MLB New York Yankees

Top 5 ‘MUSTS’ for the New York Yankees to get to the Post-Season

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Top 5 ‘MUSTS’ the New York Yankees need to get into the post-season

Yankee Stadium
The Star-Ledger - USA TODAY Sports

Since it looks like Hal Steinbrenner has told Brian Cashman the bank is closed, the New York Yankees and their fans have a pretty good idea who will be on the 2013 roster. The way the Yankees have been conducting business has made this off-season very frustrating and trying to figure out if the Bronx Bank is really closed is a question only Steinbrenner knows the answer to. Instead of focusing on the negative, it’s time to think about the positives. In less than a month, the players, along with Manager Joe Girardi will have to mold into a team. The 2013 season will be, at the very least, an interesting one for the Yankees and their fans.

Will the Yankees stars be able to stay healthy enough to make it through the regular season? Are the players signed in the off-season good enough to make the Yankees competitive? Is the pitching staff, as a whole, good enough to compete in a much stronger AL East? All those questions are scary, but the answers will be the difference between a playoff team and a team on their way to the cellar.

There may only be one absolute for the Yankees heading into the season; they have more questions than answers. Any team that gets into the playoffs, either by winning their division, or the Wild Card, needs to have a few balls bounce their way, splashed with a little luck and good play from their top players. The Yankees will need a little extra to make it to the playoffs again in 2013.

Looking at the Yankees right now, to think they can compete for the AL East crown may be a stretch, so focusing on what they need to do to be one of the Wild Card teams is far more realistic. The Yankees need a lot of pieces to fall into place to have a chance at even getting one of those Wild Card spots.

Here are five ‘MUSTS’ the Yankees need to get into the post-season:

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5 - Brett Gardner MUST have his best season in the majors

Brett Gardner Must have his best season in the majors
Rick Osentoski - USA TODAY Sports

Brett Gardner, who avoided an arbitration battle with the Yankees, signed a one-year, $2.85 million deal to come back and play in the Yankees outfield in 2013. He is coming off an elbow injury that limited him to 16 games in 2012. He has to come back and be a force in the lineup.

What the Yankees need most from Gardner is his young legs; they can turn an out into an infield single. Gardner is one of the biggest threats in MLB when he gets on base and he needs to build off the 49 SB he had in 2011. Gardner is also one of the younger starters on the Yankees, but he has been in the trenches with this team before, so it is time for him to step up and be a leader.

If in fact Gardner leads off, which he should, he needs to continue to get on base, his strike outs did go down and his walks went up in 2011, which are stats that need to be even better in 2013. With some more time to work on his swing and being a more experienced hitter, he needs to turn his experience into results for the 2013 Yankees.

He will also play a major role for the team in the outfield. The best spot for the speedster is center field, but right now he may play center and left field.

The biggest problem facing the Yankees is the teams’ age and the injuries that usually come with an older team; Gardner, who is only 29, needs to stay healthy because the Yankees can use his speed to play small ball and not just use the long-ball to score runs. Gardner is the key for this to work; he needs to continue to be a patient hitter, so the Yankees can utilize his speed. Gardner can turn a single into a double, getting himself into scoring position; even with a walk, he has a good chance of getting into scoring position by stealing bases. This will help a team that has only one other fast, contact hitter in the starting lineup.

Gardner has the ability to be everything the Yankees need; now he needs to produce and be the player the Yankees know he can be. When Gardner gets on, he is an inning changer and the Yankees need that change of pace to be successful in 2013.

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4 - The young players MUST step up

The young players MUST step up
Brad Barr - USA TODAY Sports

As much as Hal Steinbrenner believes he is doing all he can to field a “championship caliber team”, if the young players do not step up, the lack of experience and depth will crush the Yankees. One of the young guys that needs to play a significant role in 2013 is 24-year-old Michael Pineda. Pineda is one of the major reasons the Yankees have the big question mark behind the plate. Last season, the Seattle Mariners traded him to the Yankees for top catching prospect Jesus Montero, which puts extra pressure on Pineda to be a big part of the pitching staff upon returning to the team in July.

In 2012, Pineda didn’t show much because he hurt his shoulder early in spring training and didn’t play a regular season game, so it is hard to say what the Yankees expect from him in 2013. Having traded away such a bright star for Pineda and not getting him on the field for a season and half, makes it more important for him to step in immediately and produce.

