This is getting painful. Let me first preface this by saying I am not giving up hope. I am not calling in the doom and gloom…yet. Last night, watching the Yankees struggle against the Rays I began thinking, this team is in fact getting old. After winning their 27th World Series last fall, Yankee Universe felt a Gladiatorial spirit, a sense of immunity to age, injury and low stamina. Yesterday, I felt as though I watched a Gladiator stumble. Not to discount the amazing display of Baseball the Tampa Bay Rays are putting on, they are in fact a very good team, but yesterday I felt my focus turned more to an aging, tired and sloppy Yankees team that seems so injury prone they might as well rent an old-folks home next to Yankee Stadium. The Gladiator hasn’t fallen. We are only two months into the season. There is still a lot of Baseball to be played, 122 games to be exact, but this is officially the first time I have feared the inevitable of this great Yankees team. With four pivotal Gladiators that make up the essential leadership and provide so much veteran experience in tough games, it becomes a necessity that they veer from injuries. Three of them have already suffered from the plagues of Baseball. Posada looks to be out for at least three weeks with a hairline fracture on his foot. Pettitte has already spent time on the DL, but looks to be back in form after one descent start and Mo has had lingering pains in his side. None of these issues appeared to be season ending, but it does make you wonder, how much of this is an effect of the grueling Baseball season, and how much of it is due to age?
I would never advocate getting rid of any member of the core four, but how much longer can I place my loyalty and nostalgia for these players over the reality that if they can’t stay healthy and they can’t perform than they should be replaced by younger players. Luckily, that’s not something in dire need of deciding right now. Nevertheless I have begun to think, how long can these Gladiators stand in the arena that rewards youth and speed with the trophy? On the other end of the spectrum, some of my favorite teams in Baseball have incredible farm systems that have churned out some incredible players. The Colorado Rockies have farmed one of the best pitchers in the National League in Ubaldo Jimenez, and a rising star center fielder in Dexter Fowler, though the Rockies lack what the Yankees have, power. That’s what makes the Rays such a great team this year, and perhaps what made the Yankees so great last year. They have everything! From the young guys churned from the farm in Wade Davis, Evan Longoria and David Price, to the veteran role players in Gabe Kapler and Hank Blalock, at this point, they have only three players on the 15-day disabled list and none on the 60-day. Last year the Yankees run to their 27th World Series title was largely due to their great playing ability, but certainly, largely due to the fact they didn’t get bit by the injury bug. Every team gets bit at some point. The 2009 Mets and the 2008 Rockies are just a couple examples. I just hope the 2010 Yankees aren’t next on the list.
Derek Jeter is right though, teams can’t feel sorry for themselves when they have injuries. The teams they're opposing won’t feel sorry for them. It takes good utility players to win when the DL has a lofty membership throughout the year. And from what we’ve seen with the Yankees this year, that’s in somewhat of a short supply. Francisco Cervelli has answered the question from last year. “Can this guy be an everyday catcher”? For all of the power he lacks, he more than makes up for it with his defensive skills, his strong throwing arm, his ability to hit with runners in scoring position and his sheer energy level every day. This guy is fun to watch! Brett Gardner is also doing a nice job filling in for Granderson as a very skilled centerfielder and is showing he can get on base, and causes chaos on the base paths. Then there’s my biggest concern. The utility outfield is just wretched! Both Randy Winn and Marcus Thames are atrocious fielders. Marcus Thames might as well sit in a lawn chair in right field and Randy Winn couldn’t hit a watermelon with a tennis racket. Not to mention after last night’s loss to Tampa Bay, it looks like Marcus Thames will be sitting out for running over his own bat on the base paths. That gives the Yankees Ramiro Pena as the only utility option for right field until Swisher returns. Hopefully Granderson and Swish return sooner than later, because I can’t handle much more of Thames, Pena and Winn as an everyday solution. What this has also proven to me is that the Yankees are still using their Farm system as a trade-only tool. I have not been impressed thus far with the guys called up from Scranton. And I was not pleased with dealing Jackson and Cabrera for Vasquez, though I am waiting to see if this pans out. They need young, speedy, athletic players and things have blown up for the Yankees thus far this season with Granderson and Nick Johnson. As I said it is still early, but perhaps this is a sign of things to come. Maybe they should reserve some of that payroll for stretcher-bearers and wheelchairs, because so far, that payroll is not fielding a championship team.