Saturday, January 30, 2010

Harper: Aging Core Yanks Biggest Concern

After Mike Lupica made the Yankees not signing Johnny Damon seem like their worst mistake since signing Carl Pavano, another Daily News writer, John Harper, seems to understand things a bit better.... OK fine, a lot better:
[Losing Damon] is more of an emotional issue for fans who appreciated Damon's toughness and good humor than it is reason to fear the impact on the Yankees repeating as champs.


So fans have every right to wonder if the chemistry will be the same. You can go all the way back to the 1986 Mets, who never had quite the same bulletproof bravado after management dumped heart-and-soul guys Ray Knight and Kevin Mitchell, deciding that Kevin McReynolds - talk about joyless - was a better fit.

Only it's hard to imagine that will be the case here. By all accounts, GM Brian Cashman has added high-character, high-intensity guys in players such as Curtis Granderson, Nick Johnson and Randy Winn to a clubhouse that is now full of players who share Derek Jeter and Jorge Posada's commitment to winning.

With that in mind, you can argue with Cashman's reasoning for moving on without Damon - or Matsui, for that matter - but you can't argue that his moves this winter have helped put his ballclub in position to build on last season's success.

Who's kidding whom? The Yankees are loaded.
He goes on to add that "it's impossible to imagine them not making the playoffs" with the pitching depth they now have with CC, AJ, Pettitte, and Vazquez, who he says is the best No. 4 starter in the game. So far so good, no complaints here. Moving on to the issue of age an injuries:
Mariano Rivera turned 40 in November. He had another brilliant season in '09, but he can't go on like this forever, can he? He's been so great for so long that any significant decline could have a devastating effect on the ballclub.

Jorge Posada turns 39 in August. His defense, always something of an issue, became a major story when he clashed with A.J. Burnett, leading Joe Girardi to sit him in the righthander's postseason starts. With Johnson signed as a full-time DH, Posada's health and performance behind the plate are critical.

Andy Pettitte turns 38 in June and has a history of elbow and shoulder problems. What if it all catches up with him this year?

Derek Jeter turns 36 in June, and while he enjoyed something of a renaissance season in 2009, there's no denying he's old for a shortstop.

Alex Rodriguez turns 35 in July, and his hip surely will continue to be a concern, if not an issue.

The point here is that, although they lost Chien-Ming Wang for the season and A-Rod for a month due to hip surgery, the Yankees were very lucky with injuries last season. Even Burnett, forever an arm injury waiting to happen, survived his first year as a Yankee without missing a start.
This makes complete sense and surely could be an issue for the upcoming season. Luckily for the Yanks, the core four (plus A-Rod) have also been durable. Jeter has only had one season where he missed significant time. Coming off his first major injury A-Rod seems to be healthy again. Remember, he's a guy that throughout his career rarely misses more than a handful of games all year. Mariano Rivera always seems to have one minor injury throughout a season, but rarely misses much time. Pettitte is a workhorse who should once again be able to give the Yanks around 200 innings, but at 38 there's always a chance for decline. And then there's Jorge Posada. To me, Posada is the biggest risk for a major injury out of the group. He plays the toughest position and has made several DL trips over the past two seasons. In 2009 he played just 111 games after playing just 51 in 2008. Losing your starting catcher can be a season-killer.

However, this concern of an aging core makes the departure of a 36-year-old Johnny Damon and 35-year-old Hideki Matsui, both guys who have had their injury issues over the years, look pretty well thought out, doesn't it? After all, if the Yankees are going to get younger it's going to needs to start somewhere, and unless Brian Cashman suddenly forgot what he's doing the Yankees goal over the next few seasons will be to bring in good young talent to mix with the vets. A guy like Curtis Granderson starts the ball rolling nicely. Carl Crawford, who is just 28, will probably be one of the Yankees next big targets (at least I hope he is), whether it's by mid-season trade or as a free agent next offseason. Also with Posada getting up their in age, there's always Joe Mauer to look at if he decides to leave Minnesota.

Over the past few seasons Cashman has shown that he does have a plan with this team. In 2008 it was to hold on to the youngsters and wait to the 2009 free agent class. This offseason he seems to have stressed pitching and defense, as well as getting a little younger in the process. Next offseason I suspect we'll see more of the same.

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