By Ross Newhan
Even with the overall toughening of the American League East---with the rebuilt Toronto Blue Jays, the revived Baltimore Orioles, the always resilient Tampa Bay Rays and the Boston Red Sox on the road to revitalization--it would be foolish to dismiss the New York Yankees in early March.
Nevertheless, amid issues of age, departures and a seemingly inescapable series of injuries, it's hard not to speculate that the pin stripes could be more of a pin cushion.
The latest hit came Wednesday with news that first baseman Mark Teixiera will be out eight to 10 weeks with a strained tendon in his right wrist, an injury that occurred Tuesday while hitting off a tee in the camp of the U.S.A. team that will play in the World Baseball Classic and, initially, was not believed to be that serious
In an earlier exhibition game, outfielder Curtis Granderson suffered a broken right forearm when hit by a pitch and will be out a similar length of time. Granderson hit 43 home runs last year while Teixeira, in an off season, hit 24, meaning the Yankees will play into May without the power of two prominent hitters who combined for 67 home runs.
Of course, that's only part of the hurdles facing the Yankees after an off season in which they failed to storm the free agent market with their usual abandon as George Steinbrenner turned over in his grave and sons Hank and Hal, with the payroll tax in mind, ordered their general manager, Brian Cashman, to get the payroll to $189 million by 2014, cedeing their normal No. 1 ranking to the record $230 million of the Dodgers.
In the process, outfielder Nick Swisher (24 homers, 93 runs batted in), catcher Russell Martin (21 homers) and closer Rafael Soriano (42 saves as Mariano Rivera recovered from a torn ACL in May) all were allowed to leave as free agents.
Rivera is now attempting to reclaim his closer role at 43, Derek Jeter, returning from a broken ankle suffered in the American League Chamionship Series, is attempting to prove he can still be the fulltime shortstop at 38, and then there's Alex Rodriguez, at 37, recovering from a second hip surgery and the Yankees, unsure if Rodriguez will be able to play at all this season, preferring to work out some form of buyout with A-Rod on the five years and $114 million he is still owed. Rodriguez also still has his alleged involvement with the Biogenesis clinic in South Florida hanging over him and it could be that Major League Baseball may find a way to suspend him without pay, earning gratitude from the Yankees.
With all of that, 16 game winner Phil Hughes has a bulging disc and may open the season on the disabled list, GM Cashman broke his right leg while sky diving on behalf of chairity Monday, and Ichiro Suzuki totalled his SUV in a Florida traffic accident last week. The one bit of good news is that Ichiro was uninjured.
So, there are the suddenly budget conscious Yankees, partially decimated by injuries and free agent departures, potentially weakened by age at key positions, and facing the realistic possibility that if they are out of the division race by mid season they might choose to make a move that their division rivals often face, trading a key player who will be eligible for free agency at the end of the season.
In this case it's the Yankees best player, second baseman Robinson Cano, who is represented by the renowned (or is it dreaded?) Scott Boras, who almost never allows his players to sign a long term contract with their current club before testing the free agent market. The Cano issue/distraction is one more in a list of issues/distractions that have the rest of the division salivating over the possible fall of the Evil Empire, although on March 6 it's awfully early for anyone in the A.L. East to get giddy.