The New York Yankees have enjoyed 20-consecutive winning seasons and missed the postseason just once since 1995. No matter how old and banged up they get, they always find a way to win 90+ games and get back to the playoffs.
That’s about to change.
Opening day is Monday and the New York Yankees are already decimated by injuries. A third of their lineup is wiped out — Mark Teixeira and Curtis Granderson will miss all of April, and Alex Rodriguez is not expected to return from his latest hip surgery until the All-Star break at the earliest. If the Yankees can’t survive spring training, how in the world are they going to make it through a grueling six-month regular season?
Last year, the New York Yankees featured one of baseball’s most potent offenses. The Bronx Bombers hammered 245 home runs in 2012 — most in the majors — but nine of their top-10 home run hitters will not be in the opening-day lineup (the aforementioned trio plus Derek Jeter and free-agent departures Nick Swisher, Andruw Jones, Eric Chavez, Raul Ibanez and Russell Martin). Assuming everyone doesn’t get old at once, the New York Yankees still figure to feature one of the AL’s better lineups come June, albeit one that’s only one or two more bad breaks away from unraveling at the seams. Until then, they’ll have to make do with the likes of Juan Rivera, Vernon Wells, Ben Francisco, Jayson Nix and Eduardo Nunez, none of whom qualify as “Bronx Bombers.”
The starting rotation is marginally better. CC Sabathia is a workhorse and the ace of the staff, but even he isn’t immune to injury. The big guy made two DL trips last summer and could be at risk of breaking down after logging nearly 1,400 innings the last six years combined. Hiroki Kuroda is 38 and logged a career high 235 and two-thirds innings pitched last season (playoffs included). Andy Pettitte will turn 41 and has not pitched a full season since 2009. Phil Hughes has never thrown 200 innings in any season and started more than 29 games just once. Ivan Nova had an ERA north of five last year. Michael Pineda is still working his way back from labrum surgery, and there’s no firm timetable for his return. The bullpen is solid but will miss Rafael Soriano if Mariano Rivera is unable to rebound from the torn ACL that caused him to miss most of last season.
Add it all up and what do you have? A creaky team loaded with question marks trying to contend in what is arguably baseball’s toughest division. For the first time in a long time, the New York Yankees need everything to break right in order to secure a postseason birth. The roster is devoid of upside and fraught with injury-risk, but it will have to do. Because Brian Cashman was forced to pinch every penny this winter, Joe Girardi does not have the depth nor the farm system to tap into should it need reinforcements.
Most pundits are picking the New York Yankees to finish third (or worse) in the AL East, and I agree with them. Best-case scenario: Granderson, Tex, and A-Rod all return strong, the pitching holds up and most of the team eludes Father Time for another year. Worst case? The old guys break down, everything falls apart and the New York Yankees endure their first losing season since 1992.
I guess $208 million doesn’t buy what it used to.