Matt’s Minute

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By MATT McCORMACK

STAFF WRITER

Last week, pitchers and catchers reported to spring training. Every year, New York sports fans practically salivate for this day to arrive.  Football has been over for a while, and let’s face it, the Knicks usually (excluding this year) are not serious contenders this time of year. Besides signifying the impending arrival of spring, every year, “pitchers and catchers” represents a sports revival in New York, because we are most definitely a baseball-crazy city.  Baseball holds a special spot in the hearts of New Yorkers, since we have a team with the potential to win a championship seemingly every year: the New York Yankees.

This year, however, the Yankees are not clear favorites to win the division or even make the playoffs. In fact, in a few short years, the balance of power has completely shifted: Many experts predict the Toronto Blue Jays and Baltimore Orioles, perennial bottom-dwellers, to fight for first place, forcing the Yankees to contend for a possible wild-card berth. I do not agree with said experts.

The Yankees have their weaknesses; there is no doubt about that.  With the departures of Raul Ibanez, Russell Martin, Nick Swisher and Eric Chavez, they lost a few key sources of run production while not doing much to replace them, only signing veterans Kevin Youkilis and Travis Hafner. This leads to another area of weakness: age.  The Yankees have the oldest lineup in baseball by a wide margin. Two key players, Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter, are returning from major injuries; their health will be crucial to the Yankees’ success.

The Yankees’ aging lineup has been the major catalyst, causing critics to foresee a rough year ahead.  The team does, however, have many bright spots.  The rotation has a bona fide ace in CC Sabathia and will hopefully have some quality depth with the return of Michael Pineda at midseason. Hiroki Kuroda and Andy Pettitte will provide stability and Phil Hughes and Ivan Nova can (at a minimum) eat innings at the end of the rotation.  Despite the loss of Rafael Soriano, the bullpen still boasts a deadly one-two punch with Mariano Rivera and David Robertson. The Yankees’ quality starting rotation will limit the appearances of mediocre middle relievers such as Joba Chamberlain (Yankees fans are still waiting for a return to 2007 Joba, which seems all but impossible at this point).

Even with the losses of many key run-producers, this Yankees’ lineup still has an MVP candidate in Robinson Cano and many quality (albeit aging) hitters in Curtis Granderson, Derek Jeter, Ichiro Suzuki and Mark Teixeira. Although not exactly Murderer’s Row, it should get the job done in the regular season at least.  After all, they will not need to score 10 runs a game with their vaunted pitching staff.

Seemingly every year, people write the Yankees off due to their age.  Admittedly, the collapse has to happen sooner or later. Hopefully, the Yankees’ aging stars can hold on to their former greatness for one more year.  The happiness of thousands of New York baseball fans depends on it.