Springtime Storylines: Will age catch up to the Yankees?

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Between now and Opening Day, HBT will take a look at each of the 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2010 season.  The Yankees are the defending champs, so they have the honor.

The big question:  Will age catch up to the Yankees?

People have been asking this for years, but for 2010 at least I’m going to say no. Sure, it’s possible that Derek Jeter is going to suddenly remember that he’s a 36 year-old shortstop, Jorge Posada will act like we expect 38 year-old catchers to act and opposing batters may actually be able to hit the one pitch that Mariano Rivera throws, but we’ve been waiting for that for years and it it still hasn’t happened.  All three of those guys can be expected to decline a bit from unexpectedly good 2009 seasons, but it seems like the core of that team is entitled to the benefit of the doubt against cratering until they actually, you know, crater.

And you know what? Age is something of a red herring with this team. Mark Teixeira isn’t going to turn 30 until after the season starts. Robinson Cano, Curtis Granderson, Nick Swisher, CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, Phil Hughes, and Joba Chamberlain aren’t old. I worry about Nick Johnson’s health, but Jesus Montero could probably be plugged in at DH if things got dicey, and of course the Yankees are always able to make a deal for a hitter another team doesn’t feel like paying come July. People have questioned the Yankees depth, but on a team full of All-Stars the loss of any one player for a good chunk of time is less devastating than it might be elsewhere. No team could survive a 2009 Mets-style plague of injuries, but I think the 2010 Yankees are no more susceptible to age and injury than any other 100-win juggernaut.  

So what else is going on?

  • A lot of ink has been spilled over the fifth starter’s race, but given how strong the 1-4 guys are (Sabathia, Burnett, Pettitte, Vazquez) Yankees fans should be embarrassed that they’ve worried about it at all. Your fifth starter is going to be better than many team’s third starters and would be bona fide aces in a couple of cities. Zip it with the Phil and Joba anxiety, OK?
  • People have voiced concern about the outfield, but I think that the combination of Granderson, Brett
    Gardner and Randy Winn will be better than last year’s combination of
    Johnny Damon, Gardner and Melky Cabrera. Nick Swisher is the constant in right and he could fall back a bit, but this is not a team whose fortunes will rise and fall on the strength of Nick Swisher’s OPS;
  • The bullpen looks amazingly strong right now. Rivera anchors of course, the loser of the Chamberlain-Hughes battle sets up, and a crowd of solid guys in Chan Ho Park, Dave Robertson, Sergio Mitre, Damaso Marte and Alfredo Aceves round things out. Yankees opponents may find games to be very, very short this year;
  • The Yankees are always subject to some in-season drama, but the biggest thing on the horizon at the moment is Joe Girardi’s lame duck status. But really, whether Girardi is given a new contract will be determined by whether the Yankees win or lose, not the other way around.  Even with the A-Rod-Dr. Galea stuff, it’s hard to remember a less strife-filled beginning of the season for the Yankees.

So how are they gonna do?

Predictions are for suckers, so the Springtime Storylines feature is going to tread lightly in that department, but right now it’s hard to say that the Yankees aren’t strong favorites to repeat. Yes, injuries and age could be a factor, but there are too many guys on the roster who could, if they were the best player on their team, lead that team to a championship.  If things are going to go sideways for the Yankees, it’s going to take the simultaneous burnout or breakdown of multiple players for it to happen, and no one has ever gotten rich betting on coincidences like that to occur.

Prediction: First place in the AL East and a better shot at a champagne shower come November than anyone else.

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Yankees in, Red Sox out on Edwin Encarnacion

TORONTO, ON - OCTOBER 19:  Edwin Encarnacion #10 of the Toronto Blue Jays looks on against the Cleveland Indians during game five of the American League Championship Series at Rogers Centre on October 19, 2016 in Toronto, Canada.  (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
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In light of the Astros’ deal for veteran designated hitter Carlos Beltran on Saturday, the Yankees are thought to be intensifying their pursuit of free agent Edwin Encarnacion, reports Jon Morosi of FOX Sports. The Yankees never made an official offer to Beltran, but remain in need of a DH/first baseman to give them a little more power outside of a Tyler AustinGreg Bird combo in 2017.

The Red Sox, on the other hand, are reportedly withdrawing their interest when it comes to the Encarnacion sweepstakes. According to FanRag Sports’ Jon Heyman, they will look for a hitter to beef up their lineup without taking a “big plunge” on the 34-year-old.

Encarnacion enjoyed another All-Star run with the Blue Jays in 2016, hitting at a .263/.357/.529 clip with 42 homers and a league-leading 127 RBI in 702 PA. He’s expected to command a significant contract in free agency, and agent Paul Kinzer said that a potential deal is unlikely to be finalized before the Winter Meetings as Encarnacion is not close to agreeing to any offer. Interested teams include the Blue Jays and the Astros, though Beltran’s signing appears to have effectively taken Houston out of the running for the slugger.

Report: The Nationals are still in on Chris Sale and Andrew McCutchen

CHICAGO, IL - SEPTEMBER 05: Chris Sale #49 of the Chicago White Sox pitches against the Detroit Tigers during the first inning on September 5, 2016 at U. S. Cellular Field in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by David Banks/Getty Images)
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The Nationals are trying to go big this offseason, and FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal notes that they are still in trade talks for White Sox’ left-hander Chris Sale and Pirates’ center fielder Andrew McCutchen. Both players figure to command a big return, as Sale delivered another Cy Young-worthy performance in 2016 and, despite a downturn in his production rate, McCutchen is still one of the more coveted sluggers in the National League.

In 2016, Sale led the league in complete games, with six, and turned in a 3.34 ERA and 5.2 fWAR in 226 2/3 innings. While teams have been sniffing around the White Sox’ ace since the trade deadline, the club is expected to maintain a high asking price — so high, said FanRag Sports’ Jon Heyman, that it may keep the left-hander in Chicago for the foreseeable future.

According to Heyman, four other teams are reportedly in the mix for Sale, including the Red Sox, Astros, Rangers, and Braves, though parts of Rosenthal’s tweet hinted that the Red Sox were maintaining their interest in hopes of striking a more affordable deal. Should the Nationals pursue a deal for Sale, it’s likely that they’d have to move shortstop/center fielder Trea Turner, which they appear reluctant to do.

McCutchen, meanwhile, is also drawing interest around the league after batting .256/.336/.430 with 24 home runs in 675 PA during 2016. He didn’t appear to lose much power in his eighth season with the Pirates, but took considerably fewer walks and struck out at a career-high clip.

The Nationals were said to be in the lead for McCutchen on Thursday, and there was some expectation that the club would wrap up a trade for the center fielder by the non-tender deadline on Friday. FOX Sports’ Jon Morosi pointed out that the Rangers were also talking to the Pirates, however, and no deal has come to fruition as of yet.