When reviewing the New York Yankees lineup today, it cannot be ignored that the Yankees are approaching a time in the not too distant future where their needs might outstrip their resources. The not too distant future, in true terms, begins in earnest in 2013 and goes into full scale onslaught mode in the year 2014. Between now and then, the Yankees front office will, in effect, have to reinvent a team that is built to win now, into a team that can compete for years to come.
The measuring stick for the Yankees is always a world title. However, in putting together world championship caliber teams, the Yankees are constantly competing with the Boston Red Sox for supremacy, both on the field and in the executive suites.
This translates into the need for each team to draft, sign and trade talent that positions each franchise to either counteract, or proactively trump moves made by their division rivals.
Its an intricate dance, really, a chess game that has played out over decades and resulted in some of the most talked about what-ifs in the history of sport.
This dance, or game of chess, whichever analogy you prefer, threatens to escalate in the coming years due expressly to the fact that while the Yankees are getting older, the Red Sox are actually quite young. In fact, if you consider that the Boston SS in 2014 will likely be Jose Iglesias, the average age of their starting eight players at that point will still be younger than the Yankees starting eight is today.
Moreover, Derek Jeter wasn't included in this discussion as his contract expires after the 2013 season. As strange as it might be to consider, it's likely that Jeter will not be a Yankee in 2014.
(As a quick note, due to the transient nature of the DH slot in general, despite David Ortiz's stranglehold on the role in Boston, we did not include this role/player in our calculations).
If you're the Yankees, you have to be concerned. While average age comparisons are a productive tool to evaluate a team's likely effectiveness down the road, its when you start looking at the actual players that the severity of the situation really presents itself. Specifically, by 2014 the Yankees current three and four hitters, Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez, would be 8 years or so into receiving their Social Security checks if their respective ages were combined.
Together, they will average over 36 years old and, in addition, the Yankees will have had to have found a replacement for Rodriguez at third base. This sad reality, for those of us who've forgotten or tried to burn the memory away, is the byproduct of Hal Steinbrenner beating out Hal Steinbrenner in the 2007 Rodriguez Free Agent Sweepstakes Competition.
With all of this said, there is hope for Yankees fans. At catcher, the Yankees will have a slew of prospects to choose from over the next several years, all of which can also be used in trades to bring back top-shelf talent. Additionally, they have a legitimate outfield prospect in Slade Heathcott who could also be a valuable trading chip or possibly even the answer in either RF or CF, depending on Granderson's effectiveness over the upcoming years.
There is also the free agent market, of course, a familiar means over the years for the Yankees to supplement their lineup. Over the next couple of years, there will be some very big names available and so the Yankees will more than likely be active on many fronts.
Taking all of these options and variables into account, the lineup you're about to see is conjured from the nether regions, one part reality, two parts pure conjecture and three parts complete fantasy. We've tried to stay within the bounds, of course. However, when we approached straying, and you'll know when we did, we tried to provide a reasonable back story of how a certain player found himself on the Yankees.
Brett Gardner has established himself as a formidable, every day leadoff hitter heading into the 2014 season. Combined with his outstanding defense and roughly 60 plus stolen bases a year, this gives the Yankees a still relatively young (31 years old) and potent weapon in LF.
33 years old and still producing, the swing adjustments made late in the 2010 season have continued to make Granderson a true threat every time he steps to the plate. He has averaged 36 HRs and 108 RBI from 2011 through 2013, and there are no suspicions of a slow down heading into the 2014 campaign. He is still at or near the top in total pitches per at bat, and this translates into him being a rare combination of table-setter and table-cleaner.
The Dodgers, hoping to secure a good measure of support from their frustrated and angry fan base, broke the bank for Kemp following the 2011 season. Kemp agreed to a two-year deal to stay with the team out of loyalty to his teammates and the city. However, as the end of 2012 approached the Dodgers realized they could not handle his payroll hit and looked to unload their superstar.
Following the situation very closely, the Yankees swept in and traded young C/1B Jesus Montero, SP/RP Andrew Brackman and 2B David Adams for Kemp.
Montero had shown definitive signs of being the real deal throughout the 2012 season, hitting .292 with 19 HRs and 72 RBI. This was during Montero's time as the primary DH for the Yankees, until the early September trade had occurred.
Adams filled a need at 2B for the Dodgers and will combine nicely with their young stud at SS, Dee Gordon.
Andrew Brackman, the 6'11, hard throwing RHP, saw his stock rise in the eyes of opposing scouts and GMs due to some adjustments made to his windup late during the 2011 season, as first documented by Tim Bontemps of the New York Post. His inclusion in this deal, based on performance as opposed to projected upside, was insisted upon by the Dodgers.
Though many projected Cano to be the Yankees three-hitter for years to come, the acquisition of Kemp derailed that plan, as Yankees manager Joe Girardi preferred not to have three lefties in succession to head his lineup.
As he proved many times in Alex Rodriguez' absence during the 2010 and 2011 seasons, Cano was well suited to the task and justified Girardi's confidence by posting big numbers in 2013—his first year sharing cleanup duties with Alex Rodriguez, even when Rodriguez was healthy.
