This has been an unusual Yankee offseason. The past few years the Yankees have spoiled their fans with big news during the winter months. In 2008/09 it was the signing of CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett and Mark Teixeira. In 2010 it was the acquisition of Curtis Granderson and Javier Vazquez. Last year it was the signing of Hiroki Kuroda and the acquisition of Michael Pineda. These moves didn't always work out, but they demonstrated clearly that the Yankees were in it to win it. This year has been different. The defining moment of this year's offseason for me was Nick Swisher. Over four years with the Yankees Swisher never hit fewer than 23 homers, never had an OBP below .359, and never had a wOBA below .360. That's a record of success the Yankees would normally keep. Instead, Swisher signed with the Indians for four years, $56 million. That's an annual cost of $14 million, roughly what Swisher was making with the Yankees. It was a beatable offer that the Yankees didn't beat, and they let a good player go.
This was the prime example of how the Yankees are trying to cut costs. Many people are suggesting that the Yankees are secretly trying to tread water for the next couple of years so they can receive the benefits of having the payroll below $189 million in the years after. All of this may be true, but it shifts attention from the team the Yankees will put on the field in 2013. That team isn't bad, and has some key strengths that I'll outline below.
1. Pitching - If it seems like the Yankees are desperate for pitching every year, that's because they are. But the reason should be clear. Hitting can dissolve in the playoffs. Pitching is more reliable. This year the Yankees will have a one-two-three of CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda and Andy Pettitte. That's as solid a starting staff as the Yankees have had in years. Further down in the rotation the team also boasts Ivan Nova, David Phelps, Phil Hughes and, eventually, Michael Pineda. That's more rotation depth than the Yankees have had in a while and a promising combination of veterans and young talent.
Moving past the rotation, the Yankees also feature a stellar bullpen. Rafael Soriano's loss will be felt, but any bullpen that features David Robertson and Mariano Rivera projects as a strength. Plus, if there's one consistent feature of the Joe Girardi era it is a reliable ability to manage the bullpen well.
2. Power - A lot has been made of the bats the Yankees have lost, notably Raul Ibanez and Swisher. But let's not forget that this is still a team whose middle order features Robinson Cano, coming off his best season yet, Curtis Granderson, who is now a perennial 40 homer threat (and 200 strike out risk, but that's a post for another time), Mark Teixeira and now Kevin Youkilis both of whom can rake when healthy. That's a dangerous line up, period.
3. Speed - An outfield featuring Brett Gardner and Ichiro Suzuki is not a power threat, but it's fast. And Curtis Granderson can run a bit too. This is the largest addition to the 2013 team that was missing from the 2012 team. Once Brett Gardner went down the Yankees were left without a key piece of the offense, and one of the few pieces that didn't focus on the long ball. Next year the Yankees will have at least three speed threats on the bases, and probably four provided that Derek Jeter returns without any complications. This figures to make the offense more well rounded, and dynamic.
In total, the 2013 Yankees project as a different team than we've seen the past few years, but still a good team. The defining theme of this offseason remains cost cutting, but there is also a strategy there as well. The Yankees are trying to put together a more well rounded team both in terms of offense and defense, one that can more effectively convert base runners into runs without relying exclusively on the home run, a key weakness of last year's team. It's impossible to know if any strategy for any season will pay off when it is assessed in January, but it figures to be fun to watch.