Forget about having Old Timer's Day once a season. With the 2013 New York Yankees, Old Timer's Day is every day. You might as well fill out the lineup card in Monument Park.
Many of the Bombers on this year's roster are players you know by heart, established brand names at the end of their careers. Rehabbing legends Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera are 38 and 43, respectively. Andy Pettitte is 40. Alex Rodriguez is 37. Hiroki Kuroda turns 38 in two weeks. Ichiro Suzuki is 39.
Heck, there isn't a primary infielder on the good side of 30. Mark Teixeira turns 33 in April, staring at a career crossroads. New acquisition Kevin Youkilis turns 34 in March (and runs like he's 54). Even Robinson Cano, the most bankable stud on the roster, is 30.
General Manager Brian Cashman realizes his team is in a transitional phase, and for once the Yankees didn't throw mad money at the problem. It's going to take a while for New York to cycle through all these aging stars and backloaded contracts. No one expects the 2013 Yankees to be a bad club, mind you, but you can make a case for New York being just another team in the AL East this year. Toronto's made a big winter move, of course; Baltimore is coming off a playoff appearance; Tampa Bay remains one of the deeper and smarter clubs around; and Boston probably can't be as bad as it was in 2012.
Heck, this could be just the second Yankees team in the Jeter Era to miss the playoffs entirely. It's in play. We're on uncomfortable ground here. Let's try to sort it all out, PQ style . . .
Q: Enough with the negativity, captain. Tell us something good. Isn't the guy at second base a pretty fair ballplayer?
A: I don't think we'll need a hard sell on Robinson Cano, one of the safest picks in the entire 2013 roto pool. He's played 159 games or more in six straight seasons (remarkable given the demands and attrition of second base), and he's hit over .302 with power in four straight years. Cano's production surprisingly dipped against left-handers last year (.239/.309/.337), but he made up for it by clocking the righties (1.108 OPS). Cano doesn't do much on the bases, but otherwise there isn't a negative word to offer on him.
How high will Cano be drafted in 2013? As high as you want to, gamer. I'll probably have Cano third or fourth on my overall cheat sheet to begin the year (with Braun, Cabrera and Trout also in the conversation), but you could legitimately take Cano with the No. 1 pick and not cause a ruckus. Second base is an absolute fantasy wasteland (on paper, anyway) entering the fresh season, and Cano is a rare player that offers a combination of upside and floor, monster numbers mixed with durability. Four-category overlords don't last long at the table. When it's all hashed out, I'm suspecting Cano will settle in as the consensus No. 4 roto selection this year, for whatever that means to you.
If you're aggressively looking for reasons to knock Cano (and that could be a fool's errand), you might want to look at his supporting cast. For a solid decade the Yankees offense has been as reliable as you can get – New York has been first or second in runs scored in eight of the last nine years, a ridiculous stretch of dominance. But with so many key offensive players entering the final phase of their careers, it seems like wishcasting to expect the Yankees to score at the relative clip we're used to. As Thom Yorke taught us many moons ago, gravity always wins. Nonetheless, I'll be stunned if Cano has anything less than the terrific season we're accustomed to.
Q: Okay, back to the old guys. What's the latest on the Big and Broken Three: Jeter, Rivera and Rodriguez?
A: With respect to Jeter and Rivera, it's mostly a case of "no news is good news." Jeter's rehab from his broken ankle is on schedule (he worked out on a baseball field Monday, as a matter of fact), as is Rivera's comeback from a torn ACL. Both are considered on schedule to play opening day; sure, that's what teams always seem to tell us, but there's no reason to doubt the news cycle. Both players have a shot to be Top 10 draft commodities at their respective positions in March, assuming a smooth push to spring training.
The issue is cloudier with A-Rod, as it always seems to be. He's coming off a January hip surgery (it's shocking the Yankees waited so long to have the procedure done) and different timetables have been fluctuating in the media. Cashman recently dropped a comment about Rodriguez perhaps missing the entire season, while team president Randy Levine feels A-Rod can return in July.
As you formulate your Rodriguez bidding strategy, keep in mind he's been an ordinary player for the last two years. His .272/.354/.430 slash in 2012 was his worst showing since his abbreviated 1995 trial with the Mariners. Pitchers are no longer afraid to challenge Rodriguez: his walk rate ducked under 10 percent last year, while his strikeout rate spiked to 21.9 percent. He's also having problems elevating the ball, showing a two-year freefall in fly-ball rate. Bluntly put, I'm not interested in Rodriguez for 2013 unless the price is a downright giveaway. You should be able to make better use of your IR spots.
