No. 11 Yankees: With A-Rod's future in doubt, N.Y. straddles line between contending, expiring

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.

2012 record: 95-67
Finish: First, AL East
2012 final payroll: $223.3 million
Estimated 2013 opening day payroll: $208 million
Yahoo! Sports offseason rank: 11
Hashtags: #reentersandman #jobaheartsyouk #$189m #e-nunez #owcaptainmycaptain #ccselbow #mosknee #arodship #dereksankle #trainersoverload

MLB Springboards: No. 30 Astros | No. 29 Marlins | No. 28 Mets | No. 27 Rockies | No. 26 Twins | No. 25 Pirates | No. 24 Indians | No. 23 Mariners | No. 22 Padres | No. 21 Cubs | No. 20 Brewers | No. 19 Red Sox | No. 18 White Sox | No. 17 Royals | No. 16 Orioles | No. 15 Phillies | No. 14 Diamondbacks | No. 13 Athletics | No. 12 Rangers


One subscribes to the standings, really the final judgment of a baseball season, and the Yankees are 95-game winners and returning much of what made them so. They can appear old and lethargic, they can be challenged by the irritatingly game Baltimore Orioles and then unceremoniously swept by the Detroit Tigers. But still they won 95 games, more than any team in the American League, and that must count for something a few months later.

Or one subscribes to the creeping suspicion the Yankees are approaching their expiration date, gambling that aging players have another season or two in them and praying that brittle players can be duct-taped and re-used. Therefore, that they've rebuilt an old and sedentary team into a similarly old and sedentary team, in some places an identically old and sedentary team, and that it simply can't be expected to win 95 times anymore.

But, it can be slightly less expensive, and therefore can slip under the $189 million luxury-tax threshold by 2014. And, you know, a $189 million roster is fine and actually quite excessive unless you're starting in the $225 million range and haven't seen the underside of $189 million in nearly a decade. Additionally, $189 million becomes a challenge if three players – Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira and CC Sabathia – account for nearly $75 million of that, unless you're thinking of an over-the-line team and not an AL East contender, and that's not even counting what Robinson Cano will fetch. Cano is a free agent after the season, as can be Derek Jeter (he has an $8 million player option for '14), as are Curtis Granderson, Hiroki Kuroda, Andy Pettitte, Mariano Rivera, Phil Hughes, etc.

The Yankees intend to stick to their fiscal plan, Hal Steinbrenner told several news outlets, but, "Only if I'm convinced the team I see we put together is a championship-caliber team." So maybe he'll reconsider when neither a soft free-agent class nor his own farm system will fill up a big-league roster with players Yankees fans will overpay to see.

For the moment, the Yankees seem satisfied to have signed Kevin Youkilis, who will be 34 on opening day, to a one-year, $12 million contract. And to have re-signed Kuroda, Ichiro Suzuki, Pettitte and Rivera. And, with little or no fight, to have let Nick Swisher, Russell Martin, Andruw Jones, Raul Ibanez, Eric Chavez and Rafael Soriano walk.

They still could use a right-handed hitter who could play some outfield – maybe a lot of outfield – and DH. General manager Brian Cashman doesn't seem to be in a rush to fill that role, however.


Even with the regression of the Boston Red Sox, the AL East has become young and hungry and talented around the Yankees. Perhaps folks in Toronto, Baltimore and St. Petersburg smell blood. Perhaps what went around is coming around. On a fraction of what the Yankees pay to play, the Blue Jays have gone into all-in mode, the Rays are forever competitive, and, hey, look, it's the Orioles. Even in Boston, where they put the style points in organizational implosion, Red Sox people get the sense that – with any pitching at all – they could hang with the vulnerable Yankees.

So much of what – and who – the Yankees can be will depend on Sabathia's elbow, Rivera's knee, Jeter's ankle and A-Rod's hip. They've all been subjected to surgery since we last saw the Yankees going to pieces in the ALCS. A-Rod could be out anywhere from five months to forever, depending on the source, and now he's, well, hip-deep in a brand new controversy. It's possible the Yankees don’t want him back, regardless of his health. The rest are expected to be good to go come opening day.

How good, particularly in the cases of Jeter and Rivera, will go a long way toward determining the Yankees' near future.

Beyond Cano, and a rotation that could be more than capable, and the presumed health of most of the superstars, the rest could be a bucket of so-so.

The outfield is Brett Gardner, Curtis Granderson and Ichiro. Each hits left-handed. Gardner is an all-around upgrade – defense, speed, baserunning, etc. – over Ibanez and Jones. Granderson hit 43 home runs, and batted .232, and struck out 195 times. Ichiro hit .322 as a Yankee, but .261 as a Seattle Mariner, and he's 39.

Mark Teixeira, going on 33, has had his OPS fall in each of the past five seasons. After passing on Russell Martin and A.J. Pierzynski, the Yankees will go defense-first at catcher with Chris Stewart and, likely, Francisco Cervelli. The DH options are Eduardo Nunez, Russ Canzler, Matt Diaz and then whichever old guy needs a blow.

It's an interesting mix. Meantime, the Yankees hold out hope the farm system can in short time produce a Manny Banuelos or Dellin Betances, or a Mason Williams. And that Michael Pineda can one day get past his shoulder issues. And that the luxury-tax threshold doesn't bury them.

This is what Joe Girardi gets to manage in 2013. By the way, he doesn't have a contract beyond this season either.


Jeter played most of September with a bone bruise in his left ankle. In Game 1 of the ALCS, the ankle shattered under what appeared to be routine circumstances. Following surgery, he spent much of the winter in a walking boot, and recently resumed baseball activities. He says he will be ready to play April 1, when the Yankees host the Red Sox.

While it has become sport to point out the flaws in Jeter's graying game, his 216 hits (and 683 at-bats) led baseball in 2012. He batted .316. His .362 on-base percentage ranked 18th in the American League.

Presumably, Cano, in a walk year, will have a monster season. Presumably, Teixeira can figure a way around the defensive shifts. Presumably, the Yankees will pitch well enough, if not quite with Tampa Bay or Oakland or Detroit.

The key will be Jeter's effectiveness in the leadoff spot, at shortstop, and in the lineup.


The Yanks, the empire
Their pockets, by George, so deep
Now what, shallow Hal?

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