Austin Romine needs to take advantage of the opportunity the Yankees gave him this off-season by not signing a veteran catcher for the 2013 season. Romine was out for most of 2012 with a back injury, but with the Yankees having only two career backups standing in his way, it’s his time to be the man behind the plate.

Will he step up and take the chance that the Yankees are giving him? Will he be able to stay healthy and be the player the Yankees organization thinks he can be? No one knows what to expect from this youngster, but at least in 2013 he will be platooning with the two other catchers, which gives him time to develop into the Yankees catcher of the future. In 2013 though, the Yankees need him to go into Spring Training and out-perform the other two guys and be the catcher for the present.

Eduardo Nunez has some defensive shortcomings, so for the Yankees to have any depth in the infield, he needs to progress into a solid utility player in 2013. Last season, the Yankees had enough with his miscues and sent Nunez to the minors, before bringing him back up for the playoffs. Nunez showed late in the season, and in the playoffs, that he can be a very good hitter, but his defense needs to improve.

With the Yankees age in the infield, Nunez will be asked to play multiple positions. It is understandable that he has had a hard time with his defense, as he has been moved around so much in his short time with the Yankees, but that can’t be an excuse for him this year. Nunez will be leaned on more than ever in 2013, since Eric Chavez is now with the Arizona Diamondbacks. Nunez can hit and produce at the plate, but if he does continue to falter in the field, the Yankees will be in trouble. Nunez will need to make an impact early, at the plate, but especially in the field, to give himself and Girardi the confidence he can be the first guy off the bench.

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3 - Joba Chamberlain MUST play a major role in the bullpen

Tim Fuller - USA TODAY Sports

Joba Chamberlain didn’t have a good start, or finish in 2012; he had some bad luck that led to injuries and when he did come back, he was not the same pitcher.

On March 22, 2012, Chamberlain severely injured his right leg, suffering an open dislocation of his ankle, while bouncing on a trampoline at a Tampa jump center. Initial reports indicated that he had lost so much blood that onlookers at the scene feared he might bleed to death. However, Chamberlain later said in a press conference that it wasn’t as bad as many had stated.

Chamberlain began the 2012 season on the 60-day disabled list because of the ankle injury, in addition to recovering from Tommy John surgery. Chamberlain returned on August 1, 2012 and pitched well enough to make the playoff roster. In the playoffs his bad luck struck again, as he was hit in the elbow in the top of the 12th inning of Game 4 of the 2012 ALDS and was forced to leave the game.

Chamberlain has shown he has the skills to be a very good pitcher, but the Yankees have not handled him well. Chamberlain has been moved all around, from the bullpen to starter and back again, the lack of consistency seems to cause Chamberlain a lot of problems on the mound.

Chamberlain needs a set role in 2013 to have success. He is very capable of being the go to guy in the seventh inning, but the Yankees must decide where and how they are going to use him. The Yankees do have their Hall of Fame closer Mariano Rivera back to close out games, but the need for solid set-up men could be the difference in the Yankees being a playoff team or a cellar dweller.

Even if Chamberlain isn’t the seventh inning guy, he could also be used as a very solid “innings eater” if any of the starters have a short outing. After CC Sabathia, the pitching staff is full of questions, so it is hard to say if anyone else will go deep into games consistently, making Chamberlain that much more important.

Whatever was wrong with Chamberlain’s mindset last season, which could be many things, he will need to get it fixed and as fast as possible. His success seems to be more mental than anything else, so knowing his role could not only benefit his pitching, but also the Yankees’ season.

No matter where Chamberlain pitches, he has to handle it well and be successful, because the Yankees bullpen will get called upon more than ever in 2013.

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2 - The starting pitching MUST be a strength

The starting pitching MUST be a strength
Brad Penner - USA TODAY Sports

CC Sabathia is the Yankees ace, but he has to have a better year than he did last season when he had trouble with injuries and pitched very inconsistent. Even though he was 15-6 with a 3.38 ERA with two shutouts, his ERA was his highest since 2005; he also pitched in the fewest games of his career in 2012, as well as having his lowest innings pitched since 2006. Sabathia needs to again be the horse like he was in 2010, when he went 21-7 with a 3.18ERA, pitching 237.2 innings.

The Yankees need the 2010 Sabathia more than ever in 2013, because he is the only pitcher on the anticipated starting staff with the ability to go deep into games. The Yankees bullpen will be called upon a lot and Sabathia has to be the guy that gives them the break they will need.

