By Sweeny Murti
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Here are my Sweet 16 thoughts with Opening Day just one week away.
1) The Yankees are about to start the 2013 season with about $100 million in salary NOT contributing to the team.
Alex Rodriguez ($28 million), Mark Teixeira ($22.5 million) and Curtis Granderson ($15 million) will all definitely start the season on the disabled list. Add Derek Jeter ($17 million) and Phil Hughes ($7.15 million) as likely DL players, although both could be back as soon as Final Four weekend. Throw in Clay Rapada (less than $1 million), out maybe for the first two weeks, for accounting purposes. And add the $8 million that A.J. Burnett gets paid by the Yankees to pitch for Pittsburgh this year and the $1.5 million buyout of Rafael Soriano’s option that counts towards this year’s payroll number. It adds up to $100 million, or more than two-thirds of what MLB teams actually spent on payroll in 2012.
2) But when you spend more than $200 million, you buy the advantage of still being able to field a team that includes CC Sabathia ($23 million), Robinson Cano ($15 million), Hiroki Kuroda ($15 million), Andy Pettitte ($12 million), Kevin Youkilis ($12 million), Mariano Rivera ($10 million) and Ichiro Suzuki ($6.5 million). Not all are still in All-Star form, but not many teams are capable of filling holes this way.
3) The group that is still here is what, for me, separates this Yankees team from what most Yankees fans fear is coming — an under-.500 disaster. The last time that a Yankees team finished under .500 was in 1992 (76-86), and the best starter on that team was Melido Perez. The only Yankees All-Star in 1992 was Roberto Kelly. (Strangely there were 14 All-Stars that would play for the Yankees in the future). The 2013 Yankees are not the 1992 Yankees. Far from it, in fact. This team will have a tough year ahead. But they are holding better cards than they did in 1992.
4) Sabathia, Kuroda, and Pettitte are healthy. This is a HUGE part of what the Yankees needed this spring, regardless of any other injuries. Yes, there are questions regarding the durability of all three this year, but starting the season with all three healthy gives the Yankees a big edge.
5) Rivera is healthy. Enough said.
6) The rest of the Yankees’ bullpen needs to carry a bigger load this year. The Yankees will score fewer runs, which means closer games and bigger workloads for the top relievers. It’s a big year for David Robertson, who could see some save opportunities on nights when Rivera is unavailable, in effect auditioning for the closer’s job in 2014.
7) Cano will have a great year. He is in his prime, and in his free-agent year I would expect nothing less than his best. Howie Rose once said it about Darryl Strawberry, and I will say it this year about Cano: Pay the man.
8) In the wake of this past offseason, I’ve heard from many fans who want the Steinbrenners to sell the team. They somehow feel as if a new owner will undoubtedly be a man who will run the payroll up to $300 million if that’s what it takes. It’s not happening.
Whoever owns the Yankees has a budget, whether you like it or not. The one thing that Hal & Hank have going for them is a lifetime under George Steinbrenner’s reign. They still know what the Yankees mean, even if you don’t believe so. And remember — even without a salary cap, baseball has been inventing ways to minimize the Yankees’ spending advantage for over a decade now. Even George would have had a hard time dealing with that.
9) And let’s remember that getting under $189 million in 2014 is a one-year goal. The Yankees are prepared to blow it out again once they reset their luxury tax percentage from 50 percent down to 17.5 percent.
10) Youkilis has had a decent spring. I’m not sure what I expect from him in terms of numbers. Games played is probably the most important one, because if he stays on the field he should be able to produce. He could be the most important hitter in the lineup actually, because I’m guessing he’s in the cleanup spot behind Cano until Teixeira gets back.
11) Suzuki has been fun to be around and he showed a glimpse of what he’s still capable of in September last year. Does he have a full season of that left in him? The Yankees sure hope so.
12) Teixeira’s wrist injury is so crucial to the Yankees’ season. Sometime next week they should check the progress to see if the rest has helped heal the wrist so he can begin the next stage of his rehab. Every step after that is a big one. Not only does Teixeira slide into the cleanup spot for a lineup that needs the extra pop, but his presence as a switch-hitter is essential, especially against left-handed pitching.
The Yankees have had multiple switch-hitters in their lineup for years (Bernie Williams and Jorge Posada during the Joe Torre dynasty, and more recently Teixeira and Nick Swisher). Without those double-sided power threats sprinkled in the lineup like managerial landmines, the Yankees are vulnerable against left-handed pitching, and it could be a lot easier to pitch to this Yankees team than in years past.
13) If we can get over the fact that Jeter won’t be at shortstop on Opening Day, then allow yourself to realize that even if it takes a week or two beyond that, it’s OK. Jeter is just over five months removed from a major injury and surgery. Should we be surprised that there was a setback that caused a 38 year old’s timetable to be altered ever so slightly? Even if it takes an extra week — or God forbid two weeks — to get Jeter right, it’s a lot better than what’s going on with a certain third baseman.
14) Keep a close eye on these five outfielders: Mason Williams, Slade Heathcott, Ramon Flores, Tyler Austin and Zoilo Almonte. By the end of the year, some in this group will be in Triple-A and perhaps knocking on the door to the majors. This should give the Yankees some legitimate options for their big league outfield in 2014, or — as is always the case — trade bait for established players.
15) Signing Chien-Ming Wang is a nice story and all, but the odds of a healthy Wang making a significant contribution to the Yankees this year are pretty low, I would say. He’s getting only a minor league contract to go to Triple-A and, if he’s effective there, he’ll stand as injury insurance. Remember — the Wang you remember is from 2005-2008. It’s been a long time since then.
16) Let’s remember how long a baseball season is. When 2012 began, the Marlins and the Angels were supposed to be in the playoffs and the A’s and the Orioles weren’t supposed to be anywhere near them. There have been three years since 2001 that I was certain during the season that the Yankees would not make the playoffs — 2005, 2007 and 2008. I was only right once. We still haven’t played Game 1 of 162. Let’s try to enjoy the ride.
Follow Sweeny Murti on Twitter @YankeesWFAN.
Which Yankees storylines intrigue you the most with Opening Day just a week away? Let us know in the comments section below…