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Springtime Storylines: Will age catch up to the Yankees?

Mar 24, 2010, 9:00 AM EDT

Between now and Opening Day, HBT will take a look at each of the 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2010 season.  The Yankees are the defending champs, so they have the honor.

The big question:  Will age catch up to the Yankees?

People have been asking this for years, but for 2010 at least I’m going to say no. Sure, it’s possible that Derek Jeter is going to suddenly remember that he’s a 36 year-old shortstop, Jorge Posada will act like we expect 38 year-old catchers to act and opposing batters may actually be able to hit the one pitch that Mariano Rivera throws, but we’ve been waiting for that for years and it it still hasn’t happened.  All three of those guys can be expected to decline a bit from unexpectedly good 2009 seasons, but it seems like the core of that team is entitled to the benefit of the doubt against cratering until they actually, you know, crater.

And you know what? Age is something of a red herring with this team. Mark Teixeira isn’t going to turn 30 until after the season starts. Robinson Cano, Curtis Granderson, Nick Swisher, CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, Phil Hughes, and Joba Chamberlain aren’t old. I worry about Nick Johnson’s health, but Jesus Montero could probably be plugged in at DH if things got dicey, and of course the Yankees are always able to make a deal for a hitter another team doesn’t feel like paying come July. People have questioned the Yankees depth, but on a team full of All-Stars the loss of any one player for a good chunk of time is less devastating than it might be elsewhere. No team could survive a 2009 Mets-style plague of injuries, but I think the 2010 Yankees are no more susceptible to age and injury than any other 100-win juggernaut.  

So what else is going on?

  • A lot of ink has been spilled over the fifth starter’s race, but given how strong the 1-4 guys are (Sabathia, Burnett, Pettitte, Vazquez) Yankees fans should be embarrassed that they’ve worried about it at all. Your fifth starter is going to be better than many team’s third starters and would be bona fide aces in a couple of cities. Zip it with the Phil and Joba anxiety, OK?
  • People have voiced concern about the outfield, but I think that the combination of Granderson, Brett
    Gardner and Randy Winn will be better than last year’s combination of
    Johnny Damon, Gardner and Melky Cabrera. Nick Swisher is the constant in right and he could fall back a bit, but this is not a team whose fortunes will rise and fall on the strength of Nick Swisher’s OPS;
  • The bullpen looks amazingly strong right now. Rivera anchors of course, the loser of the Chamberlain-Hughes battle sets up, and a crowd of solid guys in Chan Ho Park, Dave Robertson, Sergio Mitre, Damaso Marte and Alfredo Aceves round things out. Yankees opponents may find games to be very, very short this year;
  • The Yankees are always subject to some in-season drama, but the biggest thing on the horizon at the moment is Joe Girardi’s lame duck status. But really, whether Girardi is given a new contract will be determined by whether the Yankees win or lose, not the other way around.  Even with the A-Rod-Dr. Galea stuff, it’s hard to remember a less strife-filled beginning of the season for the Yankees.

So how are they gonna do?

Predictions are for suckers, so the Springtime Storylines feature is going to tread lightly in that department, but right now it’s hard to say that the Yankees aren’t strong favorites to repeat. Yes, injuries and age could be a factor, but there are too many guys on the roster who could, if they were the best player on their team, lead that team to a championship.  If things are going to go sideways for the Yankees, it’s going to take the simultaneous burnout or breakdown of multiple players for it to happen, and no one has ever gotten rich betting on coincidences like that to occur.

Prediction: First place in the AL East and a better shot at a champagne shower come November than anyone else.

Click here for other Springtime Storylines

  1. Largebill - Mar 24, 2010 at 9:44 AM

    Over the last decade (heck, maybe longer) I’ve fallen for the “Yankees are old” argument over and over. Problem is, as you explained, that team does not operate under the same budgetary constraints. Other teams lose an All Star player and their offense suffers. The Yankees in that situation just call up the Pirates (or whoever has a big contract and low attendance) and add another 10 million dollar player without batting an eye.
    Having said all that, I would not bid on Jeter or Posada in an auction league with expectations of a repeat of last year. Uptrends in performance just don’t happen for catchers or middle infielders older than 35. So I have to assume it is more than likely that last year was an outlier for one or both of them. The team is so talented 1-9 that a decline from those two should not impact the W/L record all that much.

