Keys to 2013: New York Yankees

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Let’s take a look at each team and their various keys to achieve their goals for 2013. For some clubs, like the Yankees, it’s to win no matter what. For others, like the Mets, it’s a means to an end by developing and clearing the last bloated salaries from the previous baseball operations regime. Unlike prior years, the 2013 Yankees are functioning with a strict budget, tamped down bravado among the media and fanbase, and the acknowledgement of the possibility of a disappointing year. The demands, however, remain the same: Win. Period.

Starting Pitching Key: CC Sabathia

Following the 2012 season, Sabathia required surgery on his elbow to remove a bone spur. He pitched in pain for much of the year without admitting it and still had what would’ve been a Cy Young Award caliber season had he not missed 4-5 starts with a strained groin and the elbow issue.

The age and shortness in the Yankees’ rotation makes Sabathia’s health and performance all the more important. He has to give them 220+ innings and his usual 18+ wins as the horse carting the pitching staff on his back or they’re in major trouble.

Relief Pitching Key: Mariano Rivera

The talk that Rivera will be an automatic stems from the deity-like status he’s acquired. Is it likely that he’ll be his old self again? Even if he isn’t he’ll probably still be very good and better than most other closers, but he’s also 43-years-old and returning from a serious knee injury. The Yankees don’t have a ready-made replacement for him if he goes down again as they did with Rafael Soriano.

Offensive Key: Mark Teixeira

Teixeira’s reported “decline” and desperation to hit home runs at home have turned into factoids. Everyone says it, therefore it’s accepted as truth. His batting average has dropped to .256 and below between 2010 and 2012 after never hitting lower than .281 since his rookie year, but a large portion of that is bad luck and the defensive shifts that are deployed against him. His BAbip has dropped to an average of about .250 in those years. He still walks and he’s not striking out more than he did in his best years.

The problem for Teixeira will be other teams focusing on stopping him. No one can stop Robinson Cano—that’s known—they try to contain him. Teixeira, on the other hand, is streaky and vulnerable. With the losses of other power bats in the Yankees’ lineup and the players returning from injury, there won’t be any reason to give Teixeira pitches to hit. If he grows impatient and expands his strike zone trying to produce, he’ll have a bad year.

Defensive Key: Derek Jeter

Jeter’s range has been getting exponentially worse for years and now he’s coming back from a broken ankle and surgery which will further diminish his speed. Their pitching staff gets a lot of ground balls and many of them go back toward the middle of the diamond. Without the powerful offense and margin for error the Yankees have had in the past, they’ll need to compensate in other areas and if Jeter can’t get to a significant number of grounders that a faster and rangier shortstop would, it will cost them games—games they can’t afford to lose.