Calm offseason prompts usual questions of age
Yankees enter Spring Training relying on experience with few new faces in Tampa
The dawn of a new season typically brings a fair amount of hat-tipping from the players on contending clubs, pointing to last year's champions and saying that until someone knocks them off, they should still be considered the team to beat.
You might hear comments along those lines, but after the Yankees' relatively quiet winter, you can't help but feel like the Bombers are heading into Spring Training with less fanfare than most teams would experience a year removed from 95 wins and a division title.
The Yankees watched several stars depart this winter and seemed largely occupied by re-signing their own players, hammering out pacts with Mariano Rivera, Hiroki Kuroda, Andy Pettitte and Ichiro Suzuki. Their big free-agent acquisition was Kevin Youkilis, who will fill in at third base while Alex Rodriguez misses at least half the season recovering from hip surgery.
"It's going to be tough, but I think we have the team to go out and compete and try to win a division again," ace CC Sabathia said.
That's the first objective, as the Yankees look to continue a streak of success that has led to 17 playoff appearances in the past 18 seasons. Some have said the Yanks appear a little too long in the tooth to keep that streak alive, but captain Derek Jeter prefers to think that his team is just "experienced."
"I've heard it before," Jeter told early-arriving reporters in Tampa, Fla. "It just depends on where you're angling a story. If you want to make it a positive, you say how experienced we are. And if someone wants to make it sound another way, it's, 'Oh, we're old.' I'd like to think we're experienced.
"It's our job, regardless of how old anyone is, to come here and be ready to play and help us compete. We've been able to do that pretty successfully throughout the years, and our plans don't change."
Pitchers and catchers report
Full squad reports
First Spring Training game
Away vs. Braves, Feb. 23, 1:05 p.m. ET
Home vs. Red Sox, April 1, 1:05 p.m. ET
Triple play: Three questions that need answers
1. Will Jeter and Mariano Rivera come back strong from their injuries?
The Yankees have been saying for quite some time that they expect to have Jeter playing shortstop and Rivera ready to close out the ninth inning by Opening Day, but their progress will be watched closely all spring, as any setbacks would put that in jeopardy. Jeter's defensive range coming back after fracturing his ankle may be more of a concern than anything on the offensive side, while Rivera aims to prove his cutter is still just as magical after last year's season-ending right ACL injury. Once again, this could be the swan song for Rivera, who has hinted at retirement.
2. Will the Yankees find new ways to score runs?
The Yankees battled a dry spell with their bats in the American League Championship Series, and now that they've subtracted a great deal of their power from the lineup, it could be up to manager Joe Girardi and hitting coach Kevin Long to find other ways to manufacture runs. The Yanks still have some sluggers who can bash the ball out of the park, so don't look for them to become the Bronx Bunters, as Girardi disdainfully remarked in September. Still, players like Ichiro, Brett Gardner and whoever is catching can't be leaned upon for the three-run homer too often.
3. Who will be in center field on Opening Day, and what will they provide?
The Yankees will seriously consider moving Curtis Granderson to left field and installing Gardner as the center fielder, a nod to Gardner's superior defense. That might provide a slight improvement, but the Yanks also need offensive production. Gardner missed nearly all of last season and will be asked to be more like the player he was in 2010, when he had a .383 on-base percentage and looked like he might be New York's leadoff hitter of the future. Granderson's team-leading 43 homers proved that his swing works just fine in Yankee Stadium, but he must cut down on strikeouts after whiffing 195 times last year.
95-67, first in the AL East
Projected batting order
1. RF Ichiro Suzuki:
.283 BA, .307 OBP, .390 SLG, 9 HR, 55 RBIs with Yankees and Mariners in 2012
2. SS Derek Jeter:
.316 BA, .362 OBP, .429 SLG, 15 HR, 58 RBIs in 2012
3. 2B Robinson Cano:
.313 BA, .379 OBP, .550 SLG, 33 HR, 94 RBIs in 2012
4. 1B Mark Teixeira:
.251 BA, .332 OBP, .475 SLG, 24 HR, 84 RBIs in 2012
5. CF Curtis Granderson:
.232 BA, .319 OBP, .492 SLG, 43 HR, 106 RBIs in 2012
6. 3B Kevin Youkilis:
.235 BA, .336 OBP, .409 SLG, 19 HR, 60 RBIs with White Sox and Red Sox in 2012
7. DH Travis Hafner:
.228 BA, .346 OBP, .438 SLG, 12 HR, 34 RBIs with Indians 2012
8. LF Brett Gardner:
.323 BA, .417 OBP, .387 SLG, 0 HR, 3 RBIs in 2012
9. C Francisco Cervelli:
.246 BA, .341 OBP, .316 SLG, 2 HR, 39 RBIs with Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre in 2012
1. LHP CC Sabathia, 15-6, 3.38 ERA in 2012
2. RHP Hiroki Kuroda, 16-11, 3.32 ERA in 2012
3. LHP Andy Pettitte, 5-4, 2.87 ERA in 2012
4. RHP Phil Hughes, 16-13, 4.19 ERA in 2012
5. RHP Ivan Nova, 12-8, 5.02 ERA in 2012
The new guys
DH Travis Hafner: The Yankees agreed to a one-year deal with "Pronk" this month, hoping they can keep the injury-prone slugger healthy enough to serve as their DH against right-handed pitching. General manager Brian Cashman says Hafner is a prime example of what he calls a "big hairy monster" -- someone with power from the left side and a high on-base percentage.
