Baseball is back. Yes, the 2013 MLB season is upon us, and with a clean slate at hand and a goose egg in the loss column, all 30 ball clubs can still dream of playoff glory: even the New York Yankees.
Yes, you read that correctly. For what may be the first time since Derek Jeter’s rookie season, the Yankees are not the heavy, or even moderate, favorite in the American League East heading into the 2013 season.
After a quiet off-season, a huge loss of power production via free agency, and a spring training riddled with more A-Rod controversy and major injuries (i.e. Granderson and Teixeira), there are plenty of reasons for the naysayers and skeptics to attack the Evil Empire with predictions of a dark October at Yankee Stadium.
Well, rest easy Yankees fans.
Here are three reasons why your 2013 New York Yankees will weather the storm and nevertheless do what they always do: make the playoffs.
1. The Pitching:
With the additions of reigning 2012 N.L. Cy Young award winner R.A. Dickey, and fireballer in his prime Josh Johnson, the early favorites, the Toronto Blue Jays, figure to have quite the 1-2 punch atop their rotation. But even with these two stud acquisitions, the Yankees 2013 rotation will still be better.
With their projected 2013 rotation, Blue Jays’ starters averaged a 3.80 team ERA in 2012. But the Yanks hurlers were even stingier, pitching to the tune of an impressive 3.43. And if they can stay healthy (always a big if), I don’t see this staff regressing much in 2013. In fact, there may even be room for improvement.
They are led, as always, by their workhorse C.C. Sabathia. Yes, he did have off-season elbow surgery, but he is apparently fixed and good to go for the season. If healthy, Sabathia should, without a doubt, have a C.C.-like season. Something along the lines of 20 wins and a 3.00 ERA is to be expected.
The journeyman Hiroki Kuroda should be a solid number two behind Sabathia, despite his being 38 years old.
Andy Pettitte, 40 years young, looked vintage last season, both before and after his broken ankle. He might regress a bit, though not much, and should be a reliable No. 3.
After Pettitte, is where the rotation gets a bit sketchy, yet still maintains a huge upside. Phil Hughes, whose injury is hopefully nothing more than a missed start, is in a contract year and due for a breakout season.
Perhaps the most promising thing about this 2013 Yankees rotation is their depth. Between Ivan Nova and David Phelps vying for the final spot in the rotation, the Yankees really have not five, but six, effective big league starters.
So even if one of these guys goes down, and they always do, the Yanks can rest assured because of their great starting depth.
Oh, and it doesn’t hurt to have the greatest closer of all time, Mariano Rivera, closing ball games for you. Rivera may be coming off ACL surgery at age 43, but in his swan song season I expect nothing but classic Mo in 2013.
If pitching really does win championships, the 2013 Yankees should at least get a shot to play for one.
2. Homegrown Talent
Once upon a time, a Yankee cynic would love to point out the fact that, “The Yankees are only good because they buy all their players. They have no homegrown talent.”
Well, times have changed, and the 2013 Yankees’ success will rely heavily upon their homegrown talent. Five, possibly even six, Yankee farm-system products could be in the opening day lineup against the Red Sox on April 1st.
Sure, Derek Jeter, Robinson Cano, and Brett Gardner will shoulder most of the offensive load.
But Francisco Cervelli, Juan Rivera (yes, the same Juan Rivera who came up with the Yanks in 2002), and even possibly spring surprise Melky Mesa, could all bring something to the table to help this seemingly anemic offense produce enough to win ball games.
The homegrown talent does not stop, however, with the position players.
Seven out of the twelve pitchers projected to make the club, came up through the Yanks farm system.
Pettitte, Hughes, Nova, and Phelps will pace the all-important starting staff, while David Robertson and Rivera should be their usual lethal setup man/closer combo.
The real homegrown x-factor this year will be Joba Chamberlain. Chamberlain is coming off Tommy John and ankle surgery, and really failed to impress at the end of last season.
If Chamberlain can somehow return to the dominant form he showed as a rookie in 2007 (1 ER in 24 IP), the Yankee bullpen will surely be solidified and be one of their strongest assets in 2013.
3. Low Expectations
After an offseason where they let 94 home runs walk via free agency and a spring training where they lost another 67 bombs to injury, the Yankees face a major power outage in 2013.
Throw in the 18 homers the corpse of Alex Rodriguez hit, and the Yankees need to replace 179 of the league leading 245 home runs they hit last year.
The only problem is, the Yankees can’t even come close to replacing this kind of power production.
In fact, they didn’t even try to.
With Hal Steinbrenner’s mandate to somehow trim down the payroll to $189 million by 2014, the Yankees didn’t have the economic firepower to reload via free agency like they normally do.
With all this adversity, the Yankees (understandably) come into 2013 as a trendy pick by the experts to miss the playoffs. Heck, even Vegas has the over/under on the Yanks season at 86.5 wins.
The last time the Yankees made the playoffs with 87 wins? 2000. I do believe they also won a world championship that season, but let’s not get carried away.
The point being, these 2013 Yankees don’t have to play with the usual weight of being the heavy favorites. This “Nobody Believes in Us” factor should not be taken lightly. These low expectations are just fuel to the Yanks fire.
Yes, the 2013 New York Yankees have something to prove. But come October in the Bronx, expect the lights to be on.