Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Replacement Level AL East Preview

For the second year in a row, emigo Bryan O'Connor asked me to contribute to an AL East preview at his Replacement Level Baseball Blog. The format basically consisted of one writer with loyalties to each team answering three two-part questions (so, six actually) about their favorite team.

Honestly, I haven't paid as much attention to the off-season as I usually do, focusing more of my time these last few months on parenting, music-related projects (traditional and new) and obsessing about the Hall of Fame. But, I could have easily followed the Yankees' 2012-2013 off-season happenings out of the corner of my eye and not missed a thing.

So, despite being more interested in history than the current game, I certainly feel qualified to write a brief Yankees preview for the upcoming season. That's what follows in this post, but please also click over to Replacement Level to read the entire piece.

What is the Yankees' ceiling? What has to go right for them to win the AL East?

As always, the Yankees ceiling is a World Series victory, although it seems less likely this year than in years past. Frankly, because of the age of the roster and the loss of a few not insignificant players (Nick Swisher, Russell Martin, Rafael Soriano) who weren't replaced, it's hard to imagine the 2013 Yankees not being a little worse than last year's squad.

That said, a little worse could mean they win 90-92 games and wind up on top of a very competitive division in which the strength of all five teams prevent any one from rising above. Or, it could result in a wild card berth. [Is it just me, or does the phrase "wild card berth" sound more football than baseball?] As we all know, especially fans of the San Francisco Giants, once a team reaches the playoffs, anything can happen.

Pretty much every player on the Yankees is a question mark, either due to age, sub-par performance last year, attempting to come back from injury, or some combination of those factors. The only sure things—to the extent sure things actually exist in today's game—who will fill important roles on the team are CC Sabathia, Robinson Cano and the catching tandem of Chris Stewart/Francisco Cervelli. The latter duo, of course, is only a sure thing relative to very low expectations.

But, realistically speaking, the two most important factors for the Yankees to come out on top of the division are:
  1. The ability of an aging pitching staff to reasonably approximate last year's performance, in order to make up for what certainly will be diminished production on the offensive side of the ledger.
  2. A resurgent season from either Mark Teixeira or Curtis Granderson, the latter of whom's comeback from a rough second half of 2012 is complicated by the fact he'll miss at least the first month of the season with a broken arm.

What’s the floor for the Yankees this season? What has to go wrong for them to miss the playoffs?

It's inarguable the Yankees are a worse team on paper than last year's model, so I could easily see them finishing third or fourth in an improved AL East this year. I suppose they could even finish last, but I'm guessing the Orioles will return to their rightful place or the Red Sox won't rebound much from last year's disaster.

The Yankees will rely more on pitching than they have since the dynasty years, and two of the pitchers they're counting on the most (Hiroki Kuroda, Andy Pettitte) will be a combined 79 years old by mid-season. A third (Mariano Rivera) is 43 and attempting to rebound from what would have been a career-ending injury to almost any other 42-year old. Add to that the fact they'll pin their hopes on a couple younger pitchers (Phil Hughes, Ivan Nova) who've been far from models of consistency and you can see why some folks are ready to write the team's obituary a little prematurely.

How do you see the division playing out? Is there one team you’re particularly afraid of?

Let's not try to kid ourselves that any team other than the Blue Jays has even a remote chance to win the AL East this year. They're easily as much of a lock to win the division as the Red Sox were in 2011.

If you don't get my point here, what I'm basically trying to say is I have no idea. Prognosticating is kind of a futile endeavor, in my opinion. But hey, Bryan asked me and it's kind of fun to look back later and see how bad your predictions were, so what the heck.

Seriously, though, I think any of the five teams could win the AL East. But, I'll call the Blue Jays the favorite, although I'm less confident of that pick than I was of the Red Sox two years ago.

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