Jay-Z definitely made a Yankee hat more famous than Dan Johnson can. (anthonystoro/Flickr)

The 2013 New York Yankees are one heck of an interesting bet. It’s not quite black/red, high/low or odd/even, but you can rest assured that outcomes in baseball really aren’t all that complicated.

In fact, there are only three kinds of baseball seasons in my book:

1) A season where the Red Sox win the World Series. This has happened two times in my lifetime (2004 & 2007) and was absolutely amazing both times.

2) A year when the Yankees win it all. This has happened five times in my lifetime (1996, 1998, 1999, 2000 & 2009) and royally sucked every time. Winning the World Series surfaces so many fickle, fair weather Yankee fans who still think that Bernie Williams is patrolling centerfield in pinstripes.

3) A season where any of the other 28 teams take home the title. These years are fine. I don’t care if the San Francisco Giants win the World Series. To me, those years are a wash. We didn’t win, neither did you, see you again next year.

Looking at this Yankees team as it is presently constructed, it’s fairly hard to believe that 2013 will fall into that awful second category. The starting rotation is the unquestioned strength of this team, and that can certainly take you somewhere, but this lineup is not exactly Murderers Row 2.0, even when the injured players return. The Evil Empire spent its offseason getting outbid for players that they wanted by such financial titans as the Pittsburgh Pirates and Arizona Diamondbacks. The Yankees have made it pretty clear that they are getting below the $189 million luxury tax threshold in 2014, even if it means they don’t have the payroll to employ a Major League level catcher.

Projected Opening Day Lineup (2012 Statistics — BA/OBP/SLG, WAR)

1) RF — Ichiro Suzuki (.283/.307/.390, 1.6) Ichiro excelled in his short Yankee stint last season and the team rewarded him with a two year $13 million deal. Which Ichiro will come to the plate this year? The guy who hit a paltry .261/.288/.353 for the Mariners or the .322/.340/.454 player that showed up in New York? If he returns to his Seattle statistics, the Yankees will need Brett Gardner to ascend into the leadoff role.

2) SS — Derek Jeter (.316/.362/.429, 2.1) Since Jeter’s outstanding 6.4 WAR season in 2009 he has seen his value drop to 1.6, 0.9, and 2.1 in the three seasons since. Returning from a broken ankle suffered in the playoffs gives him one more thing to overcome this season. Perhaps the biggest reason for concern though is his ever decreasing defensive range. According to Baseball Info Solutions Defense Runs Saved Above Average (per 1200 Innings) statistic, Jeter has cost the Yankees 8, 14, and 10 runs over an average defensive SS in the last 3 seasons. As someone that watches a lot of Yankees’ games this stat passes the eye test too. If Jeter gets to a ball he’s still very sure-handed (as evidenced by his perpetually low error total), but the guy just doesn’t get to very many balls that aren’t hit right at him. I don’t see how putting his range-less defense next to the defensive statue Youkilis does not produce a complete defensive abomination on the left side of the NYY infield this season.

Remove the goatee, add in some pinstripes, extract his soul…and you have 2013’s Kevin Youkilis.
(sittingstill.net/Kelly O’Connor)

3) 2B — Robinson Cano (.313/.379/.550, 8.2) Cano is one of the best players in the league, there’s little to no doubt about that. His 8.2 WAR trailed only Mike Trout last season. That’s pretty elite company. There might be a looming contract dispute with management, but other than that, there’s not much to poke fun at. This isn’t a lot of fun, let’s move on to someone else.

4) 3B — Kevin Youkilis (.235/.336/.409, 1.3) Our old friend, Youk! His statistical free-fall is absolutely stunning. After averaging over 5 wins for the the previous 5 seasons he was good for only 1.3 wins in 2012. Was he injured all of last season or did he just find the cliff and fall that abruptly?

