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Friday, February 15, 2013
Offseason report card: Yankees

By David Schoenfield

2012 in review
Record: 95-67 (95-67 Pythagorean)
804 runs scored (2nd in AL)
668 runs allowed (4th in AL)

Big Offseason Moves
Re-signed free agents Hiroki Kuroda, Andy Pettitte, Mariano Rivera and Ichiro Suzuki. Signed free agents Kevin Youkilis and Travis Hafner. Lost free agents Nick Swisher, Rafael Soriano, Russell Martin, Eric Chavez and Raul Ibanez. Acquired Shawn Kelley from Mariners for Abraham Almonte. Placed Alex Rodriguez on 60-day disabled list.

For all the talk that the Yankees "did nothing" this winter, that's clearly not the case. Sure, maybe signing Pettitte and Rivera were foregone conclusions, but bringing back Kuroda and Ichiro weren't, and the Rodriguez injury meant the club had to spend money on a third baseman instead of potentially elsewhere. Swisher's offense -- at least during the regular season -- will be missed, but the return of Gardner plus a full season of Ichiro should replace the value Swisher and Ibanez provided; a different kind of value (defense and speed), but still value.

The one the Yankees didn't replace was Martin, who hit only .211 last year, but with his power (21 home runs), a few walks (.311 OBP) and OK defense he was still about a 2-win player (WAR). Is he a huge loss? No, but veteran Chris Stewart is a no-hit, good glove type, and Francisco Cervelli will slap a few base hits but that's about it. Both are replacement-level players.

I'm not going to chalk this up as a terrible offseason, even if Yankees fans would have preferred seeing a few big-name free agents signed. But Yankees fans always expect the team to keep spending. The goal to get under the $189 million luxury-tax threshold in order to restart their potential tax payments at a lower rate makes sense. Save now and maybe spend later.

Position Players

Let's not forget that the Yankees did win the most games in the American League and did have the best run differential in the major leagues in 2012. The team that hit .211 against the Orioles in the playoffs and .157 against the Tigers wasn't the same team we saw all season.

Yes, the Yankees' power game plays better at Yankee Stadium with that short porch in right -- they were seven wins better at home -- but that's not all that unusual. The Tigers were plus-12 at home, the Rangers plus-7, and the A's plus-6. It will be interesting to see how Ichiro does with a full season in pinstripes: Did that short porch help rejuvenate his batting (.322 AVG/.340 OBP/.454 SLG with the Yankees) or will he regress to being the washed-up singles hitter he was with the Mariners (.261/.288/.353)?

Anyway, a main reason the Yankees' offense should score plenty of runs -- even with aging players like Ichiro, Derek Jeter, Mark Teixeira and Youkilis -- is Robinson Cano. Here's how good he is: Yankees second basemen (Cano started 150 games there) had a .911 OPS. The only other team with second basemen over .800 was Arizona, where Aaron Hill had a big year. Sixteen teams were under .700. Yankees second basemen had a .372 OBP; only Arizona (.355) and the Dodgers (.341) were also over .340. In looking at runs created, Cano was at 125 and Hill at 112, and then you go down to Ian Kinsler at 91 and Marco Scutaro at 90. Those totals aren't park-adjusted, but you get the basic idea: With Cano, the Yankees are starting with at least a 30-run advantage over nearly every other team. (That edge over other second basemen is a big reason Cano's WAR ranked second in the AL to Mike Trout.)

Yes, there is risk here. Jeter turns 39 in June, has to recover from the broken ankle, and was coming off his best season since 2009. Curtis Granderson hit 43 home runs, but also hit just .232 with a .319 OBP; his SO/BB ratio declined from 99/50 in the first half to 96/25 in the second half, so that's something to watch. Youkilis is injury-prone these days, and I guess I don't need to point out Teixeira's declining OPS totals from 2007 to '12: .963, .962, .948, .846, .835, .807. (OK, I did point them out.)

Quickly, on the defense: The Yankees were at minus-22 defensive runs saved in 2012, 22nd in the majors. Jeter was at minus-18 and Granderson at minus-10 in center. The Yankees would be better off playing Gardner in center and moving Granderson to left.

Overall, I still like this group. They're old and not without a lot of risk, so I have to downgrade for that. But they'll hit home runs, and Cano might finally have that MVP season.

Pitching Staff

For all the attention being paid to the Detroit rotation, and the love being given to David Price & Co. in Tampa, I view the Yankees' rotation as being just as good: Remember, they have to pitch at Yankee Stadium, so they're going to give up some home runs. Put them in a neutral park and it's possible they'd have the best numbers of any group in the league.

As with the lineup, there are age and health questions. CC Sabathia missed a few starts last year, although he did manage to throw 200 innings for the sixth straight season. He still as good as ever, however, posting the best strikeout and walk rates of his Yankees career (his SO/BB ratio was the best in the AL). All he did was give up a few extra home runs. He's still an ace in my book. Hiroki Kuroda was marvelous, going 16-11 with a 3.32 and throwing a career-high 219.2 innings. He's 38 so you never know, but I expect another good year. Andy Pettitte returns, and he'll turn 41 in June; but he also was a very good pitcher in his 12 starts (2.87). He missed time with a broken ankle, but his arm is sound and his head knows what to do with a baseball.

That's a good top three, but what the Yankees possess is depth: Phil Hughes (needs to curb the home runs), Ivan Nova (bounce-back season?), David Phelps (underrated) and Michael Pineda (could return in June or July). The bullpen should be solid with the 1-2 punch of some guy named Rivera and David Robertson. Boone Logan and Clay Rapada are solid lefties, and Joba Chamberlain was throwing well at the end of the season. He's even made peace with former enemy Youkilis.

I can't give this group an A because of its age, but I love the depth in the rotation.

Heat Map to Watch

Kuroda came over from the Dodgers and surprised everyone. Maybe it shouldn't have been such a big surprise. This is a pitcher who pounds the strike zone and has a four-pitch arsenal, although he's mostly fastball/slider/split. His fastball is better than many realize -- 91.8 mph average velocity -- and he knows what to do with it. As the heat map tells us, he likes that outside corner to lefties/inside corner to righties. That helps set up his slider and splitter.

Kuroda Heat map
Kuroda ranked eighth in the AL in ERA in 2012 and fifth in WAR (5.2) among pitchers.
Overall Grade

Yes, the collapse will probably happen one of these years. I spelled out a lot of those ages above: Rivera is 43, Pettitte 41, Jeter 39, Suzuki 39, Kuroda 38, A-Rod 37, Hafner 36, Youkilis 34, Teixeira 33, Sabathia 32. Needless to say, that's a lot of age.

I think they have one more season in them. The rotation should keep them in the playoff hunt, and if Jeter, Granderson and Teixeira come close to what they did a year ago, the offense will score enough runs.

I've been waiting for the downfall of the empire for a few years now; until it actually happens, I'm going to keep predicting the Yankees will win 90 games.