Brad Penner-US PRESSWIRE
It's like Einstein said: "The definition of insanity is continuing to do the things that worked well in the past."
The Yankees are apparently close to re-signing Andy Pettitte, and the same can be said for Ichiro!, with both players likely returning on one-year deals. The Yanks already secured Hiroki Kuroda for another year, the scuttlebutt has them interested in bringing back postseason deity Raúl Ibañez, and talks with Russell Martin are HEATING UP.
The only key Yankee unlikely to return is Nick Swisher. With the Yankees trying to figure out how to keep both Curtis Granderson and Robinson Canó, they aren't likely to sign any of the outfielders looking for a multi-year deal. That means no Michael Bourn, no B.J. Upton. Sure, they might put on an old coat they haven't worn in a while and find tens of millions worth of rubies, but it's pretty unlikely they'll pay a premium. It's also unlikely they'll go into the season with Chris Dickerson starting in right field, which is the current default.
You can read a lot of responses to these rumors, and most of them will include the phrase "getting the band back together", as Federal law requires. The other response -- strongly encouraged, but not mandated -- is a variation of "lol old." Feel free to explore those themes on your own. I'll avoid them here for a couple reasons. The first is that you don't need me to tell you that Alex Rodriguez is slowing/breaking down, or that a recuperating Derek Jeter is unlikely to repeat his 2012 season, which was unlikely in the first place.
The second reason -- and I know this is crazy, but I just looked it up -- is that the Yankees won 95 games last year. They fended off two 90-win teams to win the A.L. East. Their average age for hitters last year was 32.7 years old, which was easily the highest in the league, but it was just as high in 2004 and 2005. And the same story kept getting play.
Yankees are getting old. Storm's comin'. Yankees are getting old. You'll see. It'll be July, you'll walk into Yankees Stadium, and every single player on the team will look like the sloth victim from Se7en, and you'll have no idea how it happened. You'll see. Just wait. You'll see.
I was tempted to write as much before 2012, but I've been tempted to write it since Jorge Posada turned 31. I exhibited restraint. They still won 95 games. I'll wait for the first Yankees collapse before I predict one myself.
But can they be the favorites if they stand pat? That's a more interesting question than "lol old?", even if it can's be answered fully right now. The Jays could trade for Cliff Lee. The Rays could trade James Shields. The Orioles could win the offseason by a run. There's a chance -- maybe a good chance -- that another team will do something impressive that makes them the favorites in the East.
The Yankees might still be favorites, though. They have a list of things that should get worse. Jeter, right field without Swisher, and whoever takes Eric Chavez's at-bats. It's never a good idea to guarantee that an average-dependent player will collapse, but Ichiro isn't exactly trending in the right direction. But they could also get Michael Pineda back, and they'll have a full season from Brett Gardner, both of which should help mitigate some of those losses.
The Blue Jays have had an impressive offseason, adding Melky Cabrera and Jose Reyes to a lineup that was already doing good things, and adding Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle to a rotation that was in desperate need of good things.
The Rays still have an obscene amount of pitching. Even if they lose Upton and the surprise production from Jeff Keppinger, they'll still have a good start to a lineup with Evan Longoria and Ben Zobrist. And the pitching. Oh, the pitching.
It wouldn't be crazy to think either of those teams are the favorites as currently constructed. But just as I lean toward the Rays, I glance at their projected lineup, which features Sam Fuld hitting second and Brandon Guyer hitting sixth. That's the projected lineup of a team that still has a lot of offseason work to do. And when I start thinking the Jays have it, I count the sure things in their lineup from #5 through #9, and I don't see a lot of them. I wonder about Ricky Romero, J.A. Happ, and the health of the rest of the rotation, too.
The Orioles can't be the favorites. I'm smitten with them in theory, and I think they can clamber back in the race again, but I don't think there's an objective case to be made that they're the team to beat.
Right now, if you were to freeze the rosters, I'd still go with the Yankees as my preseason pick. That isn't to say they'll be the favorites when the season starts -- the good thing about having Fuld and Guyer acting as placeholders is that they're easy to upgrade, and the Rays certainly will work their alchemy. But as of right now, the Yankees look like a 95-win team that got a little worse.
The point isn't to crown them right now. The point is that everyone should lay off the Yankees-r-old jokes and resist the urge to make fun of them if they do bring back Pettitte, Martin, Kuroda, Ibañez, and Ichiro and call it an offseason. Because they're almost certainly going to be an old team, but they're not likely to be a bad team. They might even be a really good team and the favorites in the East, even if they don't make another move.
I'm sure the callers to WFAN would agree with that, right?