3B Youkilis: After nine seasons on the other side of the Boston rivalry and a brief Chicago stopover, Youkilis will try the pinstripes on. He inked a $12 million deal to serve as A-Rod's fill-in, but the Yanks are well aware they might need to ask Youkilis to handle the third base for a full season. Youkilis has already altered his batting stance in preparation for the year ahead.
OF/1B Matt Diaz: The Yankees will give Diaz a chance to be the right-handed power bat they spent most of the winter looking for. He'll make $1.2 million if he makes the club, and the 35-year-old non-roster invitee wants to prove he can still mash left-handed pitching after thumb surgery limited him to 51 games last year with the Braves.
OF Juan Rivera: A former Yanks farmhand who played with the club from 2001-03, Rivera will also get a chance to make the team as an outfield bat against left-handed pitching -- the role filled by Andruw Jones the past two years. The 34-year-old Rivera has a career .820 OPS against lefties.
Prospects to watch
C Austin Romine: After losing most of last season to injury, Romine is slated to begin the year at Triple-A, but that could change. The Yankees would love if Romine made the decision easier for them this spring by outplaying Cervelli and Chris Stewart. He has a backer in Girardi, who skipped Triple-A to be the Cubs' Opening Day catcher in 1989.
RHP Mark Montgomery: The Yanks speak highly of Montgomery, a rising star in the organization who wields a nasty power slider. There has been speculation that Montgomery will be inducing swings and misses at the big league level in 2013.
LHP Cesar Cabral: The southpaw nearly made the team last spring before an ill-timed elbow injury opened a spot for Clay Rapada on the roster. A former Rule 5 Draft selection, Cabral will be in camp with the Yankees and could help during the season.
RHP Dellin Betances: Poor fastball command led to Betances' demotion to Double-A Trenton last year, so he'll be looking to bounce back in a big way. The Yanks haven't given up on Betances, who still boasts a fastball that can hit 97 mph, but some of the polish has been removed from his prospect status.
C Gary Sanchez: The 20-year-old Sanchez is ticketed to begin the year at Class A Advanced Tampa, but fans could get a glimpse of the Yankees' catching future this spring in big league camp. Sanchez has above-average raw power and the Yanks believe he will be able to stick behind the plate defensively.
On the rebound
LF Gardner: After playing in just 16 games last season due to a strained right elbow, New York will count on Gardner as one of its starting outfielders. He'll probably hit near the bottom of the lineup, but as a favorite of Girardi's, anything is possible.
RHP Nova: Nova's confidence took a hit last season as he was left off the club's playoff roster following an inconsistent second-half run. The Yankees seemed frustrated by Nova's issues in making adjustments. He dealt with some injury issues and also was hit hard by homers and extra-base hits.
RHP Michael Pineda: Cashman has said that it would be "a mistake" for the Yanks to count on Pineda in 2013, but as his rehab continues, the best-case scenario of a May or June return from labrum surgery remains in play. Injuries like Pineda's are difficult to forecast, but New York is hopeful he can still approach what the club thought it was getting from Seattle when it traded Jesus Montero.
2B Robinson Cano (Dominican Republic), C Cervelli (Italy), 1B Mark Teixeira (Team USA).
OF Nick Swisher: The enthusiastic outfielder's time in New York will be remembered for four very productive regular seasons, but also his postseason shortcomings. Other than a qualifying $13.3 million offer that netted a Draft pick, the Yankees did not attempt to keep Swisher, who landed a four-year, $56 million deal with the Indians.
RHP Rafael Soriano: For a while, it looked like Soriano might have erred in opting out of the final year of his contract, turning down a guaranteed $14 million in favor of a $1.5 million buyout. He and agent Scott Boras knew what they were doing; Soriano found a two-year, $28 million deal with the Nationals that includes a $14 million vesting option for 2015.
C Russell Martin: Girardi and Cashman both said they were fans of Martin's, but the budget-conscious Yankees couldn't match a two-year, $17 million offer from the Pirates. Martin seemed to find some answers at the plate in the second half, and the Yanks may not be able to replace his power with any of their other backstop options.
OF Raul Ibanez: After turning in a postseason to remember, Ibanez opted not to wait for the Yankees to conclude their other business and jumped at a $2.75 million offer to return to the Mariners. The move was probably inevitable, as Ibanez said he planned to live in Seattle after his playing days.
IF Eric Chavez: The Bombers had interest in re-signing Chavez, who played a key role filling in at the infield corners, but Chavez agreed to a $3 million deal with the D-backs in December. It turned out to be a convenient move for Chavez, whose family resides in Paradise Valley, Ariz.
OF Jones: When Jones was left off the playoff roster, unable to consistently hit left-handed pitching, the writing was on the wall for his exit. Jones landed in Japan, accepting a $3.5 million deal from the Rakuten Golden Eagles.
RHP Freddy Garcia: After a disappointing second season in New York that saw him bumped to a variety of roles, Garcia accepted a Minor League contract with the Padres that will be worth $1.3 million if he makes the club.