Yankees reshaped empire with Pineda, Kuroda

Editor’s note: Yahoo! Sports will examine the offseason of every MLB team before spring training begins in mid-February. Our series continues with the New York Yankees.

2011 record: 97-65
Finish: First, AL East
2011 final payroll: $207 million
Estimated 2012 opening day payroll: $209.8 million
Yahoo! Sports’ offseason rank: 1st
Hashtags: #pinedamania, #jeterturns38, #joewears28, #again, #firstjorge, #thenmo?, #cano4mvp, #byebyeaj

Offseason action

Derek Jeter, who turns 38 in June, practices before the official start of spring training in Tampa, Fla.

For all the predictions of disaster for the Yankees and their starting rotation of CC and the Pips (or, if you prefer, the Coral Reefers), they weren’t half bad in 2011.

Yankees starters had an ERA of 4.03, their best in eight years. Ivan Nova broke through for 16 wins. Freddy Garcia and Bartolo Colon reached back in time and combined for 20. Then they somehow managed to lose the division series despite outpitching and outhitting the Detroit Tigers over five games.

Hell, A.J. Burnett won a game and the Yankees couldn’t find two more anywhere.

Anyway, the Yankees, in spite of some very fortunate results over one regular season, couldn’t bring themselves to hope for the same over another. Because wandering into another six-month AL East buzz saw riding Phil Hughes, Burnett and Garcia, or hurrying Manny Banuelos or Dellin Betances, or leaning too hard on Hector Noesi, would have tempted wild-card status.

So, in an otherwise quiet offseason that saw the biggest free agents (Albert Pujols, Prince Fielder, Yu Darvish, etc.) go unnoticed by the Yankees, they did have one very good day.

It was Jan. 23, give or take a few hours.

General manager Brian Cashman traded catcher/DH/prospect Jesus Montero to the Seattle Mariners for 23-year-old right-handed starter Michael Pineda, the 6-foot-7 Dominican who gave up 133 hits in 171 innings and carried a 1.099 WHIP in 2011, his rookie season. Noesi also went to the Mariners, who packaged 19-year-old right-hander Jose Campos (2.32 ERA in Class-A) with Pineda.

The Yankees’ rotation was better.

Then Cashman signed Hiroki Kuroda, the underrated strike-thrower whose four years with the Los Angeles Dodgers were notable for sub-4.00 ERAs and generally wispy run support.

For another $10 million, the Yankees’ rotation was better still.

[ Fantasy: Four Pressing Questions for the New York Yankees ]

And while the re-signing of Garcia and Andruw Jones, the signings to flyer-type deals of Russell Branyan, Bill Hall, Manny Delcarmen and Hideki Okajima were fine, the Yankees – who likely have traded Burnett by the time you read this – weren’t going to get any better without someone reliable to start Game 3 and possibly Game 4.

They appear at least to have covered that.

Reality check

Mark Teixeira

If Derek Jeter is being called “ageless” in the tabloid headlines, it must be spring. Everyone is ageless in spring.

With the retirement of Jorge Posada, the so-called “Core Four” is down to the Bronx Zoo Two. One of those – Mariano Rivera – is not under contract beyond this season. Actually, his is the case where “ageless” actually fits.

The Yankees aren’t quite done with their offseason – the Burnett trade needs a bow, and a left-handed bat (Raul Ibanez or Eric Chavez, perhaps) could be coming – but their pitching additions, their offensive potential and their wealth of talent makes them the team to beat in 2012.

Heck, that No. 28 jersey on Joe Girardi is starting to look a little ratty anyway.

One could reasonably expect a bounce-back season from Alex Rodriguez, if for no other reason than he appears healthy again. Mark Teixeira, a career .271 hitter against right-handed pitchers, dived to .223 in ’11. That should recover as well, as Teixeira has promised to alter his approach against defensive shifts (even suggesting he may bunt).

Even if Curtis Granderson regresses to something like his career averages, and the years and mileage tug at Jeter, the Yankees are too capable and too deep to be caught in the AL East, and now could have the pitching to do something about it in October.

[ Big League Stew: A.J. Burnett’s stay with the Yankees wasn’t boring ]

Of course, bad things can happen to good teams. The Tampa Bay Rays could happen. And the Boston Red Sox, assuming they’re not scarred by September, could happen.

The grind of the season happens.

But, for the moment, it’s good to be ageless.


Alex Rodriguez

In year four of a 10-year contract, Alex Rodriguez already has a season to come back from.

Rodriguez, who turned 36 mid-season, suffered knee and thumb injuries, played 99 games, batted .191 after coming off the disabled list in late August, and .111 in five division series games against the Tigers.

So A-Rod’s world turns again.

Spawned by injuries or circumstance, that’s four consecutive seasons in which his OPS has fallen, along with four consecutive seasons in which he’s failed to play as many as 139 games.

The offense is no longer Rodriguez’s, at least until he proves otherwise. That belongs to Robinson Cano, to Curtis Granderson, to Mark Teixeira. Once in a while, to Jeter.

The Yankees are deep enough that they probably won’t need any single savior. They’ll pitch again, so maybe they won’t need all that offense. But, then, it sure would be nice if A-Rod were A-Rod again, at least for a few more years.

Yankees in Haiku

Mark’s got a new plan
And righties cry in concert
“Bunt, Teixeira, bunt!”

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Tim Brown is a national baseball writer for Yahoo! Sports. He co-authored with Jim Abbott the memoir “Imperfect: an Improbable Life”.   Follow him on Twitter.   Send Tim a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Friday, Feb 17, 2012