Despite questions, don't discount Yankees' chances
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- If you look at the 2014 Yankees from a certain angle, you see a team capable of winning a World Series. You're right that not many people have done this. I also see you rolling your eyes. Yep, there are some questions.
OK, stay with me here. Let's say Derek Jeter and Mark Teixeira have healthy, productive seasons. Who'd be silly enough to doubt them? In terms of track record and work ethic, they're about as good as it gets.
Jeter played only 17 games in 2013 after suffering a gruesome ankle injury during the 2012 postseason.
"I know he's going to do everything he can to be the player he was before he got hurt," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "And I feel good about that, because I know it's hard."
Teixeira played only 15 games after aggravating a wrist injury he suffered in the World Baseball Classic. The Yankees have every reason to believe he will be as good as ever when he returns, but until he actually does it, there will be doubt.
"I'm confident he's going to be back and be a force in the middle of our lineup," Girardi said. "But, it's something I'm going to have to pay attention to in Spring Training and probably early in the season."
Let's also say CC Sabathia figures out how to get by with diminished velocity. Most pitchers have to make the same adjustment if they stick around long enough, and there's no reason to think Sabathia can't do it.
Sabathia underwent surgery on his left elbow a little more than a year ago and had his 2013 season cut short by a hamstring injury.
"I feel much better about CC, a year removed from that surgery," Girardi said. "His hamstring healed up very well. Maybe one of the best games he pitched was the last game of the year, and he was trying to fight to throw another game, and we were like, 'No, CC.'"
Right-hander Michael Pineda is a tougher call. He's only 24 and only three years removed from pitching 171 innings for the Mariners and displaying moments of dominance. However, he's recovering from shoulder surgery, and there's no way of knowing how quickly he'll be back or how good he'll be.
If those four players play at a high level in 2014, the Yankees could be right back in the mix. Again, there are huge questions, the kind the Yankees haven't had very often in recent years. Until their Minor League system becomes more productive, the Yankees are going to have a thin margin of error.
They've gotten better the last few days with the signings of Carlos Beltran, Jacoby Ellsbury and Brian McCann.
Regardless, the Yankees will be fundamentally different in 2014, and with all the comings and goings, there's no way of knowing how good they're going to be.
For the first time since 1996, the Bombers won't have Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte in uniform. Their retirements leave Jeter as the last link to clubs that went to the playoffs 17 times in 18 seasons.
"I think other people will step up and take charge of the clubhouse," Girardi said.
Clubhouse environments are tricky things. They change every year as players come and go, but with Jeter, Rivera and Pettitte, the Yankees have changed less than almost any other club.
Once upon a time, Robinson Cano was seen as the post-Jeter leader of the Yankees. His departure to Seattle ended that possibility.
The Yankees knew they weren't going to acquire a single player to match Cano's production. So, general manager Brian Cashman deepened the lineup with the additions of McCann, Ellsbury and Beltran.
"I feel much better about the offense going into next year than the way we finished last year," Cashman said. "Presumably, you're going to get a healthy Teixeira and a healthy Jeter. I talked to both of those two guys and their rehabs are going great. Jeter is having a normal offseason. Feels great. Tex is where he wants to be and where he needs to be. So, you start adding some of the names that we've added, some of the guys that we kept have already had a good year, offensively, last year. It's a much better lineup than when we finished last year."
Cashman will probably need all of Spring Training and probably longer to figure out his pitching staff. In short, the Yankees haven't gone to Spring Training with these kinds of questions in a long time, but to discount them would be a mistake.
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.