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Friday, December 14, 2012

THE TORCH IS BEING PASSED

(In photo: Mason Williams)
As the 2013 Yankees begin to take shape I can’t help but feel that we are seeing the transition from one era to the next.  Contracts are coming due, and our aging stars from the better part of the past two decades are on the stretch run of great careers.

Already at catcher we will see a new face.  Whether it be Francisco Cervelli, Chris Stewart, or Austin Romine, the team will now be a full catcher removed (Russell Martin) from the backstop of our core four – Jorge Posada.  A few years down the road there is a real possibility that highly touted prospect (he’s only 20, has good power, decent speed, and is above average defensively) Gary Sanchez will take over behind the plate.
At first base Mark Teixeira will be our foundation until at least 2017, so we are good there.

Second base is not a sure thing for us as much as we’d love it to be.  We have watched as Robinson Cano emerged on the scene with his electric arm, classic swing and infectious smile in 2005 and became the team’s best player.  However, his contract is up after next season and his agent is Scott Boras - not a good combination if you are a Yankees owner, read ROBINSON CANO: WHEN THE GOOD GO BAD for more insight on that.  It is quite possible that if the Steinbrenners decide to keep a lid on spending, Cano may end up playing second for someone else in 2014. 

 (In Photo: Corban Joseph)
If that does happen, look for either David Adams or Corban Joseph (two promising players in the Yankees system) to be thrust into the limelight.

At shortstop the face of our team, our captain, and one of the greatest players to ever don pinstripes, Derek Jeter, enters the final two years of his contract.  One of two players that define this recent Yankee run of success now comes to the close of his storybook career.  We last watched as he had to be helped off the diamond after breaking his ankle, and we know that nothing will keep him from returning for the 2013 and 2014 seasons, but we have to face the fact that sooner rather than later we’ll be saying our goodbyes to the most beloved of players.  Waiting behind him is a work-in-progress, Eduardo Nunez, who has already shown promise at the plate and on the base paths, but who still requires some development on the field.  The 25 year-old will never be able to replace Jeet, but over time he will prove to be an adequate (if not above average) shortstop.
Third base has become the resting ground of one-year contracts for aging veterans as Alex Rodriguez has suffered through injury-riddled, unproductive seasons over the last two years.  In 2013 Kevin Youkilis (I can’t believe I can no longer refer to him as “Kevin USEliss”, it still feels strange) will man the hot corner for the “Bombers” while ARod and his never-ending contract remain on the sidelines recuperating from yet another hip surgery.  Whether ARod will ever be productive again as a third baseman remains to be seen, and chances are that when he does return his time in the field will be very limited.  The future at this position remains wide open to speculation. 
 (In Photo: David Adams)
One “in-house” possibility is the aforementioned David Adams.  While at Double-A Trenton last season, Adams played 23 games at third.  It may be in preparation for one day occupying that spot in the Bronx.

Our outfield is seemingly always in flux.  Curtis Granderson is on a one-year contract and borrowed time, “Swish” is gone, hopefully to be replaced by Ichiro, and Gardner will be coming back from spending most of last year on the DL.  There should be good speed to cover the entire field and three left-handers to add to the lineup.  On the farm sit the top two prospects in the system – Mason Williams and Slade Heathcott.  As Baseball America puts it:

Outfielders Mason Williams, Slade Heathcott and Tyler Austin and catcher Gary Sanchez need more time to develop, but all are candidates to become the first homegrown Yankees to crack the big league lineup on a consistent basis since Brett Gardner in 2008.”

So while Granderson and Ichiro keep the spots warm, center field and right field appear to be well represented in the near future.

The pitching corps will soon see a changing of the guard as well.  Sure, CC, Hughes, Nova and David Phelps will all still be battling for rotation spots for the next few years, but our big Texan southpaw Andy Pettitte, and 39 year-old Hiroki Kuroda only have a short time left before hanging up the cleats.  We can hope that Michael Pineda is able to bounce back from his injury and live up to the promise that brought him to New York. 
In the bullpen the change will be even more dramatic.  The other face of the franchise (with Derek Jeter), and the one most connected to the run of championships over the past 15 years – Mariano Rivera – will soon leave giant shoes to fill at the closer spot.  There has never been a better relief pitcher in the history of the game, and his successor can only hope to be half the stopper that “Mo” has been.  The candidates are few.  Double A Trenton’s  Mark Montgomery is only 22, but already there is talk that he may be the closer-in-waiting.  Other possibilities include veteran relievers Joba Chamberlain and David RobertsonBoth are blessed with “stopper” stuff, but neither has proven that they can handle that role.

The 2013 season will be full of familiar faces for the Yankees, and if all can stay healthy it may bring another division title or perhaps more to New York.  I know I’ll watch it all unfold and cheer on my favorite team, but deep inside there will be a hint of sadness in knowing that this year may be the last of a great run.  I am certain that one day I’ll look back at these past 17 seasons with reverence for all that this generation of Yankees has accomplished.


 
--Steve Skinner, BYB Guest Writer
Twitter: @oswegos1


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