If there’s such a thing as a rebuilding season for a team with a payroll north of $225 million, then 2013 was supposed to be it for the New York Yankees. The team was actually frugal this offseason as boss Hal Steinbrenner is determined to get under the $189 million tax threshold that baseball has set for 2014. By getting under that number, the Yanks would save tens of millions of dollars in helping to fund the payrolls of the Marlins, Pirates and the like.
With Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Curtis Granderson and Mark Teixeira starting the season on the disabled list, the Yanks weren’t favored in the American League East for the first time in several years. Missing the playoffs for only the second time since 1995 seemed a distinct possibility. Yet there the Yankees are atop the division entering this week despite still not having Jeter, A-Rod or Teixeira. The former two aren’t expected back until after the All-Star Break (if then), while Teixeira could be back at the beginning of June. New York is the +225 favorite to win the division again, with the Sox right behind at +250.
So how is New York doing it? Ace CC Sabathia (4-3, 3.19 ERA entering Monday’s start in Baltimore) has been good but not great. Ditto Andy Pettitte, who is now on the disabled list. Hiroki Kuroda (6-2, 1.99) has been tremendous. Kuroda has made nine starts and allowed three runs or fewer in all of them. He’s a Cy Young candidate. Don’t be shocked if he starts the All-Star Game for the American League, which is held at the Mets’ Citi Field (certainly Clay Buchholz and Jon Lester will be in the running as well if they continue their paces). Closer Mariano Rivera has been as automatic as always despite the fact he’s 43 years old.
With all those injured stars missing, the Yankees aren’t a great offensive team, ranking No. 14 in baseball in runs scored entering the week. However, the trade with the Angels for outfielder Vernon Wells looks like a steal right now. New York sent two low-level prospects to the Halos, who also ate $28 million of the remaining $42 million on his deal. Wells is the leader in the clubhouse for AL Comeback Player of the Year, hitting .286 with 10 homers and 23 RBIs. Former Indian Travis Hafner also was essentially taken off the scrap heap and also has been surprisingly good.
The question is whether Steinbrenner will sign off on adding salary at the trade deadline because the team is flawed. Hafner is incapable of staying healthy. It’s not likely that this will be Pettitte’s last trip to the disabled list at age 40. The rotation is very weak at the back end. The left side of the infield is a black hole without Jeter and A-Rod, and who knows what they will have in the tank if they even return in 2013.
New York’s upcoming schedule also will be a challenge. The Yanks began a three-game series in Baltimore on Monday and have just eight home games — including a three-game set with the Red Sox — between now and June 18.
This post is presented by Bovada.