The New York Yankees offseason screamed of a team in complete regression. Gone are Nick Swisher, Raul Ibanez and Russell Martin, who combined for 64 homeruns. The team is unsure if Alex Rodriguez will even play this season. Finally, last year’s bullpen savior, Rafael Soriano, opted out of the last year of his contract and bolted town for the Washington Nationals. Of the five players mentioned, only Rodriguez and Ibanez were replaced, as Kevin Youkilis and Travis Hafner have been brought on board via free agency.
Most teams that lose five of their top players and replace just two of them would be looking at a season of doom and gloom. However, in the eyes of Yankees manager Joe Girardi, this team can still be as good as last year’s 95 win team. The crazy part about it, he’s actually right.
First let’s start in the Yankees bullpen and the departure of Soriano. Let’s remember that at the start of the 2012 season, Soriano was the 7th inning man. David Robertson had excelled in 2011 as the Yankees main set-up man, even earning a spot on the American League All-Star team that season. Soriano only got the closer’s job after Robertson couldn’t hold down the closer’s role after Mariano Rivera‘s ACL injury. Plus, despite Rivera’s age (43), as long as his knee is healthy, there is no reason not to believe he won’t return to his Greatest Closer of All-Time form.
Secondly, the loss of Ibanez has been addressed thru the signing of Hafner. Despite the injury concerns that he brings, the man known as “Pronk” has not lost any of his power, as he belted 12 homeruns last season in just 66 games. Ibanez hit just seven more homeruns in double the amount of games. While Hafner is strictly a DH and can’t help in the outfield the way Ibanez did, that has also been addressed with the signings of Juan Rivera and Matt Diaz. The two right-handed hitters will compete in spring training for the fourth outfielder role and platoon with Hafner at the DH role. The winner will basically fill the role left by Andruw Jones, who last season hit just .197 despite his 14 homeruns.
Third, even if the Yankees get no games from Rodriguez this season, they’ve replaced him with a more than adequate player in former All-Star Youkilis. Youkilis is even gives the Yankees more versatility, as he can give Mark Teixeira the occasional day off at first base. He is a proven run producer and his ability to get on base via walks replaces the patience in the lineup lost when Swisher signed with the Cleveland Indians.
Speaking of Swisher and the outfield, the Yankees will be a better defensive team this season. The return of Brett Gardner, who was rated the best defensive left-fielder in the American League in 2011 and Ichiro Suzuki taking over full time in right field gives the Yankees their best defensive outfield in years. With three speedsters in the outfield (no matter where Curtis Granderson plays) the Yankees will be able to prevent more runs. Offensively, while Gardner and Ichiro don’t bring the power that Swisher and Ibanez had, they have to legs to steal more bases and create havoc on the base paths, giving Girardi the ability to get play more small ball and create more run scoring situations.
The only position where the Yankees may lose production is at catcher, where they will replace Martin with career backups Chris Stewart and Francisco Cervelli. However, having a power hitting catcher like Martin is more of a luxury than a regularity. Remember, the Yankees won a World Series title in 1996 with a guy named Joe Girardi, who hit just two homeruns in 124 games played. All the Yankees need from their new catching duo is adequate defense and handling the pitching staff.
Speaking of the pitching staff, the Yankees have a chance to have the best overall rotation in the entire AL East division. The have an ace in C.C. Sabathia, a fantastic no. 2 in Hiroki Kuroda, the postseason all-time leader in wins, Andy Pettitte, as their no. 3 and a 16-game winner as their no. 4 in Phil Hughes. Ivan Nova, who won 12 games last season despite a 5.02 ERA and David Phelps, who excelled in his rookie season with a 3.34 ERA in 99.2 innings pitched, will compete for the fifth spot. Basically, the Yankees have the luxury of six starters, depth that most teams wish they had.
Call him crazy, but Girardi may be right about his squad.