Will 2013 be the season that the New York Yankees fall back to earth after an unprecedented run of excellence? With a new Steinbrenner in charge, these are not the Yankees we've been accustomed to loving or hating.
General Manager Brian Cashman has new salary constraints ordered by Hal Steinbrenner with a looming $189 million luxury tax threshold in 2014 instituted by Major League Baseball. Steinbrenner is intent on avoiding paying anymore penalties as the Yankees have in past years. To that end, Cashman has structured the team by utilizing one-year contracts with aging players so he's not handcuffed with multi-year deals.
Still held back by monster deals to PED-fueled Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, and CC Sabathia, Cashman signed key players like Andy Pettitte, Mariano Rivera, Ichiro Suzuki, and Kevin Youkilis to short-term deals a with an eye on rebuilding the team next year. Of course, ARod's remaining $114 million albatross is a nightmare for the Yankees. As he recovers from hip surgery and scrambles to spin the latest PED scandal, Rodriguez is a shell of the player he was when the Yankees signed him to the record $300 million blockbuster several years ago.
While they wait for ARod's anticipated mid-season return, NY signed Youkilis (as a Yankee fan, that's still uncomfortable to say) to man third base. The former Red Sox star used to be reviled in the Bronx, but now is a key component of the Yankees. He anchors an infield that is easily the Yankees' strong point. That's if Derek Jeter has no ill-effects from his off-season ankle surgery and if Teixeira can get back to all-star status at 1B. Robinson Cano, the game's finest 2B, is in a contract year, so expect a huge season from him.
The outfield may be one of the finest defensive units in the American League with speedy Brett Gardner, now healthy, in left, slugger Curtis Granderson in center, and aging, but still-dangerous Suzuki in right. Nick Swisher, a fan favorite and consistent slugger, left for Cleveland and postseason star, Raul Ibanez departed the Yanks.
Another hole may be at catcher since Russell Martin surprised NY by accepting a deal with Pittsburgh. That leaves back-ups Chris Stewart and Francisco Cervelli, and prospect Austin Romine to battle for the backstop position.
Barring any major injuries, the pitching staff should be steady, if not spectacular. Besides Sabathia and Pettitte, the Yanks will count on Hiroki Kuroda, Ivan Nova, and Phil Hughes to form a tough rotation. Michael Pineda, traded for last year, should return from shoulder surgery sometime in the summer. David Phelps showed last year that he can be counted on in case of injuries.
In the bullpen, the ageless Rivera returns from a torn ACL to assume his spot as closer. The Yanks said goodbye to Raphael Soriano, who did a wonderful job as closer after Rivera went down. Set-up men Joba Chamberlain, David Robertson, and Boone Logan also return - giving the Yanks one of the best bullpens in baseball.
If the Yanks can somehow get rid of ARod and his bloated salary, they will be set up nicely in 2014 to add some key players in a rebuilding process. Since 1995, NY has been consistently excellent and have never been shy to add a top free agent. Not anymore. They have sat on the sidelines the last two off-seasons, watching rivals such as Toronto, Texas, Anaheim, and Detroit improve dramatically. For Yankees fans, 2013 could be the transition year needed to get the team younger and more dynamic in the future. For Yankees haters, it might be a year to gloat. There is still a lot of time before the season starts, but the Bronx Bombers may prove to be duds.