(Long Island, N.Y.) When you have a winning formula, it makes sense to keep things going in the same direction. For the New York Yankees, that means to sign veteran players instead of using your minor league system for finding starters when necessary. For the most part, that is.
This past offseason, general manager Brian Cashman had some work to do in keeping his own free agents in pinstripes and made sure to re-sign Andy Pettitte, Mariano Rivera, Hiroki Kuroda and Ichiro Suzuki. Key moves indeed, as two-fifths of the starting rotation, the closer and right-fielder would all be back.
Rivera, who missed the majority of 2012 with a knee injury, will have to find his old self because former set-up man and last year’s closer Rafael Soriano left as a free agent.
So Cashman treaded carefully as he looked to pick up the pieces to fill some holes that popped up since the playoff ouster by Detroit. Alex Rodriguez, who had a miserable postseason, had hip surgery and may in fact miss all of the 2013 campaign, so Kevin Youkilis – of all people – was brought in as a free agent. The former Red Sox third/first baseman was one of the bitter enemies in the old rivalry, but like Wade Boggs, Roger Clemens and Johnny Damon before him, he will call the Bronx home after a long stay at Fenway.
A year ago, ‘Youk’ was traded to the White Sox and had an overall sub-par season, hitting only .235 with 19 home runs and 60 RBI in 122 games. He will be the third baseman heading into spring training and spell Mark Teixiera across the diamond from time to time.
Needing a left-handed hitting designated hitter, Cashman took a flyer on Travis Hafner, who had been an offensive force for a number of years in Cleveland. (His best season came in 2006 when he hit .308, 42 home runs and 117 RBI). But injuries have taken their toll on him and he hasn’t reached 400 at bats in a season since 2007.
The production may be a bit off with the likes of Nick Swisher, Raul Ibanez, Eric Chavez and Andruw Jones all gone. Yes, they are certainly replaceable parts, but will be missed, nonetheless. Especially when one gets hot at the right time, such as the amazing postseason that Ibanez enjoyed.
There will be another position looking different from a year ago, and that is at catcher. Russell Martin was signed to an expensive, long term contract by Pittsburgh and the Yankees chose to let him go and stand pat. Neither Francisco Cervelli, Austin Romine or Chris Stewart will be as effective as Martin, but the three-headed monster behind the plate should be able to handle the load.
Of course, Cashman can always keep a close eye on the waiver wire and pick up someone who is cut by another team before heading north. And there is rarely a trading deadline that goes by without the Yanks being in the middle of all the talk going on.
The core may still be intact, but there has to be some concern due to the lack of depth and the strong competition in the American League East. The Yankees are hoping that they can stay competitive until the new additions can prove themselves worthy (or unworthy). Then Cashman can decide if they need to make any changes.