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Friday, November 30, 2012
More Mo, more status quo for Yanks

By Wallace Matthews
ESPNNewYork.com

Over the past 10 days, the New York Yankees have re-signed Hiroki Kuroda, Andy Pettitte and, now, Mariano Rivera.

So when, exactly, do they start getting better?

Don't get me wrong. Every one of those signings was a positive, every one of those guys absolutely necessary if the Yankees are going to hope to be as good in 2013 as they were in 2012.

Mariano Rivera
The Yankees re-signed Mariano Rivera. Good.
Now will they sign somebody who can hit with runners in scoring position?

But that is precisely the problem.

Right now, the starting rotation looks as if it will be the same as it was by May of last season, which is a good thing because of all the problems the 2012 Yankees had, starting pitching was not one of them.

And the bullpen looks at least as good as it was by the end of last year, if only because Rivera is the best at what he does in the history of baseball. The Yankees and Mo finalized a one-year contract Friday that will pay him a guaranteed $10 million -- a $5 million pay cut -- with incentives that ostensibly could bring him close to last season's salary if he remains healthy.

So even without Rafael Soriano, the bullpen should be in pretty good shape.

And yet, what we're looking at right now is a team that has done nothing since the end of its season but preserve the status quo.

That team was good. It won 95 games and the AL East. But it wasn't good enough to get beyond the first round of the playoffs.

So, I'll ask it again: When exactly do the Yankees start getting better?

Losing Russell Martin to free agency was not an improvement, although bringing him back would have been, once again, a move to preserve the status quo.

So, too, would be bringing back Ichiro Suzuki, who according to a tabloid report is "growing impatient" with the Yankees' offseason inactivity so far and has begun to shop himself to other teams. This, of course, could be agent-speak intended to scare GM Brian Cashman into throwing money at yet another 38-year-old player. Nice try.

But the truth is, so far the Yankees have done nothing to improve the club that got humiliated in the ALCS and came close to losing in the first round, too. All they've done is bring back more of the same old, same old.

Rivera doesn't fall into that category. His history and his character made it essential that the Yankees bring him back for one more year at least.

But it would be wise for all of us, the Yankees included, to temper our expectations somewhat for a player who is not only coming off knee surgery, but will be trying to do something unprecedented in the game's history, namely be an effective closer at 43 years old.

Likewise in regard to Derek Jeter, who had a transcendent bounceback year in 2012, only to see it end on the skin of the infield in Game 1 of the ALCS, his ankle broken along with whatever hopes the Yankees had of advancing.

Jeter will be 39 this season, and coming off an injury that has kept him virtually on the couch for the past two months. Is it foolish to think he can come back and hit .316 again in 2013? Probably.

So it is essential that, even with the budget constrictions applied by ownership and the shackles put on by the onerous contracts already smothering his payroll, that Cashman seek not just to bring back the same team he sent out there last year, but a younger, hungrier, more athletic team. And a better one.

So far, not a single player he has signed does that, unless you think Eli Whiteside is the Messiah.

Obviously, Hal Steinbrenner is serious about cutting the payroll by 2014, proven by the fact that the Yankees wouldn't even match the Pittsburgh Pirates' two-year offer to Martin and claim, publicly at least, to be willing to go with three backups at catcher in place of one proven starter.

Still, it is the job of Cashman and his staff to identify players who can improve his team within the confines of his budget.

Now that the pitching has been taken care of, an area the GM said was his first priority all along, it is time to start finding those players.

It means finding players who can get on base, hit in the clutch, create runs on nights when the ball is not leaving the ballpark and, most important, be able to do it all season long and into October without running out of steam.

It probably means deviating from the norm, leaving the status quo behind. It might mean saying goodbye not only to Martin, but to the likes of Ichiro and Andruw Jones (he was probably gone anyway) and Eric Chavez, and yes, even Raul Ibanez.

It certainly means a productive three days in Nashville next week, at baseball's winter meetings, is a must.

Kuroda, Pettitte and Rivera were all good additions to the roster, but let's face it, all it did was ensure the Yankees' pitching staff will be the same as it was last season.

That's fine. It's the rest of the club has got to get better. It's about time the Yankees got to work on it.