By Joe Giglio
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Pitchers and catchers reporting to Florida and Arizona, respectively, usually represents a time of hope and optimism for baseball fans. For Yankees fans, it’s customary to look ahead to October while the majority of the sport pieces together a 25-man roster for April. Since 1992, the Yankees haven’t experienced a losing season — or anything close to it. In the midst of an astonishing run of 17 postseason appearances in 18 years, the franchise has won at least 54 percent of their games in each of those years. Even in the one year without October baseball, 2008, the team won 89 games. For anyone else, that qualifies as a good year.
According to the oddsmakers in Vegas, virtually every baseball expert and a suddenly nervous fan base, matching the 89 wins of ‘08 would be a nice season for the current roster assembled. Despite the uniform and name, the Yankees have become different over the last few years. No longer is the Bronx home to a superpower. Looking around the sport, it’s fair to call this franchise ordinary heading into 2013.
No roster led by CC Sabathia, Robinson Cano and Mariano Rivera is bad. That’s hyperbole and overreaction. But to call the Yankees slightly above average isn’t a stretch. In fact, it’s where most project them to be. At 14-to-1, New York holds the eighth-best shot at winning a World Series. With an over/under mark set in the mid-80s, they are projected to be in the mix for a postseason spot.
No longer does the American League East go through New York. Toronto acquired enough star power to field an All-Star team. Tampa has become the class of player development, and it wins at the big league level. Buck Showalter changed the culture in Baltimore. Boston upgraded from surly, underachieving veterans to a new core of semi-stars that they hope will mesh. Baseball’s most competitive division lacks a favorite.
Some of this is the age and attrition of the roster. The stars that carried New York from the mid-90s through present day are on their last legs, coming off injury and unable to shoulder the load. The pitching staff — while the strength of the team — is in need of a youth movement. The two marquee players — Cano and Curtis Granderson — are both set for free agency after the ‘13 campaign.
Some of this is due to ownership demands. While no fan should feel sympathy for Brian Cashman’s task of staying under a $189 million payroll, it’s impossible not to notice how the roster has been impacted. Russell Martin was sacrificed. Nick Swisher, under the guise of poor postseason performances and too many smiles, was allowed to leave despite his stellar production. Reinforcements were not brought in. In another town, with a fan base more receptive to change, this would be called a “rebuilding” phase. Sure, one-year contracts were given out, but that has only kept the status quo; it hasn’t improved the club.
Some of this is the willingness of other owners to spend, mid and small-market teams keeping their stars off the free-agent market, bright, gifted front-offices and cable television deals providing revenue to almost everyone. In a sense, the success of the YES Network — which fed the beat a decade ago — has caught up with the Yankees. Everyone is making money off of television now.
As baseball enters 2013, the stories of gloom and doom in Tampa are overblown. Joe Girardi’s team can, and likely will, make a run at serious October baseball again. There’s enough talent in the room to get the job done — just as there is in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Texas, Washington, Detroit and about 10-12 other legitimate contenders. According to the Vegas over/under odds, 17 teams are projected to win between 76.5 and 86.5 games. Only three come in below 70. Only three come in above 90. As you can imagine, the Yankees fall in that middle ground.
Times have changed for this franchise. Old, slow and overrated are strong adjectives that can be debunked with another 90-win season. Ordinary is one that fits. The Yankees are a good baseball team, just not a special one. For a fan base used to sitting atop a perch and starting down at the competition, it will likely take some getting used to over the next few years.
Have the Yankees just become “ordinary,” or are experts and fans overreacting? Sound off with your thoughts and comments below…