Old Guard, New Test: New York Yankees Rely On Vets

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Old Guard, New Test: New York Yankees Rely On Vets

The 2009 postseason will forever provide fond memories for Yankees fans—a month of baseball that signaled the franchise's return to the apex of the sport.

But being a Sports Pessimist (the New York Jets did this to me), I still had a couple of minor gripes. One was Chris Rose, the Best Damn Sports Show hack who was inexplicably given on-field emcee duties following New York's Game Six clincher.

What do you think was the over/under for the number of Yankee games Rose watched last year? Eight? Four? One?

I understand Joe Buck and Tim McCarver were busy projectile vomiting at the thought of a Yankees championship, but FOX didn't have anyone else available? Jack Bauer? Ryan Seacrest? A former Mad TV cast member? I'm not asking for much here.

The other complaint was the Core Four. No, not the actual grouping of Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Jorge Posada, and Andy Pettitte—the actual term, Core Four. What the hell does it even mean?

It sounds like the name of a four-man tag team that squared off against Demolition and the Heavenly Bodies in the 1989 Survivor Series. Before the playoffs began, everyone referred to the veterans as the "Old Guard". I liked that. There was something dignified and appropriate about it. The "Old Guard" worked. Why mess with a good thing?

Going forward, this will be a no Core Four zone. You hear me? A No Core Four Zone.

With that settled, I'd like to get to my main topic today, which just so happens to be—wait for it—the Old Guard.

Even the staunchest OG supporter had to be surprised by how well the old dogs held up last year.

Jeter appeared in the early throes of decline in '08, but the 35-year-old followed that disappointing season with one of his best ever (.334 BA, .406 OBP, 115 runs, 18 homers, 30 steals). Rivera continued to defy humanity at age 39, saving 44 of 46 games with a 1.76 ERA. Pettitte entered the season simply asked to to eat innings in the back of the rotation, but the 37-year-old ended up  (14-8, 4.16 ERA, 194.2 IP) being the biggest rock in the rotation not named Carsten Charles. Posada, 38, spent time on the DL and slipped defensively, but remained one of baseball's most productive offensive catchers (22 homers, 81 RBI in 383 at-bats).

So, coming off a season where the Old Guard gave the Yankees more than they could've ever asked for, what can we expect going forward? This is possibly the biggest subplot of the 2010 season.

If each of the four matches or exceeds the production of a year ago, it's quite likely the Yankees will find themselves back in the World Series eight months from now. If each gets hurt, or if they fall into sharp declines, it's unlikely the Yanks will be able to plug the holes quickly enough to salvage the season.

Realistically, you have to expect it to fall somewhere in the middle. I don't know if we get the privilege of another season like '09 from Jeter, but a .300/12 HR/.380 OBP/15 SB with solid D would still work right? If his body holds up, Pettitte is wholly capable of throwing close to 200 innings and winning 12-15 more games. Rivera is super-human, making a repeat of '09 realistically plausible.

To me, Posada represents the biggest concern. As I wrote last month, the Yankees will be asking a lot from their longtime backstop. Do I think he's due for a Varitek-style nosedive this year? No. But if I had to bet one of the Old Guard breaking down first, it would be Georgie Boy.

One of the theories brandied about in explanation for the Yankees' success in 2009 was the idea that the Old Guard had finally "assimilated" with the newer Yankees to form a complete unit.

For the first time, there was no barrier in the clubhouse between the old-timers and the newbies, which in turn, helped make them champions. This makes for a nice story angle, and it could be true...but it's probably not.

The reality behind 2009's success was that the Old Guard of Jeter/Po/Mo/Pettitte managed to perform at a high level alongside the New Guard of Tex/A-Rod/CC/Hughes. Throw in solid seasons from the likes of Johnny Damon, Nick Swisher, and Robinson Cano, and it added up to a championship run.

The formula remains the same in 2010. And while it may be a frightening prospect to lean so heavily on four players approaching middle age, it'd be hard to find a group more worthy of trust than the Core Four.

Damn. Last time, I swear.

Dan Hanzus writes the Yankees blog River & Sunset and can be reached via e-mail at dhanzus@gmail.com. Follow Dan on Twitter at danhanzus.

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