At Home Plate: Yankees face major obstacles in 2013

Remember in “Return of the Jedi” when the Death Star explodes? The rebels destroy the last traces of the Evil Empire in the galaxy. Interestingly, the “Evil Empire” of baseball — the New York Yankees — seems to be going through a similar Death Star experience.

Sure, maybe the entire organization is not crumbling to pieces, but the Yankees are in a situation very different than the past few offseasons. New York is attempting to lower its payroll in order to avoid luxury taxes season after season. For the first time in recent memory, the Yankees failed to make a huge splash in the offseason.

There is still about a month before spring training, but it’s looking like the team is content heading into the season with what it has.

Age is likely to be a factor in how the upcoming season turns out for the Yankees. Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera will be returning from bad injuries, and Alex Rodriguez won’t make his season debut until at least after the All-Star break.

Derek Jeter (Photo by Keith Allison, used under Creative Commons License)

Derek Jeter (Photo by Keith Allison, used under Creative Commons License)

Andy Pettitte will once again be expected to play a significant role in the starting rotation, and Ichiro Suzuki, who has been on a steady decline, will have a full season to show what he can do in pinstripes.

Staying healthy may be an issue with all these seasoned veterans, and depth among position players may be tough to find. The Yankees do have some good young arms but would rather those arms develop more than having to be thrust into action due to injury.

The Yankees lost Russell Martin, Nick Swisher and Rafael Soriano to free agency. Martin provided pop from the catcher’s position, while Swisher seemed like everyone’s best friend in the clubhouse. Soriano saved 42 games filling in for Rivera.

Kevin Youkilis will take over at third base for A-Rod, but he’s not the same player he was in Boston. As it stands, the Yankees will go into the season with Francisco Cervelli and Chris Stewart behind the plate as they wait for top-prospect Austin Romine to be ready.

The key for the Yankees will be consistent offensive production from the offense. The starting pitching should be fine if everyone is healthy, but the Yankees lost a ton of home runs.

Robinson Cano and Curtis Granderson will be in contract years, so expect big numbers from them. Granderson clubbed 42 home runs last season, but he hit just .232 and struck out 195 times.

Mark Teixeira dealt with injuries for a portion of the year and finished with a .251 average, 24 home runs and 84 RBIs, all numbers well below his career averages.

Even if everything goes right for the Yankees, all four teams in the division are legitimate threats to compete. The Blue Jays significantly improved through the trade market; the Rays still have great starting pitching even without James Shields; the Orioles are fresh off a playoff appearance; and the Red Sox relieved themselves of a few headaches and are ready to bounce back in 2013.

Obviously, no one would be surprised if the Yankees easily captured the AL East. They still have the big name players and lucrative contracts. But this year, the team will need all of its pieces to carry their weight if they plan on repeating as division champions.

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