Assessing the 2013 Yankee strategy

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.

When will time catch up to the Yankees?

The announcement that Alex Rodriguez will need to have surgery on his left hip and could be out at least until the middle of the 2013 season was an eye-opener for me. Suddenly, it is clear to me that A-Rod is done even if no one wants to admit it yet. His last full season was 2007. His last .400 wOBA season was 2009. His last 30 homer season was 2010. For the past couple years I've been among those Yankee fans who were waiting for a throwback season from A-Rod, arguing that all he needed was to be healthy and the team would have one of the better third basemen in the game, even at this late stage in Rodriguez's career. This second hip surgery is cold water on my face. Alex will never be healthy again. He's too old. Maybe he has 250 games left in him over the remainder of his contract, but I expect him to hang around, collecting pay checks, and not do much else. Alex's steady decline sheds a concerning light on the rest of the Yankee roster. This team is not a youth movement. Derek Jeter broke his ankle in the post season and, despite an excellent 2012 performance, will turn 39 next season. Mariano Rivera suffered a season ending injury in 2012, and turned 43 years old at the end of November. Andy Pettitte has tantalized Yankee fans with the stuff he has shown on the mound the past few seasons that he has played when he is healthy, but he too fits the potential A-Rod description. His mounting injuries are part of his decline, perhaps the defining part. No matter how good his stuff, a pitcher who will turn 41 next season poses a significant injury risk.

The newer players aren't that young either. Mark Teixeira played only 123 games last season and has seen his wOBA decrease each year since he joined the team. Hiroki Kuroda will turn 38 next season. Even Curtis Granderson and Robinson Cano are over 30 and probably have their best baseball behind them.

None of this is to say that the Yankees will be bad in 2013. The team is awash in pitching that can be used during the season or in trade. But the clock is ticking on the Yankees. As difficult as it may be to accept, there will come a day quickly when the team no longer has Mo, Andy or Derek, but is still paying a combined $50 million a year to A-Rod and Tex. When that day comes it will be difficult for the team to be good, no matter how much money it spends. That time bomb is another, less mentioned reason, for the team to cut costs now. The Yankees have too many legacy contracts to be truly spend thrift at the present time, but they'll need to be as lean as they can as quickly as possible if they are going to be able to compete over the next several years while simultaneously absorbing the dead contract weight that has been put on the roster. Starting now, when you still have a legendary core of players who don't figure to be on the payroll in a few years time, is as good a time as any.