Cano's .314, 38HR, 122 RBI and .993 OPS overall line was among the best for all hitters during that 2013 season, and solidified his standing as the cleanup hitter for 2014 season.
Teixeira, despite not hitting for average since the 2009 season, nonetheless fills the five slot effectively due to his still potent ability to drive in runs. Additionally, he has averaged 39 HRs and 117 RBI from 2011 through 2013, and his ability to switch-hit will give opposing managers fits when it comes to late-inning matchups.
After an injury plagued 2011 season which saw his string of 30 HR, 100 RBI seasons snapped at 13, Rodriguez bounced back in 2012 with a .291/33/124/.987 line, cementing his position as the cleanup hitter throughout the season and postseason as well.
The late-season acquisition of Matt Kemp in 2012, however, introduced the possibility of a revised lineup for the 2013 season, and so it was as Rodriguez, then 38, first began to share cleanup duties with Robinson Cano and then relinquish the role entirely towards the end of the season.
More often than not, Rodriguez manned the fifth position in the lineup throughout 2013, primarily for matchup purposes, and in the process pushed Teixeira to the 6th slot for much of the season. Though Rodriguez remained productive in 2013, his .282/26/92/.826 line, and the likely decline it implied, was an indication that the Yankees would need to seriously rethink their plans for third base for the 2014 season and beyond.
Mike Moustakas, the cant-miss prospect out of Kansas City, well, kind of, sort of, missed. Whether it was playing in the shadow of Eric Hosmer or simply the pressure to perform day in and day out, Moustakas put up very pedestrian numbers in 2012. Combined with a less than stellar showing during his rookie year of 2011 the Royals, and all of baseball, began wondering if the expectations for Moustakas were simply too high.
Moustakas' 2013 season, however, began to resemble the kind of year scouts and GM's had predicted, as he put up a line of. 296/22/89/.843. The Yankees, based on this production, became convinced that Moustakas was not simply an every day player but a future impact player. With Alex Rodriguez on the decline heading into the 2014 season, the Yankees decided to make a serious play for the young Royal.
The package that went to KC after the 2013 season ended was steep. The Yankees parted with the now established multi-tool prospect Slade Heathcott, blocked in New York.
Who the Royals saw as their every day center fielder, SP Dellin Betances, with 34 wins and a combined ERA of 3.26 over the 2012 and 2013 seasons for the Yankees, and SP Adam Warren, also blocked at the MLB level in New York but who showed great signs in limited action.
Also part of the deal was Yankee 3B prospect Brandon Laird, a power guy who the Yankees nonetheless felt was not a sufficient long-term replacement for Rodriguez. In addition to Moustakas, the Yankees received a player to be named.
When the Yankees moved Jesus Montero to the Dodgers in the Matt Kemp deal, the clear signal to Gary Sanchez was that the future was his in New York. Montero had proven that he could hit at the MLB level throughout the 2012 season, and his defense was sufficient if nothing else. However, the Yankees had retained Russell Martin for the 2012 season to maintain the bridge to the catching prospect they truly loved, one Gary Sanchez.
Heading into Spring Training 2013, the Yankees fully expected the then 20 year old Sanchez to compete with Russell Martin for the starting position. Though incredibly young, Yankee brass felt confident that Sanchez had the tools and makeup to tackle the task. The progress of Salvador Perez in Kansas City, brought up in 2011 at the age of 21 and still thriving through 2013, gave Yankees' management the belief that a young, talented catcher could handle the challenges associated with catching in the majors.
With Martin on the roster in the event of a total collapse, the decision was made to go with Sanchez.
Offensively, Sanchez suffered through much of 2013, however a late season surge saw him post a respectable .260/13/58/.757 line. It was defensively, though, where Sanchez established himself as one of the top tier backstops in the game. Expectations for 2014 are higher on both sides of the ball.
Replacing a legend is never easy. Replacing Derek Jeter is even harder. Few players stay with one team for their entire careers in the modern era, and fewer still win a championship with that team an average of once every three years or so.
Cito Culver, however, will be the (psuedo) man expected to do just that as the 2014 campaign opens. At 21 years of age, he is approximately the same age that Jeter was when The Capatin assumed the full time SS role in 1996. However, the expectations for Culver are not quite as high as they were for Jeter when he hit the scene.
With a powerful arm and good range, the Yankees hope heading into the 2014 season that, much like Sanchez the year before, they will get solid defense out of a young player who will not be expected to contribute immediately with the bat. While Derek Jeter did post a respectable .272/4/47/.704 in 2013, his last year in pinstripes, his 39 year old legs were simply not capable of 162 games of high-intensity baseball.
A switch-hitter, Culver steadily improved offensively from 2011 through 2013 and started to show signs of some pop in his bat from both sides of the plate. With that said, the Yankees are not convinced that he is the heir apparent to Jeter, as if anyone could be, but are content with what the young SS can provide for them in the near-term.