Hope for the Yankees Despite Injuries

Hope for the Yankees Despite Injuries

The current Yankees team is much different than the team under former owner  George Steinbrenner. His sons, Hank and Hal Steinbrenner, have taken a different approach for their tenure as owners of the Bronx Bombers. No longer chasing high priced free agents and worrying about the luxury tax later, the Yankees now have a (relatively) low budget. General Manager Brian Cashman is trying to develop young talent and find cheap bargains in free agency, as demonstrated by his decision to let proven talents like Nick Swisher and Rafael Soriano sign elsewhere, hoping to plug those holes with cheap free agents like Travis Hafner, Juan Rivera and David Aardsma.

The Yankees, however, still seemed poised to be the Bronx Bombers of old, until they were bitten by the ever-present injury bug, with Alex Rodriguez, Curtis Granderson, Phil Hughes and Mark Teixeira going down with injuries before the start of the season. The lineup that has been one of the most potent in baseball over the last two decades now doesn’t seem nearly as frightening. 

In past years, the solution would be to offer any combination of prospects and money to other teams in hopes of adding other superstar, even if they were only to be used as stopgaps until players like Teixeira and Granderson were healthy. But this is a new era of Yankees baseball. Instead, the lineup the Yankees present in their season opener April 1 against Boston may seem like an April Fools joke compared to past teams.

The Yankees hit the most home runs in baseball last year, but this lineup will be based on speed. With Brett Gardner, Ichiro Suzuki and Derek Jeter making up a third of the lineup, there will be many stolen bases. Robinson Cano and new addition Kevin Youkilis will provide the power, but the rest of the lineup is anyone’s guess. Hafner will spend a lot of time as a designated hitter, Juan Rivera could play first base or the outfield and young infielder Eduardo Nunez could play third base if Youkilis is shifted to first base. And we still haven’t gotten to the biggest hole in the Yankees lineup –  the catcher.

Russell Martin caught for New York the past two years, but was signed away by the Pittsburgh Pirates. Martin was a serviceable catcher, but the new Yankees thought $17 million was too much for him, leaving them stuck with either

veteran Chris Stewart, 27-year-old Francisco Cervelli or prospect Austin Romine. 

The strength of the Yankees will have to be pitching, which has been their Achilles’ heel in past years. C.C. Sabathia has been the anchor of the starting rotation, so fans can expect him to continue his stellar performances. Hiroki Kuroda is back in pinstripes after being a solid second starter last year. Kuroda tends to get overlooked often, but don’t be mistaken – Hiroki can pitch. Ivan Nova, Phil Hughes and David Phelps are still fairly young and have shown signs of both promise and disaster. The Yankees expect them to make steps towards consistency this year. The x-factor, though, will be Michael Pineda. After a very promising 2011 campaign, the Yankees traded highly-touted catching prospect Jesus Montero to acquire Pineda in the subsequent offseason. Pineda, unfortunately, suffered a season ending injury early in 2012. If he can regain his form of early 2011, he can fit into the rotation as a fantastic third starter behind Sabathia and Kuroda. Expect savvy veteran Andy Pettitte to be the fourth starter, and with Phelps, Hughes and Nova fighting for the fifth spot, this could be a potent rotation.

The fun continues in the bullpen. Mariano Rivera is back from injury and should regain his normal form in his final year before his impending retirement. Joba Chamberlain and David Robertson should handle the seventh and eighth innings, respectively, filling in for the departure of Rafael Soriano. Clay Rapada and Boone Logan are adept lefty specialists, and the Yankees have a unique advantage having Cody Eppley, a side-arming, right-handed pitcher filling the rare role of righty specialist. Fans should also watch out for David Aardsma. He had multiple years as a successful closer for the Mariners, but suffered an injury that has kept him out of baseball for close to two years. He’s healthy and if he can regain his past form, he could be dangerous.

This Yankees team will lean on its pitching to start the year, but when stars like Teixeira, Granderson and Rodriguez return, the power numbers may pick up. Regardless, this is a new era of Yankees baseball, one focused on smart spending and minor league development. And due to this lack of spending, this team will inevitably end up leaning on the usual suspects: Jeter, Pettitte and Rivera. So, maybe in some ways these still are George Steinbrenner’s Yankees.