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Friday, March 22, 2013
Twenty-seven reasons Yankees will collapse

By David Schoenfield

Confession: I spent all offseason believing the Yankees would still rank among the American League's elite teams in 2013. After all, despite the woeful hitting in the postseason, this was still a team that won 95 games and had the second-best run differential in the majors. It was still a team with a deep arsenal of starting pitching, and good starting pitching can take you a long way.

So while most were jumping off the Yankees bandwagon, I remained on.

No longer. As the injuries continue to mount during spring training -- Curtis Granderson, Mark Teixeira, Derek Jeter's slow recovery from his broken foot -- it seems like it's finally going to happen. The collapse is coming and it's going to happen in 2013. I hate to join the legions predicting the demise of this long-running Yankees dynasty -- because if there's anything I've learned over the past 15 years it's to never count out the Yankees -- but here are 27 reasons the collapse will occur.

1. From 2002 to 2011 (10 seasons), 77 teams won at least 90 games. Seventeen of those won at least 15 fewer games the following season -- 22 percent. Six teams dropped 20 or more wins the next season. (Only 11 of the 77 won more games the following year.) Collapses can happen overnight.

2. From 1949 to 1964, the Yankees won 14 American League pennants in 16 years. In 1964, they won 99 games. In 1965, they won 77. It's happened to the Yankees before.

CC Sabathia
CC Sabathia anchors a Yankees rotation made up of aging veterans and unreliable youngsters.
3. The Yankees 52-33 in the first half last year, but just 43-34 in the second half. The decline was already under way.

4. The Blue Jays and Red Sox should be much improved. The Yankees went 24-12 against those two clubs in 2012. That could be six or seven fewer wins right there.

5. The rotation is counting on 41-year-old Andy Pettitte, 38-year-old Hiroki Kuroda and 32-year-old CC Sabathia, who is coming off some minor elbow issues from last season. Those three went a combined 36-21 last year, worth about 10.5 wins above replacement (WAR). The group could produce more value -- Pettitte made just 12 starts -- but I would bet under 10.5 WAR.

6. Phil Hughes is hoping to recover in time from two bulging disks to be ready for Opening Day. Remember, Hughes pitched just 74 innings in 2011 due to arm fatigue and shoulder inflammation, so this is a guy with injury history.

7. Jeter without a broken ankle: 39 years old, coming off his best year since 2009, likely to regress anyway. Derek Jeter coming off a broken ankle: 39 years old, coming off his best year since 2009, maybe not ready for the start of the season, his range in the field undoubtedly a bigger issue than ever.

8. Eduardo Nunez, aka "hands of stone" and "arm of the wilderness," is the backup. This could be fun.

9. The catchers are Chris Stewart and Francisco Cervelli, the definition of replacement-level. Russell Martin wasn't great last year (.211/.311/.403), but still popped 21 home runs and was worth 1-2 WAR. Cervelli did show on-base skills when he played regularly for the Yankees in 2010, but he had a .316 slugging percentage last year at Scranton.

10. Granderson will miss April with a fractured right forearm, an injury that also forced the Yankees to scrap plans to move Granderson to left and Brett Gardner to center. Missing Granderson for a month is ultimately a minor loss, but what will he be when he returns? In 2011, he hit .262/.364/.552 and led the AL in runs and RBIs. In the first half of 2012, he hit .248/.352/.502; in the second half he hit .212/.278/.480, with his walk rate plummeting and his strikeout rate increasing. He still hit 20 home runs but he'd turned into a one-dimensional slugger: home run or nothing. Overall, he was worth 2.7 WAR, down from 5.3 in 2011. At 32, I don't see him improving.

11. Brennan Boesch will apparently fill in while Granderson is out. Boesch was one of the worst players in the majors last year with the Tigers, statuesque in the outfield and he didn't hit (.286 OBP). Basically, the Yankees hope he can produce like Raul Ibanez did last year, but what is that worth? Baseball-Reference valued Ibanez at 0.3 WAR.

12. Teixeira may miss the entire season. For now, the club is hoping his wrist can heal and that he'll return in eight to 10 weeks, but there is a chance the partially torn tendon sheath will eventually require season-ending surgery. The backup first basemen? Juan Rivera and Dan Johnson. Rinse, repeat: Juan Rivera and Dan Johnson. Teixeira was worth 3.6 WAR last year. And if he does return healthy, he's been a player in offensive decline anyway.

Kevin Youkilis
Kevin Youkilis hasn't played more than 122 games since 2009.
13. Kevin Youkilis. He was great as recently as 2010 when he hit .307/.411/564, but has played 102, 120 and 122 games the past three seasons, is 34 years old, and coming off a .235/.336/.409 season, most of that in the AL Central with the White Sox. He's going to be facing tougher pitching in the AL East. Best-case scenario is probably similar to what A-Rod did last year: .272/.353/.430. The worst-case scenario: The new swing doesn't work and he retires in June.

14. Ichiro Suzuki. He showed a little spark of life after joining the Yankees, but he's 39 years old and has hit .277 with a .308 OBP over the past two seasons. Yankees fan will be pining for Nick Swisher.

15. Mariano Rivera is back ... but Rafael Soriano is gone. As good as Soriano was last year, even if Mo is still Mo, this is a wash.

16. Travis Hafner. He hasn't slugged .500 since 2006. He's averaged 86 games over the past five seasons. He can still hit some home runs (especially in Yankee Stadium) and draw walks, but I wouldn't expect him to be a major contributor. A 4-for-31 spring isn't inspiring confidence.

17. Ivan Nova. He didn't strike anybody out in 2011 and was good (16-4, 3.70). He struck more people out in 2012 but was much worse (12-8, 5.02). No idea what to expect in 2013, but I don't see him developing into anything more than a solid No. 4.

18. Home runs. The Yankees finished second in the AL runs last season, in large part because of a league-leading 245 home runs. But Swisher (24 home runs) is gone, replaced by Ichiro. Granderson (43) is out for a month. Teixeira (24) may be out all season. Martin (21) is gone and replaced by two guys who may not hit more than five. Part-timer Eric Chavez (16) is gone. Ibanez (19) is gone with Gardner (7 in 2011) back. Robinson Cano is coming off a career-best 33 home runs. Even if you're optimistic, you'll have a hard time coming up with 200 home runs. Which means they're not going to score 804 runs again.

19. Defense. Jeter at short. Granderson in center. No Teixeira at first. The Yankees were 22nd in the majors in defense runs saved in 2012 at -22, and that's with Teixeira (+17) and Cano (+15) ranking among the best in baseball. The return of Gardner will help the outfield, but this doesn't appear to be a strong defensive team.

20. The Yankees are 10-16 in spring training. That indicates maybe 1 percent of something, but it could be an important 1 percent.

21. Self-imposed payroll constraints mean the Yankees aren't going to make any big midseason acquisitions. Not that they'll still be in it at midseason.

22. Cano's free agency is looming over the organization like a funnel cloud. And while his steady demeanor means most believe his play won't be affected, you never know. But if they don't sign him and the team gets off to a bad start, the trade rumors are going to start thundering.

23. The New York media is ready to pounce.

24. No George. How will the brothers Steinbrenner react if the Yankees are in last place in late April?

25. Joe Girardi's little black book doesn't have formulas for magical potions -- like turning back the clock five years for everyone on the roster.

26. The baseball gods. Even they're tired of seeing the Yankees in October.

27. Alex Rodriguez to the rescue. Exactly.

Prediction: 75-87. If the Phillies can drop 20 wins from 2011 to 2012, so can the Yankees. For the first time since 1992, the Yankees will finish under .500.