10 Things We Learned About the New York Yankees During Spring Training
Spring training is baseball's timeless tradition that allows major league clubs the opportunity to learn about themselves, and this year has certainly taught the New York Yankees more than they expected.
Manager Joe Girardi and GM Brian Cashman have been kept busy with constant personnel issues. From the evaluation of upcoming talents like Ronnier Mustelier to determining which veteran players are ready to re-establish themselves in the everyday lineup, 2013 already has been one of the most active for Yankees management.
Only time will tell if all the pieces to the puzzle will fit in place, but the team is using every last day in Tampa to bring the best possible squad north.
Let's take a look at what we have learned about the Yankees this spring.
The Yankees Are Old
The Yankees are the oldest team in Major League Baseball and aren't about to relinquish that title anytime soon.
The current 40-man roster lists seven players at least 35 years old and another eight over the age of 30.
In the past week Cashman has acquired Vernon Wells (who will turn 35 in December) and Lyle Overbay (36) to add to that list.
It would seem that the Yankees are banking on players in the twilight of their careers to lead them on a successful 2013 campaign. While veteran players certainly provide leadership and knowledge, an overabundance of them can leave the team susceptible to uninspired play and extended downtime.
With Age Comes Injury
The primary reason that this spring training has been such an active one for Yankees brass is the numerous injuries the club has already had to endure.
The most significant of those setbacks are:
- Phil Hughes — Slated to be the fourth starter in the rotation, the 26-year-old hurler may begin the season on the DL as he recuperates from a bulging disc in his upper back.
- Curtis Granderson — The powerful outfielder was hit by a pitch in his first AB of the spring, breaking his forearm. He's not expected back until early May.
- Mark Teixeira — While preparing to participate in the World Baseball Classic, the 32-year-old first baseman suffered a torn tendon sheath in his right wrist and could miss the entire season if surgery is required.
- Alex Rodriguez — The aging (37) third baseman underwent a second hip surgery in January and will be out until at least midseason.
- Derek Jeter — The face of the franchise, 38-year-old Derek Jeter, has been rehabbing from a broken ankle suffered in the ALCS. All was going well until he started to experience soreness that will land him on the DL for Opening Day.
- Clay Rapada — The 32-year-old reliever has a shoulder injury and will begin the season on the DL.
With a starter, outfielder, first baseman, third baseman, shortstop,and left-handed reliever all out of action for the opening of the season, as well as their workhorse ace and Hall of Fame closer in the final stages of returning from injury, it seems that Father Time is catching up with the team.
Kevin Youkilis Is a Key to the Season
With both their third baseman and first baseman missing significant time in 2013, the Yankees' most important offseason acquisition has become Kevin Youkilis.
The former Red Sox star can play either corner position in the infield and if spring is any indication, he has returned to form at the plate.
In 15 spring training games he has 12 RBI and five HR, while hitting .262 with a 1.090 OPS.
Should he carry that kind of hitting into the regular season, the Yankees will all but forget that they have "A-Rod" on the DL.
He may have been one of the most reviled opponents in recent history, but "Youk" now is the key to the team's success in 2013.
Minor Leaguers Aren't Ready
The parade of minor league players that the Yankees have looked at in trying to plug holes left by injury is mind-boggling. Yet, recent additions to the team would indicate that the organization doesn't feel they are ready to occupy starting roles on Opening Day.
In spite of a successful spring by 28-year-old Cuban defector Ronnier Mustelier (.314 with two HR and .940 OPS) and to a lesser degree 26-year-old Melky Mesa (three HR and 10 RBI), Cashman continues to sign older, experienced players for lineup vacancies.
Players like Vernon Wells, who hit .224 in the prior two seasons with the Angels and Lyle Overbay (signed to a minor league contract — .246 and 11 HR in last two seasons) are being given preference over the younger players with minor league options remaining.
If management felt the youngsters were ready would they be looking to players at the end of their careers?
