Will 2012 be the turning point in recent Yankees history, the year where the heroes of teams that have reached the postseason in 17 of the last 18 seasons fade into the past and force the franchise to forge a new identity?
Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera have been the two constants in New York, both making their major league debuts when the club started its playoff run in 1995. The two future first-ballot Hall of Famers have aged gracefully, maintaining high levels of play while remaining remarkably durable—until this past season.
Rivera tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee in May while shagging balls during batting practice in Kansas City, costing him the rest of the season. Jeter fared better, leading the majors in hits for the second time and moved into 11th place on the all-time list. But he fractured his left ankle while trying to make a defensive play during the American League Championship Series, and the Tigers went on to sweep a listless Yankees club that looked very old.
While Jeter’s career doesn’t figure to be over, there’s reason to wonder how well a 38-year-old shortstop will recover from such an injury. The same is true of Rivera, a pending free agent who’ll be 43 when he tries to come back in 2013.
At best, Eduardo Nunez would be a short-term replacement for Jeter. Rafael Soriano filled in capably for Rivera, though he exercised the opt-out clause in his contract this offseason. The farm system isn’t in position to provide any immediate help, as many of the Yankees’ top prospects took a step backwards.
That was especially true of Manny Banuelos and Dellin Betances, who entered the year as New York’s best pitching prospects. Banuelos blew out his elbow and required Tommy John surgery, while Betances was bumped down to Double-A and is no longer counted on by the organization.
Yankees pitching took two more hits when big leaguer Michael Pineda missed the entire season with a shoulder tear and 20-year-old Jose Campos worked just 25 innings before being shut down with elbow issues. Both were acquired from the Mariners in January for New York’s previous No. 1 prospect, Jesus Montero.
Recent top draft picks Cito Culver (2010) and Dante Bichette (2011) also floundered, but other position prospects flourished while playing together in Class A. Outfielders Mason Williams, Slade Heathcott and Tyler Austin and catcher Gary Sanchez need more time to develop, but all are candidates to become the first homegrown Yankees to crack the big league lineup on a consistent basis since Brett Gardner in 2008.
Owner Hal Steinbrenner has said he doesn’t want to exceed the $189 million luxury-tax threshold in 2013, but that will be difficult. New York spent roughly $210 million on payroll in 2012, and it carries unenviable contracts for declining players such as Alex Rodriguez ($114 million through 2017) and Mark Teixeira ($93 million through 2016). Its top player, Robinson Cano, is a year away from free agency.
The Yankees have signed and developed young core players in recent years, but they traded Austin Jackson and Montero. The end of the 2012 season made it clear that a new nucleus will have to be developed, and soon.
TOP TEN PROSPECTS
1. Mason Williams, of
2. Slade Heathcott, of
3. Gary Sanchez, c
4. Tyler Austin, of
5. Jose Campos, rhp
6. Brett Marshall, rhp
7. Angelo Gumbs, 2b
8. Manny Banuelos, lhp
9. Ty Hensley, rhp
10. Rafael De Paula, rhp
Best Hitter for Average Tyler Austin
Best Power Hitter Gary Sanchez
Best Strike Zone Discipline Taylor Dugas
Fastest Baserunner Mason Williams
Best Athlete Mason Williams
Best Fastball Jose Ramirez
Best Curveball Bryan Mitchell
Best Slider Mark Montgomery
Best Changeup Brett Marshall
Best Control Caleb Cotham
Best Defensive Catcher Austin Romine
Best Defensive Infielder Cito Culver
Best Infield Arm Cito Culver
Best Defensive OF Mason Williams
Best Outfield Arm Slade Heathcott
PROJECTED 2016 LINEUP
Catcher Gary Sanchez
First Base Tyler Austin
Second Base Angelo Gumbs
Third Base Robinson Cano
Shortstop Eduardo Nunez
Left Field Curtis Granderson
Center Field Mason Williams
Right Field Slade Heathcott
Designated Hitter Mark Teixeira
No. 1 Starter C.C. Sabathia
No. 2 Starter Phil Hughes
No. 3 Starter Ivan Nova
No. 4 Starter Jose Campos
No. 5 Starter Brett Marshall
Closer David Robertson
TOP PROSPECTS OF THE DECADE
2003 Jose Contreras, rhp Phillies
2004 Dioner Navarro, c Reds
2005 Eric Duncan, 3b Royals
2006 Phil Hughes, rhp Yankees
2007 Phil Hughes, rhp Yankees
2008 Joba Chamberlain, rhp Yankees
2009 Austin Jackson, of Tigers
2010 Jesus Montero, c Mariners
2011 Jesus Montero, c Mariners
2012 Jesus Montero, c Mariners
TOP DRAFT PICKS OF THE DECADE
2003 Eric Duncan, 3B Royals
2004 Phil Hughes, RHP Yankees
2005 C.J. Henry, SS Out of baseball
2006 Ian Kennedy, RHP Diamondbacks
2007 Andrew Brackman, RHP Reds
2008 Gerrit Cole, RHP Pirates
2009 Slade Heathcott, OF Yankees
2010 Cito Culver, SS Yankees
2011 Dante Bichette, OF (1st rd supp.) Yankees
2012 Ty Hensley, RHP Yankees
LARGEST BONUSES IN CLUB HISTORY
Hideki Irabu, 1997 $8,500,000
Jose Contreras, 2002 $6,000,000
Andrew Brackman, 2007 $3,350,000
Gary Sanchez, 2009 $3,000,000
Wily Mo Pena, 1999 $2,440,000