expect big changes heading into 2014.
The most visible of those changes will occur at the closer spot.
Mariano Rivera announced that this will be his final year in pinstripes. The final out of 2013 will mark the end of an iconic career. The all-time saves leader will certainly see his bust hung on the walls of Cooperstown in five years, and he leaves his successor (most likely David Robertson) with the impossible task of following in the footsteps of the greatest reliever in history.
The changes in the bullpen for 2014 don't end with the closer. Joba Chamberlain, the much maligned right-handed hurler is a free-agent after this season and it would be surprising to see the Yankees bring him back. The last two seasons have been a disappointment for Chamberlain as he's posted an ERA over 4.30 with a WHIP of 1.58 in 65 relief appearances. A change of scenery may be what the once-promising 27-year-old needs to revive his career.
Among the starters, Phil Hughes most likely is ending his Yankees career in 2013. Like Chamberlain, Hughes is a free agent at the end of the season and his 4-13 record with a 5.07 ERA signals an end to the team waiting for him to reach his potential.
Andy Pettitte is one of the most beloved Yankees. The southpaw is a veteran of 18 MLB seasons and has 255 career wins. His 19 postseason victories are the most by any pitcher in history.
Unfortunately Father Time seems to be catching up with the 41-year-old. He has missed significant time in each of the past two seasons. Last year, it was a broken ankle that sidelined the big Texan. This season, an issue with his back landed him on the disabled list.
As the injuries mount for the veteran Yankee star, his productivity is showing signs of suffering. This season his WHIP (1.402) is the highest it has been since 2008, strikeouts per nine innings (6.2) are the lowest since 2007 and his WAR (1.6) is at its lowest point since 2006.
With only a one-year contract, 2013 could see the curtain close on the career of the greatest Yankees left-hander since Whitey Ford.
Look for David Phelps, David Huff, Michael Pineda and Vidal Nuno to compete for the rotation spots vacated by Hughes and Pettitte.
Around the horn the Yankees will field a new look in 2014 as well.
As mentioned, behind the plate Chris Stewart has been adequate defensively and leaving much to be desired with a bat in his hands. Given the progress Austin Romine has shown in the second half of this season (hitting over .300 in July and August) and the progress of minor league catchers JR Murphy and Gary Sanchez, the 31-year-old should be in a different uniform in 2014.
Alex Rodriguez's suspension looms for next season and the Yankees will need to account for it. Do they try to bring Kevin Youkilis back with the hopes he can translate lost time in 2013 to success in 2014?
The 34-year-old former Red Sox and White Sox player saw action in only 28 games before being placed on the disabled list with back issues that required surgery. Because he hit only .219 and barely got his feet wet with the Yankees, he may be a cheap signing for Cashman this offseason.
If the team decides not to go the free-agent route at third base, David Adams and Eduardo Nunez offer in-house options. Adams has not impressed at the plate (.192 average) and Nunez is a virtual sieve in the field (12 errors this season). Both have major league experience at third base, and if the team's budgetary constraints deem it necessary to use organizational resources to fill holes, they certainly provide temporary answers.
Much has been made of the Yankees attempt to avoid a luxury tax next year and get under the $189 million salary limitation. How dedicated they are to doing so will determine the fate of two key players going into 2014.
First and foremost is Robinson Cano. The all-star has become the premiere second baseman in baseball, and will command a top-flight salary in 2014. The weakened supporting cast in the Yankees lineup has only helped to highlight Cano's importance to the team.
In spite of being left with weak protection behind him in the order, Cano has managed to hit .310 with 27 HR and 103 RBI this season. It marks the third time in four years that he has passed the century mark in RBI, and it is the fifth consecutive season with 25 or more home runs for the career .309 hitter.
Do the Yankees re-sign Robinson Cano?
Yankees President Randy Levine recently implied that the team would stick to its guns when negotiating; leaving the possibility that Cano might not be a Yankee next year.
If they do let him walk, the team will likely either sign a cheaper free agent or use David Adams at second.
The other player whose future in the Bronx may be dependent on the team's salary limit is outfielder Curtis Granderson.
"Grandy" has hit 114 home runs in his three-plus seasons with the Yankees, and entering 2013 he was coming off back-to-back years of more than 100 RBI and 100 runs scored. Unfortunately, Granderson is also a "free swinger" and averages 158 strikeouts per season.
2013 is turning into a season that the left-handed hitter would like to forget. In his first at-bat of the spring, Granderson was hit by a pitch from J.A. Happ and suffered a broken forearm. On May 24, just 10 days after returning from his stay on the DL, the slugger found himself right back where he came from. A Cesar Ramos pitch broke his knuckle and he didn't return to the Yankees lineup until August 2.
Along with Mark Teixeira, since 2010 Curtis Granderson has represented the Bombers' best power threat in the lineup. His asking price in the upcoming free-agent market may mean he'll be hitting the long ball elsewhere.
Given the splash Alfonso Soriano has made since returning to the club (15 HR and 47 RBI in 47 games), Granderson seems expendable with Brett Gardner and Ichiro Suzuki (along with Soriano) already slated for the club next year.
If so, look for the club to give opportunities to Zoilo Alimonte (.297 at Scranton), Ronnier Mustelier (.272), Tyler Austin and Slade Heathcott to win backup roles in the Yankees outfield next spring.
It is apparent that the Yankees changes this offseason are numerous and widespread in affecting every area of the team. The most prominent of those changes could very well occur at the head of the dugout.
Manager Joe Girardi is in the final year of his contract, and while Cashman has indicated that they want to bring him back, they have yet to re-sign him.
This has been perhaps the most challenging season during Girardi's tenure as Yankees manager, yet it is also arguably his best at the helm. In spite of the numerous setbacks via injury and lack of depth, he still has the team contending for a chance to play in October.
Nothing ever goes the way you want it to, but Girardi certainly has gotten the most out of what he's had to work with. It should result in him signing a new contract, but if the team decides a complete overhaul begins at the top, Yankee fans could be looking at a new manager in 2014.
The extent of the changes that the New York Yankees make prior to opening the 2014 campaign may depend upon whether or not the team reaches the postseason this year.
Regardless, the team that takes the field in Houston on April 1, 2014 will be very different than the one that records its final out in 2013.