By Jason Keidel
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More than once over the last decade, the media has made it rain with premature postmortems on the Yankees. Age and wage have been the de facto tombstone ever since the bloody sock shook the baseball cosmos.
Yet the Yankees just pound out 95 wins every year and make the playoffs. But then poor pitching, hitting or happenstance knocks them out.
I don’t buy the “anything can happen in a short series” mantra. During the dynastic years, the Yankees had no problem with short or long series against any team because they had the pitching and hitting, which make happenstance. The problem since then is that the Yankees just aren’t a great team anymore.
But, if winter were to really freeze Yankees playoff continuum, this would be the time. Derek Jeter, who was wise beyond his years at 27 and played like a kid at 37, is returning from a broken ankle to play the most demanding position on the diamond (other than catcher).
Alex Rodriguez, swathed in scandal yet again, is a variable at best, and a fraction of his formerly sublime self at worst. Frankly, only the most jaded, jock-sniffing, Kool-Aid guzzling patrons think he will come close to matching his old production this year, next year or any year. In fact, it’s far more likely that he won’t play again than we will see him hit 30 homers and drive in 100 runs in one season. You can practically hear the Yankees speed dialing lawyers, judges, and arbitrators, taking a jeweler’s eye to the collective-bargaining agreement and looking for a legal loophole through which to jettison the shamed, appropriately numbered 13.
Mariano Rivera must be the monolith in the ninth once again, particularly without the golden parachute that Rafael Soriano provided in 2012. Combined with Hal Steinbrenner’s newfound frugality and the Dodgers’ monetary moves that make the San Andreas Fault look like a pothole, you could understand someone seeing some cosmic, karmic handwriting on the limestone walls of the embellished martini bar they now call Yankee Stadium.
Despite their collective lineup slumber last postseason, the Yankees’ success will be pitching dependent. During a guest appearance on my boy’s popular baseball podcast (Paul Sullivan of “Sully Baseball”), we talked about the Bombers’ prospects in 2013. Between CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda, Phil Hughes, Ivan Nova and Andy Pettitte, they certainly have the historical gravitas to stay in the hunt. But it says here that someone who hasn’t thrown one pitch in pinstripes — Michael Pineda — is the wildcard in the wildcard pursuit. After trading the anointed Jesus Montero for Pineda, the Bombers need a return on their risky investment.
Tampa Bay — why does the city of Tampa always name its clubs Tampa Bay? — is easily the best team in the American League East, if not the entire AL. Despite their freckling of fans, dearth of decent bats and a microscopic payroll, the Rays have a conga line of rubber-arm pitchers and just enough hitting to win 95 games this season. And while the Yankees grind out 90 every year, they probably can’t stay astride the younger, faster Rays for six months.
Buck Showalter’s revival was good for the team, the town and all baseball fans with an appreciation for tradition. But the Orioles need to do it again, sans the historic streak of extra-inning wins, to make us believers. Toronto, having poached the Miami Marlins of all their All-Stars and stealing R.A. Dickey from the Mets, are the hot team of hot stove chatter. But it says here that the Blue Jays will fly into a window, like all feathered dream teams. Just ask Vince Young’s Philadelphia Eagles.
There’s too much mileage on the Yankees to predict another World Series run. Losing Soriano, Russell Martin, Andruw Jones, Eric Chavez, Raul Ibanez and Nick Swisher is a mixed bag or a blessing, depending on your view. Soriano leaves a chasm in the bullpen, but Dave Robertson and Joba Chamberlain, if healthy, should take up the slack. Swisher, though he routinely evaporates in October, was a cool clubhouse guy and the squad may miss him more than you think.
On paper, the Yankees have enough big names to bag at least another 90 wins. Speaking of paper, the Yankees are spending much less of it these days. Between Hal’s financial fixation and A-Rod’s latest steroid scandal, which still won’t keep the Bombers from owing almost every dime due to the disgraced slugger, the Yankees are in trouble. Robinson Cano is the only certified star remotely close to his prime. Mark Teixeira is slowing significantly. Jeter will one day play his age. The catcher spot is an open competition between subpar players. Brett Gardner is injury prone. Curtis Granderson is good for 40 homers, but also 200 strikeouts. And Ichiro Suzuki isn’t ichiban anymore — he’s too close to 40 for comfort.
The Yankees are good, not great. And that’s probably not good enough, especially when you gauge how they gouge you at the turnstiles. $5 waters and $10 beers don’t taste too hot when the team gets cold and old.
Where do you predict the Yankees will finish in the AL East? Will they make the playoffs? Sound off with your thoughts and comments below…