Francisco Cervelli Is Solid Behind the Plate
The knock on Francisco Cervelli has been that he is a liability behind the plate. Last season the Yankees sent the 27-year-old catcher to the minor leagues on the last day of spring training to open a spot for defensive specialist Chris Stewart.
After a successful 2009 season where Cervelli threw out 43 percent of attempted base stealers, he slumped to just a 14 percent rate in both 2010 and 2011 — including 19 errors and nine passed balls over those two seasons.
The demotion in 2012 may have been just what the backstop needed.
This spring he has thrown out runners at a 50 percent rate and has just one passed ball in 13 games.
If he can translate that success to the regular season, the catching position can be a strength for the team in 2013.
The Yankees Cannot Depend on Power to Score Their Runs
Russell Martin, Nick Swisher, Mark Teixeira, Raul Ibanez and Curtis Granderson accounted for 131 home runs in 2012.
None of them will be in the Opening Day lineup for the Yankees and only one of them (Granderson) will be in the team's lineup before June.
No longer can Girardi look to the long ball to produce runs. Instead, with the likes of Ichiro Suzuki, Brett Gardner, Francisco Cervelli and Eduardo Nunez in the lineup, the team will have to play a National League brand of ball to score.
Fans will have to get used to getting their souvenirs outside the stadium, as there certainly will be a drop-off in ones that are the result of Yankees bats.
Starting Pitching Is Deep
The news isn't completely bad coming out of spring training.
The old adage is "you can never have enough pitching," and this season the Yankees look to have plenty of depth to weather any setbacks with the starting five.
Already that has been put to the test by Phil Hughes' bulging disc. Ivan Nova and David Phelps have had decent performances this spring in their battle for the fifth spot in the rotation. Now, both will start the year until Hughes' return.
In addition to Nova and Phelps, the team expects the highly-touted Michael Pineda to finally join the team in June—13 months after surgery to repair a tear in his labrum.
Given the issues with their lineup, a solid rotation may be what keeps the Yankees in the playoff mix during the first half of 2013.
Mo Is Back!
Yankees fans can breathe a sigh of relief. Mariano Rivera, a shoo-in for the Hall of Fame, has recovered from his devastating leg injury suffered last May.
Many thought that given his age (43) and the severity of the setback he would never return, or at the very least never be the same.
One look at what he has done this spring puts those fears to rest.
In six appearances (six innings) he has not allowed a run and has struck out eight. With just three hits and one walk against him, opponents are batting .150.
Should the Yankees enter the ninth inning with a lead they can be sure Rivera will be there to secure the win in 2013.
Yankees Owners Are Sticking to $189 Million Payroll in 2014
In forgoing pursuit of high-priced free agents this offseason, the Yankees have made it clear that their intention is to lower payroll in 2014.
The proof lies in the fact that the team let Russell Martin, Nick Swisher and Raul Ibanez find another place to play this season. All were significant contributors to a team that won 95 games in 2012, but each was looking for a bump in salary this year.
Hal Steinbrenner remains adamant that the team does not require a $200 million payroll to be successful.
The next two seasons will show whether that is true.
The Only Thing That Is Certain Is That Nothing Is Certain
Before the first pitch of spring training was thrown the Yankees chances of repeating as AL East champions were quite good. Sure, there would be some changes—Curtis Granderson would move to left, Brett Gardner to center, Kevin Youkilis would play third base, and the team would need a new DH and catcher—but nothing to dramatically change their outlook.
Some of their core stars looked for bounce-back seasons. Mark Teixeira would have a full year of production, as would Ichiro Suzuki. Even Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera were rehabbing their way back to taking the field on Opening Day.
Nothing is certain.
As I've already documented, injury and age have upset the apple cart and how the team performs is anyone's guess.
Even as we enter the final week of spring training the first base, designated hitter and reliever spots remain up for grabs.
A wise man once said the only certainties in life are death and taxes. For the 2013 New York Yankees never has that been more true.