5) DH — Travis Hafner (.228/.346/.438, 0.7) Hafner has only played in more than 94 games once since 2007. He’s a classic Brian Cashman low-cost, high-reward signing. If he’s awful they are out $2 million, which is like you and me dropping a nickel and not stopping to pick it up. If he’s miraculously healthy he’ll probably hit 30 HR over that little league distance right field fence. I’m terrified of him, this is the kind of signing (please reference Raul Ibanez in 2012 and Ruben Sierra in 2004 among many others) that just always seems to come up roses for the Yankees.

6) LF — Juan Rivera (.244/.286/.375, -0.9) Stop laughing. I’ll give you a minute. Seriously, Juan Rivera is likely opening up the season not only on the Yankees active roster, but as a starter. The last time Rivera was even a formidable major league player was 2009 with the Angels. Since then he has combined for a negative win total in four years. They might as well let Melky Mesa or Zolio Almonte play, but please don’t tell them that.

7) 1B — Dan Johnson (.364/.548/.818, 0.5 – in 14 MLB Games) You’re laughing again, aren’t you? Johnson is actually listed as the team’s starting first baseman on their depth chart right now. How does Cashman not make some kind of move? If he doesn’t, it will be a few long weeks until Teixeira comes back from his wrist injury. Maybe it would be helpful for Bob Ryan if instead of WAR we called it Wins Above Dan Johnson. Or maybe Dan Johnson can just legally change his name to Replacement Player. I’m good with either one.

8) CF — Brett Gardner (.323/.417/.387, 0.2) Gardner is a little ball of speed and potential, but other than his excellent 2010 season (.383 OPB, 47 SB) he really hasn’t put it all together. He’s only played in more than 108 games twice in his career. This Yankee lineup needs him to be every bit of the player that he was three seasons ago.

9) C — Chris Stewart (.241/.292./.319, 0.9) To call the bottom half of this lineup pedestrian is insulting to anyone that walks anywhere. The Yankees, the team with the biggest payroll in the sport, are content going into the season with Chris Stewart, Francisco Cervelli, and Austin Romine as their catching options.

IF — Eduardo Nunez (.292/.330/.393, 0.3 WAR)
C — Francisco Cervelli (2 MLB PA in 2012)
OF — Matt Diaz (.222/.280/.333, -0.8 WAR)
OF — Melky Mesa (2 MLB PA in 2012)

If the Yankees are going to stay atop the AL East, they’ll need Sabathia to be huge.
(sittingstill.net/Kelly O’Connor)

Starting Rotation (2012 Statistics — Record, ERA, WHIP, WAR)

1) CC Sabathia (15-6, 3.38, 1.14, 3.3) One of the few true aces in the game. His 2012 WAR represents a pretty substantial drop off from his 7.0 mark in 2011. The Yankees need him to be the 230+ inning pitcher he was in his first three years on the team, not the 200 inning pitcher he was last season.

2) Hiroki Kuroda (16-11, 3.32, 1.17, 5.2) The 38 year old got $15 million to come back and help anchor the rotation again, and with good reason. Kuroda thrived in his first season in the Bronx, and was the team’s most valuable player other than Robby Cano.

3) Andy Pettitte (5-4, 2.87, 1.14, 2.2) After a one year retirement to spend more time with his family, Pettitte apparently decided that his family wasn’t as much fun as he had been hoping for. That leaves the Yankees with a 40 year old starter coming off a season where he pitched solidly but missed two and a half months with a broken ankle. He might be one of the toughest players to project for New York, but they would be very happy to extrapolate his 2012 statistics in 12 appearances out over 30+ starts.

4) Phil Hughes (16-13, 4.23, 1.27, 1.5) If Phil Hughes was a stock, I would have bought and sold him ten different times by now. Is he going to be awesome or awful? Can he make up his mind and let us know already? If I call him the Yankees version of Clay Buchholz who is that more insulting to?

