It is the off-season following the New York Yankees being batted around in the playoffs by the Detroit Tigers and while in the past all New York had to do was flex a little muscle and throw a little money (make that a lot of money) at a problem to make it go away, there is a different aroma surrounding the situation this time. It’s called the scent of desperation.
Last weekend I was sitting in the stands at a college basketball game with a friend who is a Yankees fan (I am tolerant and do have such friends), and he turned to me and said that he thinks the Yankees might finish last in the American League East next season. Whoa. That had not crossed my mind, perhaps because I am so used to the Yankees having the wherewithal to overcome any challenge and still make the playoffs, even if they don’t actually win the division, which they usually do.
It got me thinking, though, and watching what the Yankees were up to this week makes me wonder if it isn’t possible that my friend is correct. If everything falls into place the way New York is pursuing free agents the Yankees may be the oldest team in history in 2013. And maybe the creakiest, too.
When we last left our pinstriped heroes at the end of the 2012 playoffs and turned our eyes to the 2013 campaign, things were looking bleak. Future Hall of Fame shortstop Derek Jeter, who will be 39 next season, had incurred a broken ankle. All-time great closer Mariano Rivera, who is 43, is coming off of knee surgery that cost him the 2012 season. Alex Rodriguez, who will be 38 next season, has a hip problem requiring surgery and that will cost him half of 2013. Starting pitcher Andy Pettitte, who has already retired and come back, only to get hurt and have his 2012 cut short, will be 41 next season.
That’s a pretty alarming combination of circumstances. Then the Yankees lost their superior fielding catcher Russell Martin to free agency. So there are holes in the lineup and questions galore. New York needs some help, but this is not a terrific year for free agents who can be game-changers. That means the Yankees have been linked with third baseman Kevin Youkilis (34 in March), traded off by the Boston Red Sox and cast off by the Chicago White Sox because he has shown signs of slippage after a very good career. They have also apparently been talking with catcher A.J. Pierzynski (36 next season), set free by the White Sox after a very good year.
This is not to say that Youkilis and Pierzynski can’t help the Yankees. Quite possibly they can patch holes. It’s just that New York would be adding more age to its already ancient roster (that also could include others in their late 30s). As we all know, older athletes are more susceptible to bad things happening to their bodies. No matter how many ace bandages, jacuzzis, and aerobics classes the Yankees provide, there’s no guarantee that all of the king’s men will be put back together again, or held together.
One thing that has distinguished the Yankees in recent years has been the astonishing capability of fielding an All-Star at just about every position. It is one thing to have such an all-star cast on the payroll, but quite another if they can’t play because they are injured. The Yankees may go to war with an impressive cast of characters on the roster, but as old as all of these key players are, they will be living on the edge.