Hiroki Kuroda is coming back to the Yankees for another year, after signing a one-year deal in the off-season. Kuroda was 16-11 his first year with the Yankees; he pitched better than his record shows and stopped a lot of Yankee losing streaks. Kuroda had a few tough luck losses in 2012, when he didn’t receive much run support. The Yankees really need Kuroda's one-year contract to pay off because the top of the pitching staff has to be strong, since the backend of the rotation could be a big weakness.

Sabathia and Kuroda staying healthy is an absolute must, or the Yankees will be scrambling to find starters. Andy Pettitte is going to play one more season for the Yankees and that is a positive, but he will have to stay healthy. Pettitte may not be the pitcher he was a decade ago, but he still has the tools and the intelligence to be a productive starter; he must stay healthy for an entire season for this comeback to work out.

After Pettitte, there are no absolutes, but it is looking like, to start the season, the last two starters in the rotation will be Phil Hughes and Ivan Nova. Each pitcher is as unpredictable as they come and the Yankees do not know what they are going to get from inning to inning, let alone from start to start.

In 2010, Hughes won 18 games and looked like he was on his way to being the Yankees next ace. Since then, Hughes was hurt in 2011; in 2012 he was crushed, giving up 35 HR. He is naturally a fly ball pitcher, but in the past two years, a lot of those fly balls have landed in the upper deck. Last year, just as he was on the brink of losing his spot in the rotation, he would pitch a good game, but those good games were few and far between.

The same thing could be said about Nova. When he came up in 2011 and went 16-4 with a 3.70 ERA, he looked like the next young gun for the Yankees. Then in 2012, he was 12-8 with a 5.02 ERA. His stats in 2012 look bad, but if not for the most run support of any Yankee pitcher, they would have been much worse.

The Yankees need both Hughes and Nova to be the pitchers they have shown they can be, but they also have two other pitchers that have legitimate chances to get in the rotation if either Nova or Hughes falter; those two pitchers are Michael Pineda and David Phelps.

The Yankees traded for Pineda to be a starter, so unless he has problems rehabbing his shoulder, he will be in the rotation, which spot he will take will depend on injuries or who is pitching better between Nova and Hughes.

Phelps is the wild card. He showed last season he could be a long relief guy, coming in when Nova and Hughes were getting smacked around; he was called upon to be a starter when one of the Yankee starters would go down with an injury. Phelps could also fall into the young guys who need to step up category, because he has a shot to step into the rotation, be a long relief pitcher or even be the eighth inning guy.

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1 - The Yankees MUST stay healthy

The Yankees MUST stay healthy
Tim Fuller - USA TODAY Sports

What will ultimately decide the fate of 2013 Yankees is obvious, but may be the hardest to achieve, when the most important players on the team are in the twilight of their careers. Not only are players like Derek Jeter, Mark Teixeira, Andy Pettitte, Alex Rodriguez and Mariano Rivera either close to, or at the end of their MLB careers, they are all also coming off injuries in 2012.

The Yankees off-season signings did not make the team much younger and having to rely on an aging group of stars is a scary thought. The Yankees injury report last year looked at times like an All-Star roster and with another year under their belt, the chance of injury is even higher. Having so many important players coming back from big injuries, the chance of the Yankees staying healthy isn’t good.

All teams have injuries and the Yankees will too, but how they overcome those injuries and how big the injuries are, will be difference for the Yankees in 2013. Jeter is coming back from a broken ankle and says he will be ready by opening day. According to Yankee sources, Rivera, who is coming back from a torn ACL, will also be ready to start the season, both of these guys being ready to start the season is a great relief.

Gardner, who returned for the 2012 playoffs, but wasn’t 100 percent, is reportedly ready as well. Rodriguez, who may now not play in 2013 and Pineda aren’t as lucky, as neither, in the best case scenario, will be back until later in the year.

The two most important players, the Yankees need to come back and be the players that have led this dynasty for over a decade, are Jeter and Rivera; because they are the heart of the Yankees. If Jeter and Rivera can stay healthy and the rest of the team can as well, the Yankees do have a legitimate shot at making the playoffs.

Rodriguez has a much bigger contract and ego than he does an impact on how the Yankees will do in 2013. Kevin Youkilis will fill in fine for Rodriguez, if he comes back or not in 2013, if he does play, at the very least, A-Rod will help give the Yankees depth.