The 2013 Yankees, fatally flawed? Don’t believe it.
Were it not for the ultra-successful history of the franchise, there would probably be more people writing the 2013 New York Yankees off.
The team suffered through a disastrous offseason into spring, with nearly every significant contributor from a 2012 team that won an American League-high 95 games either getting injured or signing elsewhere.
Of the ten Yankees with the most plate appearances in 2012, nine won't be part of Opening Day. Four of them are injured: Derek Jeter, Mark Teixeira, Curtis Granderson and Alex Rodriguez. Five, uncharacteristically, signed elsewhere: Nick Swisher, Russell Martin, Raul Ibanez, Eric Chavez and Andruw Jones.
But the Yankees still have some unique assets on the roster, from the league's best (by far) second baseman to a pitching staff that appears to be the finest, and deepest, in the American League. And this is the Yankees we're talking about, after all. Between ingenuity and money, they always seem to find a way.
The offense will struggle early, with Cano the only established hitter. He's some hitter, though: Cano posted a 149 O.P.S.+ last season while playing second base. With free agency looming this winter, Cano gets one more season to convince the Yankees, and other teams, that he's worth the $200 million or more he'll be seeking this winter.
That huge positional advantage is missing elsewhere. On Opening Day, the Yankees will play Kevin Youkilis at first base, a league-average hitter in 2012 whose value comes more from his defense across the diamond, Laynce Nix at third base, a utility infielder, and Eduardo Nunez at shortstop, an athletic not-so-young prospect who has yet to find a position he fields particularly well anywhere. Francisco Cervelli will catch; Chris Stewart will back him up.
Neither one has much of a ceiling offensively, though both, particularly Stewart, are fine defenders.
The outfield will probably not be an outstanding one. Brett Gardner is a legitimate starting center fielder, due to his excellent defense and tremendous speed. Even if he doesn't improve upon his 2011, he'll be an asset there. But he missed almost all of 2012 due to injury, so some rust is to be expected.
In left field on Opening Day is Vernon Wells, inexplicably acquired from the Angels, and in right field is Ichiro Suzuki, who the Yankees hope plays like he did during the two weeks last September he carried them, not the nearly two years prior to that.
The pitching staff will make the Yankees competitive, at least, right from the start. They are, after all, sending CC Sabathia out to face the Red Sox on Monday. He'll be followed in the rotation by Hiroki Kuroda, Andy Pettitte, Ivan Nova and David Phelps. Other than Nova, whose second-half struggles soured a strong first half, the lowest E.R.A.+ of the remaining four came from Sabathia, with a still-stellar 124. Phil Hughes started the season on the disabled list, but with nothing significant, and is expected to return shortly, to take over for whichever of Nova or Phelps isn't pitching as well.
Then there's a bullpen anchored by Mariano Rivera, the best closer ever, who has returned at age 43 determined to leave the game on his own terms after mising most of 2012 with a knee injury. The Yankees have plenty to assist Rivera, and even take over if his body fails him, from David Robertson to Joba Chamberlain, lefty specialist Boone Logan, a pair of solid righties in Cody Eppley and newly acquired Shawn Kelley from Seattle, and homegrown long man Adam Warren.
And the offense, which may start of weak, should get a jumpstart later in the season. Derek Jeter, Curtis Granderson, Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez aren't dead. They're just injured, even if none of their injuries are minor.
As of now, the Yankees still talk about getting Jeter back in April, Granderson and Teixeira in May, and Rodriguez as little as possible. But the four combined for 100 home runs last year. It is hard to believe the Yankees will get nothing at all out of them.
With an excellent pitching staff but an offense that is merely adequate, these may not be the dominant Yankees of so many recent years. But it should be plenty to contend in the American League if things go right, which for the Yankees, things tend to do.
Elsewhere in New York sports:
Another day, another Knicks victory over the Celtics.