  2. Old Gator - Mar 24, 2010 at 9:56 AM

    I think you can slow the aging process by excluding the amino acid tryptophan from your diet. Certainly, if anyone can afford the expensive food processing system to do that, it would be the Borg. Eating duckling instead of duck, baby spinach instead of full grown spinach, lamb instead of mutton and veal instead of steak would probably also help. Stashing the players in cryogenic lockers during road trips would also be helpful, but standing them upright instead of hanging them upside down would keep blood from rushing to their heads and inducing the Ted Williams effect when it freezes. Glycol intravenous, mixed with a little bit of Bud Lite, is a safe, gentle way to thaw them out without inducing that lingering sense of disorientation that so often follows the procedure without the beer.

  3. Big Harold - Mar 24, 2010 at 10:13 AM

    You left out sleeping in the hyperbaric chamber and continuous foot massages.

  4. Simon DelMonte - Mar 24, 2010 at 10:28 AM

    If we are going to talk about players aging, then you should mention Pettitte as well. Unlike the other core players, he’s had more than a couple of average years and some notable injuries. While he’s very much a gamer and is also fortunate enough to be on a team where he doesn’t have to throw seven innings every time out, I can’t see him repeating his 2009 performance. Not that he has to, with CC and AJ and JV and that bullpen.
    I also think that Posada’s days of being effective behind the plate (though not with the bat) might be coming to an end. Again, not something to worry about much, but something that could be interesting to watch unfold with how the younger pitchers are handled and with those catching prospects lined up like jets at JFK.
    As much as it pains my Met fan heart, the only thing I see standing between the Yanks and the Series is a Red Sox team with everything clicking in October. But the way things stand now, the Yanks just have too much firepower and the Sox have too many rotation questions.

  5. YankeesfanLen - Mar 24, 2010 at 1:00 PM

    I see little path other than repeat for the Universe. My observation, even during lean years is somewhat of a slow start as things settle down, let’s say through the first half of June. Don’t think it was ARod’s return last year (leave him alone) so much as things coming together. So the 5th starter (let’s go Hughes) isn’t as important as Cano learning patience.
    I always have concern when +-100 RBI guys leave. We talk pitching all of March and what matters is 950 runs per season.
    Now here’s the pivot point- The bullpen looks FANTASTIC this year, and given the penchant for strong offensive innings 7-9 (AJ get your pies ready) the formula will work that will lead to-
    28!

  6. Old Gator - Mar 24, 2010 at 1:04 PM

    I think that beer farts would kind of defeat the whole point of the hyperbaric chamber, don’t you? I mean, the system would only force the beer farts back into the sleeping ballplayer, world without end. Now you may well argue that we all have to do our part and recycle, even millionaire ballplayers, and I can’t disagree with that on principle. However, once they’ve ingested ever-increasing amounts of methane, they’re liable to start sprouting little pineapples out the tops of their heads. Soon they’ll have to start drilling holes in the batting helmets to let the pineapples stick out. Then the question becomes, if a batter ducks a pitch over his head and it hits the pineapple, how does the ump call it?
    .
    Sobering questions indeed.

  7. Nasty Boy - Mar 25, 2010 at 10:56 AM

    There’s nothing to worry about, their stronger this year than last. If you haven’t noticed they’ve gotten younger. Getting rid or Damon was a big improvement, Matsui was a good clutch hitter, but limited to just hitting. The only chink in the armor is Gardner, and I don’t think he’ll be starting for very long. I’m sure they will make a trade and use Gardner as a late inning replacement. The pitching is sound , better than last year. The bullpen is much better than last year. It will be a long year for the rest of the AL East.

  8. John - Mar 25, 2010 at 5:44 PM

    Old Gator, my fellow connoisseur of WZ, HST & Vonnegut you forgot about baby food as a great way to slow the aging process, especially the various deserts. Blueberry Buckle! Mmmmmm…

  9. GunnyMac - Apr 4, 2010 at 6:57 AM

    Old Gator, I would say, if they had melons instead of pineapples growing out of their helmets “they got their melon mushed”

  10. Boblight - Apr 4, 2010 at 2:45 PM

    Something tells me , this is the YEAR Phil Hughs proves! By the end of the year Phil will be the Yankees 2nd most effective starter. Joba will be an excellent set up man for Rivera in the bullpen. Arod and Tex will be the most productive 3-4 combo in the leauge. Jeter will have his 200 hits moving closer to the magic 3000. The bigest questions will be Petite and Vasquez, and Burnett. You know one of the 3 will be injured or have a bad year. Can Posada throw out any runners trying to steal is another question mark.. All in all, it will be The Yanks and Sox with the two best records in the AL. PS, Cano will be in the running for a batting title!

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