Good News, Yankees Fans: 2014 Is Only a Year Away
Over the last few years, I've tended to skip preseason baseball magazines--too many air-headed predictions made by people without a firm grasp of statistics and economics. Athlon Sports' Baseball Previews, though, is both hip and smart, and always has something surprising to say about every team.
I love their little factoids. No, wait, I won't call this one a factoid because it says something important about a Yankees pitcher, Ivan Nova: He allowed 87 extra base hits, a single-season record for a Yankees pitcher. I've been thinking for two years now that Nova is living on borrowed time, and I'd say that pretty much proves it.
David Phelps: "Held opponents to a .209 average as a reliever." This gives me some hope that Phelps can plug the hole that Nova is bound to open up in the rotation.
But then, this item on Kevin Youkilis brought me down again: "After .233 average for Boston, he hit just three points better after being dealt to the White Sox." It's hard to believe that he's going to get that much better in pinstripes.
For me, the lingering image of the Yankees last year was Curtis Granderson dipping down so low his left knee brushing the ground as he swung and missed a pitch that he should have shrugged off a thousandth of a second after it left the pitcher's hand. At least in the playoffs when Granderson failed to hit, I could see he was swinging at bad pitches, but throughout the postseason the rest of the team seemed to swing at everything. It was as if they were swinging at a phantom baseball.
After the humiliating loss to Detroit that ended the season, everyone knew what went wrong and how to fix it. Stuff like "Get some guys who know how to hit in the clutch," which is bullshit, of course, since no one really knows how to define clutching hitting and therefore doesn't even know it exists. Or, "They've got to get some guys who can make contact." Well, during the season the Yankees led the league in on-base average (.337) and slugging (.453), and they're supposed to be most important statistics, so they must have been making plenty of contact then.
They led the AL in total bases, home runs, and were just four behind Texas in runs scored. I don't have a clue as to why the Yankees suddenly stepped hitting in the playoffs, and I really don't think anyone else does either. All I can say is they looked old and tired in the postseason, and God knows they were certainly old.
They're older this year, and even more brittle. With several key players--most notably Derek Jeter, Curtis Granderson, Mark Teixeira, and Alex Rodriguez--already out of the lineup with injuries I guess we're going to be seeing a lot of the Yankees Double-A prospects early on. (Yes, I know they have Triple-A teams, but there doesn't seem to be many promising players at that level.)
The Athlon staff summed them up this: "After years of making flashy purchases, the Yankees hunkered down after last season, treading carefully in the market with an eye on their 2014 million payroll. The new collective bargaining agreement gives the Yankees significant financial incentive to keep their payroll under $189 million that season, and they plan to do it. Their reasoning is sound--every other champion has spent less money than the Yankees on payroll, so why waste money? But the composition of their roster looks thin in certain spots, and old throughout."
I agree with the last part, but I think it's ridiculous for the richest team in baseball to do nothing over the spring to try and improve itself. If the Yankees are thinking of saving money in 2014, they ought to be thinking how much they're going to lose this year and next when they see all those empty seats at Yankee Stadium. And if you think this isn't going to happen this year, remember the ugly patches of unfilled seats. (Well, maybe you don't' remember them because you didn't see them. The Yankee camera crews seemed to pan over the empty seats faster than the naked eye could detect them.)
As for the Yankees' acquisition of Vernon Wells (made after Athlon went to press), Emma Span sums up smartly on SportsonEarth.com: "Trading for Vernon Wells is definitely not something you want to make habit of, but injuries have rendered the Yankees' Opening Day lineup downright alarming to the point where Wells could very well be a useful piece for them. It should never have gotten to that point, but it did, and under the circumstances this trade is, while note one I would have made, not so insane s it looks on its face."
Think of it this way: The Yankees' biggest preseason deal was a trade for a guy who hit .230 in 77 games last year. I am not optimistic.