5) Ivan Nova (12-8, 5.02, 1.47, 0.4) They call him “Super Nova”, but only because Mediocre Nova isn’t nearly as catchy. He’s a back of the rotation starter who backed his way into a 16-4 record in 2011 and got everyone excited. He’s not great, but he also probably won’t kill you in most outings. That’s the job description for a 5th starter.

Bullpen (2012 Statistics)

Mariano Rivera (5 SV, 2.16, 0.96, -1 ACL) What can I say about Mariano? At 42 Rivera is undeniably the greatest closer of all time (sorry, Alex, it’s not even arguable). More men have walked on the moon than have scored runs on him in the playoffs. (Although in the interest of full disclosure more men have walked on the moon than have scored runs on me in the playoffs too, so maybe we should include Innings Pitched when throwing that statistic around.) If he’s healthy, he’ll probably border on untouchable, as usual. Why expect anything else at this point?

David Robertson (2.67, 1.17)
Boone Logan (3.74, 1.37)
Joba Chamberlain (4.35, 1.55)
David Aardsma (Appeared in 1 game since 2010)
Clay Rapada (2.82, 1.20)
David Phelps (3.34, 1.19)

Prospects On the Horizon Who Could Help 

Another unfortunate circumstance for the Yankees in 2013 is that their top prospects (Gary Sanchez, Mason Williams, Tyler Austin, and Slade Heathcott) aren’t projected to make it to the major league level for another few years. Who has a legitimate shot of arriving in the majors and making an impact in 2013?

OF — Zolio Almonte
RHP — Mark Montgomery
LHP — Manny Banuelos
RHP — Dellin Bentances
C — Austin Romine

Injured Players

OF — Curtis Granderson (.232./.319/.492, 2.7 WAR) — Out until late May, fractured forearm.

1B — Mark Teixeira (.251/.332/.475, 3.6 WAR) — Out until late May, strained wrist.

ARod is a walking Public Service Announcement at this point.
Don’t use steroids, kids!
(sittingstill.net/Kelly O’Connor)

SP — Michael Pineda (9-10, 3.74, 1.10 in 2011) — Out until June, shoulder surgery.

3B — Alex Rodriguez (.272/.353/.430, 2.0 WAR) — Out until August, general body deterioration and steroid induced side effects hip surgery.

So there you have it, on paper this team is far from a juggernaut. They have more questions than answers at this point. Knowing all too well that Yankee fans never worry about their team and enter every year assuming they’ll win another ring, I asked my friend Matt for his take on this year’s team.

Jack asked for a Yankee fan’s perspective of why I’m not worried about the Yankees this year. Truth is…I am worried. We haven’t exactly had a great offseason or spring to this point. I take pride in not being a belligerent, arrogant Yankee fan. However, I’m still confident this is a team that will make the playoffs. Are they a championship threat? Not as they currently exist, but a lot of things change throughout the season. They start the season without A-Rod (thank God!), Granderson, and Teixeira. That’s a lot of power, not to mention Swisher going to the Indians. Brian Cashman has his work cut out for him, but one or two good acquisitions to patch things up for a month and the Yankees will be fine. The Yankees worry me right now, but it will be a very different team in July. Michael Pineda is expected back around then, which could be great for the starting rotation and once the lineup is healthy again I expect a solid AL East contender.

Do I have great hopes for the 2013 Yankees? No, but they should still be 1 or 2 in the division. Either way, the best part of this season may be watching Red Sox fans blow up every time Youkilis hits one of his 30 homers this year to right field!

Their hopes are pinned on a pitcher with nine career major league wins coming off of shoulder surgery, Jeter returning to 100% at 38, Teixeira returning from a wrist injury that can plague hitters without complication, old guys like Pettitte and Kuroda staying healthy for 6 months, Kevin Youkilis setting his career high in home runs at 34 years old, and of course CC Sabathia avoiding his inevitable triple bypass surgery for one more year. That’s a lot to ask for, even for the most entitled fan base in American sports.

Projected 2013 Record: 84-78