COMMENTARY | They're old and few experts predict they'll contend, but the New York Yankees have assembled a team of veterans and former All-Stars not yet ready to stop thinking about October.
Ichiro Suzuki and Hideki Kuroda both turned down more money from other teams so they could play for the Yankees. Travis Hafner signed for $2 million - $11 million less than he made in Cleveland last year. Upon being traded to New York, Vernon Wells talked about growing up a Yankees fan. Now, he's talking about getting chills when he's named is called out during the Yankees roll call.
If this team can pull together 90 to 95 wins and make the postseason, the credit will belong to general manager Brian Cashman who has managed to field a competitive team without giving up the organization's prized prospects as he tries to fill holes left by disabled stars Curtis Granderson, Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, and Phil Hughes.
"Right now with what we're going through, it's easy to say, 'Hey, they're down and out.' I understand that. That's the easy thing to do," Cashman told ESPN. "Our job is not to find the easy road. Our job is to say, 'Hey, we might have some guys down, but don't count us out.' Our job is to make sure we find a way … to survive and thrive despite what's occurred. That's what good baseball teams do."
Yes, the Yankees are old, but the team's veterans seem passionate about proving they can win. (Proving they can stay healthy is another story.) Just as motivated are the team's latest pick-ups - Ben Francisco, Brennan Boesch, and Lyle Overbay.
Entering his seventh major league season, the Yankees will be Francisco's sixth team. The 31-year-old hit .240 with four homers in 82 combined games last season with the Toronto Blue Jays, Houston Astros and Tampa Bay Rays. He signed with the Cleveland Indians this offseason but requested his release from the team on March 11. He signed with the Yankees later that day.
Boesch, let go by the Tigers two after finishing fifth in the American League Rookie of the Year voting, is 27 and looking to take advantage of the Yankee Stadium's short right field porch as to way to resurrect his career.
So does Lyle Overbay. Let go by the Boston Red Sox after hitting .220 in spring training, he quickly made his way to the Yankees camp because he wanted to make a quick impression on Joe Giradi's staff. After what Cashman called a "three-day tryout," the 36-year old Overbay was named to the Yankees opening day roster and will play first base until Teixeira returns.
"I couldn't expect anything more," Overbay told the Star-Ledger after texting the news to his wife, Sarah. "This probably tops it all."
Cashman, however, seems to much higher expectations for the group he's brought together.
"We're just going to go forward and fight and find a way. That's what we intend to do. We have a lot of players here that believe in themselves and believe in each other and we know our competition is fierce and tough and hungry. We've made a lot of enemies the last 20 years. People want to take advantage if we're down. Our job is to say we're not down. Our job is to prove we're not down. Our job is to find a way and we expect to do that."
Howard Z. Unger is a freelance journalist in Brooklyn, New York. For the past 15 years, he has written about sports, media, and popular culture. His work has appeared in The Village Voice, New York Post, and New York Times.
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