This series will evaluate one team per day, starting on January 23, 2013 and ending on February 22, 2013 (the first game of spring training). It is based on last season's performance, offseason changes since and the author's outlook for the team in 2013. Please keep in mind that rosters can, and will, change before Opening Day. We start in the AL East and go in ABC order; next up, the New York Yankees.
2012 finish: 95-67 (1st place, AL East—lost ALCS 4-0 to Detroit Tigers)
RHP Jim Miller, OF Matt Diaz, 1B Dan Johnson, 3B Kevin Youkilis
LHP Pedro Feliciano, RHP Rafael Soriano, RHP Corey Wade, RHP Freddy Garcia, RHP Derek Lowe, OF Raul Ibanez, OF Nick Swisher, OF Andruw Jones, 1B/3B Casey McGehee, 3B Eric Chavez, C Russell Martin
Why They Will Improve This Year
You would think after all those names above departed, the mighty Yankees empire might finally fall. I hate to disappoint the thousands upon thousands of Yankee haters out there, but this team is still exceptionally talented.
The pieces they lost likely won't haunt them, even though there are a lot of them. All have been replaced by better players coming back from an injury or someone with potential at cheaper cost. Most importantly, the Yankees retained a starting rotation that ranked fifth in the league in ERA and WHIP, as well as third in K/9.
With the return of Mariano Rivera to anchor the bullpen, they shouldn't miss a beat after Soriano bolted in free agency. And despite the popular thinking to the contrary, Youk still has a couple of good seasons left.
Overall, the lineup is still dangerous and might find some cohesiveness with A-Rod on the shelf. I fully expect the right side of the infield to have big years offensively, and a full season of Andy Pettitte and Ichiro Suzuki will go a long way toward maintaining the Yankees' winning ways.
Why They Will Regress This Year
Even though Martin wasn't a massive bat last season, he did bring some pop and a veteran glove at catcher. I'm not sure that Francisco Cervelli will be able to replicate that production. And catcher isn't the only question mark.
We know what Curtis Granderson is capable of, especially with the short porch in right field. But he is not a power hitter, and his .319 on-base percentage and 10 steals last season left a lot to be desired. The back end of the rotation is flimsy at best, given Ivan Nova's rough year and the impending, unknown return of Michael Pineda.
And I'll give credit where credit is due, but it doesn't mean I'm convinced—Phil Hughes had a spectacular summer in 2012. It was book-ended by a terrible start and an awful finish, and he really struggled away from Yankee Stadium. Looking at his track record, I expect a regression next season, which might leave the Yanks scrambling for starting pitching help...again.
The most worrisome thing for me is how the aging lineup will perform. As I wrote above, I do expect big seasons out of a few of them. But I'm not always right (hard to believe, I know). And if even one or two of the older big bats breaks down, the Yanks could be in trouble in that division.
The Outlook for 2013
Long story short, this is still the New York Yankees. And while that doesn't always mean an automatic playoff berth, it does mean that they are a very good team. We can talk about the aging lineup, the injury-prone rotation and the return of multiple players from injury all we want. But the fact remains that the roster is star-studded.
I think the top three in the Yankees rotation is the best it's been in a while, and I don't expect any kind of shortcoming from Rivera in the closer role. The lineup lost a slight bit of punch at catcher, third base and right field, but the increase in pitching should balance it out.
In the cutthroat AL East, the Yankees are still among the top two teams on paper. But will they be able to fend off the new-look Blue Jays, upstart Orioles, always-dangerous Rays, and rival Red Sox? Let alone the rest of the rapidly improving American League teams?
It's the opinion of this writer that the Yankees will still find a way to sneak into the playoffs, albeit as a wild-card team. I expect a slight decline in wins, but enough to stay in the hunt down the stretch. While I believe they'll fold in the division to Toronto, I foresee about 90 wins in 2013.
Potential changes before Opening Day
UPDATE: According to Jon Heyman of CBS, the Yankees finalized a deal with Travis Hafner, giving them a little more power from the left side. If Hafner stays healthy, he could really take advantage of the short porch in right field and give them a quality DH.
Believe it or not, it's all quiet on the rumor front in the Bronx right now. Even though the Yanks are attempting to lower the payroll and avoid the luxury tax, this ownership will not allow a bad product to be put on the field.
So, if they think there are improvements to be made that will help them stay on top in the AL East, I fully expect them to take a shot at it. Don't put it past the Yankees to make a late-spring run at a right-handed power bat since they missed out on Delmon Young (who they weren't necessarily in hot pursuit of in the first place, admittedly).
Biggest Surprise: Kevin Youkilis
Biggest Disappointment: Phil Hughes
Bold Prediction: Ichiro hits well over .300, compiles 200 hits again
1. Ichiro Suzuki, RF
2. Derek Jeter, SS
3. Robinson Cano, 2B
4. Mark Teixeira, 1B
5. Curtis Granderson, CF
6. Kevin Youkilis, 3B
7. Dan Johnson, DH
8. Francisco Cervelli, C
9. Brett Gardner, LF
1. C.C. Sabathia, LHP
2. Hiroki Kuroda, RHP
3. Andy Pettitte, LHP
4. Phil Hughes, RHP
5. Ivan Nova, RHP
Projected finish: 91-71, 2nd place
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You can follow Jeremy on Twitter @Jamblinman.