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.

Click here for other Springtime Storylines

Tigers in discussions with Jordan Zimmermann

Jordan Zimmermann
AP Photo/Alex Brandon

Jon Morosi of FOX Sports reports that the Tigers are in discussions with free agent starter Jordan Zimmermann. His sources have told him that the talks have become “serious”.

Zimmermann, 29, has a career 3.32 ERA across parts of seven seasons in the majors. He finished fifth in National League Cy Young Award balloting in 2014, finishing with a 2.66 ERA and a 182/29 K/BB ratio over 199 2/3 innings.

Among starters who have amassed at least 1,000 innings since 2009, only Cliff Lee, Dan Haren, Madison Bumgarner, and Zack Greinke have compiled a better strikeout-to-walk ratio than Zimmermann’s 4.09. While he doesn’t have the star power of other free agents such as Greinke or David Price, the Tigers would certainly improve their rotation by bringing him on board.

Blue Jays still focused on upgrading their pitching

Marco Estrada
AP Photo/LM Otero

Having already added Jesse Chavez and J.A. Happ to the mix and re-signing Marco Estrada early in the offseason, Blue Jays interim GM Tony LaCava said the team will continue to pursue pitching upgrades, as Sportsnet’s Ben Nicholson-Smith reports. Nicholson-Smith added that LaCava declined to comment on free agent ace David Price. It is believed that the Jays will not pursue Price and other big-name free agent starting pitchers given their November activity.

The Jays re-signed Estrada to a two-year, $26 million deal on November 13, acquired Chavez from the Athletics in exchange for reliever Liam Hendriks on November 20 and signed Happ to a three-year, $36 million deal on Friday.

Nicholson-Smith notes in a column on Sportsnet that the Jays need to address the bullpen in particular. That is especially true after swapping Hendriks, who had a career-best 2.92 ERA out of the Jays’ bullpen in 2015, for a back-end starting pitcher.

Report: Jonathan Papelbon is “untradeable”

Jonathan Papelbon
AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin

Jon Heyman of CBS Sports spoke to an anonymous baseball executive, who said that Nationals closer Jonathan Papelbon is “untradeable”. The Nationals are hoping to trade both Papelbon and the man he displaced, Drew Storen.

Papelbon has a poor reputation in baseball, particularly after a dugout altercation with superstar outfielder Bryce Harper. Focusing strictly on what he does on the field, Papelbon still gets the job done. The 35-year-old finished the last season with a combined 2.13 ERA, 24 saves, and a 56/12 K/BB ratio over 63 1/3 innings between the Phillies and Nationals.

The Nationals owe Papelbon $11 million for the 2016 season.

Minor league home run king Mike Hessman retires

NEW YORK - JULY 29:  Mike Hessman #19 of the New York Mets bats against the St. Louis Cardinals on July 29, 2010 at Citi Field in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City. The Mets defeated the Cardinals 4-0.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Baseball America’s J.J. Cooper reports that corner infielder Mike Hessman has retired from professional baseball after 20 seasons. Hessman hit 433 home runs in the minor leagues, an all-time record. He broke Buzz Arlett’s record this past August and with style as #433 was a grand slam.

Hessman, 37, was selected in the 16th round of the 1996 draft by the Braves and remained with the organization through the 2004 season. He then went to the Tigers from 2005-09, the Mets in 2010, then drifted into the Astros and Reds’ farm systems before returning to the Tigers for the last two years.

Hessman took 250 plate appearances at the major league level, batting .188/.272/.422 with 14 home runs and 33 RBI.