The 2013 season hasn't started in the manner the New York Yankees originally predicted when the year flipped from 2012 to 2013. It began with injuries: first Curtis Granderson, then Mark Texiera, Derek Jeter, and now Eduardo Nunez. Oh, and let's not forget Alex Rodriguez and Michael Pineda, both of whom are out until at least June. Then the losses, two to the Boston Red Sox in the opening series of the year in the Bronx, only to lead to a third loss against the reigning AL Champion Detroit Tigers.
Heading into the second game of a three-game series with the Tigers Saturday afternoon, the Yankees stand at 1-3, tied for fourth in the AL East, behind Baltimore, Boston, and Tampa Bay. While the injuries have led to difficult times for the Yankees franchise and their fans, it was the dumpster diving that followed that has caused Yankee fans grief. In order to replace some of the talent now sitting on the bench, Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman signed former Tigers outfielder Brennan Boesch, traded for overpaid and largely forgotten former Angels outfielder Vernon Wells, signed outfielder Ben Fancisco and brought in Lyle Overbay to play some first base.
None of those names give Yankee fans confidence, and this is a fan base that expects nothing but positive results, and preferably World Series titles. So far neither side, pitching or hitting, has functioned efficiently for the Yankees, with their aged hitters combining for 32 strikeouts while their pitching staff has compiled only 27 strikeouts of their opponents. To put the whole situation into perspective, think about this fact. Only four of the Yankees' 13 qualified hitters from 2012 are currently healthy and playing for the Bronx Bombers. That list includes Robinson Cano, Ichiro, Chris Stewart, and Jayson Nix.
In a piece by Fox Sports Baseball reporter Ken Rosenthal, Rosenthal points out that, even despite the Yankees early struggles, the Yankees MLB roster must transition from older to younger. The Yankees current roster, minus players on the disabled list, has an average age of 31.4 years of age. Since 2008, the Yankee roster's average age has been north of 30 three separate seasons, which is on the high side in comparison to other MLB teams. Rosenthal begins his piece by saying point blank:
"One thing we know, no matter how this season turns out - the Yankees need to get younger."
It's not as if the Yankees' age is a secret. Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Ichiro, Hiroki Kuroda, and Andy Pettitte are all at least 38 years old. In addition, much of their production is expected to come from those veterans amongst other slightly younger veterans like C.C. Sabathia, Mark Teixeira, and Kevin Youkilis. Rosenthal's point rings true, even if we were all already thinking the same thought.
So, if youth is the answer, what can the Yankees hope for? Well, this isn't a franchise that can lull it's fans to sleep while it allows its young prospects to develop down on the farm, make the MLB roster, and develop further in the big leagues. Yankees fans demand winning, and more often than not, a team filled with talented but green youngsters won't win enough games or make the playoffs enough to appease a Yankees-like fan base.
Speaking of those young prospects, the Yankees actually have a number of highly touted minor leaguers. Outfielders Mason Williams, Tyler Austin, and Slade Heathcott, and catcher Gary Sanchez headline the talent on the farm for New York, as well as pitchers Ty Hensley, Jose Ramirez, and Jose Campos. Baseball Prospectus' Jason Parks had this to say about the Yankees farm system:
"The Yankees system is better than I initially realized, with high-impact potential scattered all over the top 10, but the quality falls off quickly and the lack of depth keeps the farm from being considered a top 10 system."
It sounds great, the Yankees need an infusion of youth and talent in the majors, and it seems like they have it in the minors, but there is an issue. All but two of the top prospects mentioned are in A-ball, and those two who aren't --Austin and Heathcott -- will begin the 2013 season in Double-A Trenton. While Yankees fans saw Heathcott and others in Spring Training, there is almost no chance of those same fans watching any of the Yankees' top 10 prospects in the big leagues on a regular bases before 2015.
Since Yankees fans won't wait until 2015, GM Brian Cashman will have to mix things up a bit, make some moves, swindle some deals, in order to bring in young MLB-ready or proven talent. The Yankees have, thanks to the new qualifying offer rule, three first round draft picks in the 2013 MLB draft. All three picks come late in the first round, but very solid, high-caliber talent can be found around the 30th pick. If Cashman wants to make moves, whether it be at the trade deadline or in the off-season, maybe a solid 2013 draft could give him the flexibility to move prospects like Williams, Heathcott, and Austin for players like Matt Garza, David Price, or Giancarlo Stanton.
The Yankees talent on the farm is proof that this is a franchise with the ability to draft well. In addition, given the number of above-average players the Yankees have developed in their farm system over the years, there exists little doubt that prospects drafted in 2013 could eventually wear Yankee pinstripes. Moreover, if the Yankees go after more polished college players with one or even two of their first round picks, those players could reach the majors sooner rather than later.
The Yankees must get younger, but how they do so is largely a decision for the front office. Given the recent minimization of free agency as a method for rebuilding or adding talent, and the increased pressure on teams to develop young talent and then use those prospects either has players or as bargaining chips, the Yankees might not want to resemble a rich franchise willing to give money to every free agent sniffing for a deal. Instead they need to morph into a more hybrid-like franchise, one that brings up young talent, makes smart trades, signs players to reasonable extensions, and still makes the occasional pointed free agent deal.
Given Brian Cashman's willingness to use all options at his disposal in his dealings, I have little doubt that he and his front office will come up with a plan to keep the Yankees boat on course. At the end of his piece, Rosenthal points out the most important aspect of the Yankees seemingly desolate situation.
"Bleak as things may appear, the Yankees are far from lost."
Of course, Rosenthal is absolutely correct, the Yankees will find their way, but hopefully for Cashman, the team won't lose too many game this season, giving him the chance to put together another club ready to win a World Series in 2014.