Q: But why quibble over A-Rod's rehab at all? Kevin Youkilis is here.
A: Ah yes, the Greek God of Hobble. He should be able to do a fair approximation of A-Rod's game, a lesser star on the downside of a career. Youk's last two slash lines have lacked any real bite (.258/.373/.459 in 2011, .235/.336/.409 last season) and he's been a physical mess in recent years. Check the games played column over the last four campaigns: 122, 120, 102, 136. And now ask yourself what's likely to frustrate the Yankees more – Youkilis when he's hurt, or Youkilis when he's healthy? You need to do better in your mixed league, a lot better.
Q. There you go getting negative again. When does this propaganda end?
A. Hey, I call them as I see them. I've got no bone to pick with the Yankees, yesterday and today. I'll roster anyone who can get me the stats I want and need. Like you, I'm just in it for the numbers.
Some of the team's older stars held up nicely in 2012, notably Hiroki Kuroda and Ichiro Suzuki. It was probably wise of the Yankees to retain both players going forward (Kuroda on a one-year deal, Ichiro with a two-year contract).
Kuroda's debut in The Bronx was an underrated hit (16 wins, 3.32 ERA, 167 strikeouts), sparked by a welcome spike in his ground-ball clip (52.3 percent). His peripheral-suggested ERAs were higher than the out-the-door number, but the disparity wasn't alarming (3.86 FIP, 3.66 SIERA). Bill James projects Kuroda for a solid line: 13 wins, 3.57 ERA, 212 innings, 152 strikeouts. Those are useful numbers in most formats.
Ichiro's game perked up immediately following his late July trade from Seattle: he ended the year on a .322 wave with five homers and 14 steals over 67 games. If you grade all the 5x5 outfielders over that span, Ichiro checks in as a Top 25 option. His small sample in Yankee Stadium was a smash (.894 OPS). You don't have to use these numbers for your 2013 draft strategy; you can probably grab Suzuki in a lot of leagues while your opponents are ignoring him, focused on the shiny new toys of the position. There's a nice profit awaiting you. Given the remarkable way Suzuki has preserved his body, this is one older player you don't have to worry much about.
Q: Where have you gone, Jorge Posada?
Yep, that catching situation looks ugly, at least for roto owners who primarily care about offense. The Yanks let Russell Martin walk at the end of the year, and they're prepared to open training camp with the underwhelming trio of Chris Stewart, Francisco Cervelli and Austin Romine. The club also added Bobby Wilson on a minor-league deal, the classic "good glove, no hit" backstop.
The Yankees also don't have an obvious fit for the DH slot, though they could turn that position into a floating partial holiday for their 30-something collection. Maybe old habits die hard, but I can't help but think Cashman will eventually bring in one more thumper to add to the mix, be it through free agency or a trade. I suppose it's possible Youkilis and Rodriguez could shuttle in and out of the DH area if they're both healthy at the same time, but that's a lottery I'm not going to play.
Yankee Doodles: Hard-throwing righty David Robertson figures to be the No. 2 reliever in the bullpen again, and the fallback closer if Rivera hits any recovery snags. Although Robertson didn't secure the ninth inning in Mo's absence last year – Rafael Soriano wound up being the man there – we can't come down too hard on a season that featured a 2.67 ERA, 1.17 WHIP and 81 strikeouts over 60.2 innings. Robertson also trimmed his walk rate nicely. … It's been a slow, deliberate comeback road for Michael Pineda, trying to return from a torn labrum. He might be able to contribute in the second half of the year, but I'm not pinning my mixed-league title hopes on a young pitcher coming off a major injury, especially given the shape of the AL East. A shame the Yanks can't hit reset on this deal and get Jesus Montero back. … A handful of nagging injuries and a persistent ground-ball spike torpedoed Mark Teixeira in 2012, the worst returns of his career. And we can't pin Teixeira's BABIP woes entirely on bad luck, as opponents are getting rewarded for their persistent shifting efforts. I don't see any problem basing your Teixeira bid on last year's production level, which would probably allow for some profit potential. Just keep in mind he's been a batting-average drag for three straight years; .250 is the new baseline. … Curtis Granderson is another name player with a shrinking category offering: after a .232 average and 10 steals last year, it's time to accept that he's probably a three-column guy now. And his gains against lefties from 2011 didn't hold last year, though he still maintained power against everyone. If you can take the batting-average leak, go ahead and pay up for 35 homers, 100 runs and 100 RBIs. But don't make any hard assumptions with the stolen base count. … Are you really going to talk yourself into Phil Hughes again? I'll let you have that audition all to yourself in the comments. Make us proud. Show us the way. Spin on, spinner.