Yankees season preview: What happened to the dynasty?
With the exception of 2008, the Yankees have been a playoff team in every postseason since 1993.
Even in the one year they missed the playoffs, the Yankees still won 89 games. But heading into Monday’s season opener against the Red Sox, you’d be hard pressed to find a majority of fans who are even that optimistic.
Many are predicting doom or at least a Yankee version of it, which constitutes something along the lines of an 85-win season and a third place finish in the AL East. Vegas puts the team’s over/under at 88.5 wins, the lowest total in 13 years.
When the season begins, Derek Jeter, Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez and Curtis Granderson will be sidelined with injuries and the projected Opening Day lineup will feature just two players from last year’s season opener — Brett Gardner and Robinson Cano.
With the addition of Vernon Wells, the Yankees will have an estimated payroll of $222.1 million in guaranteed contracts. They have an eventual goal of getting payroll to $189 million in 2014 to avoid paying luxury taxes.
“I think there are several reasons to be under it and they’ve all been well-documented,” managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner said on WFAN Tuesday. “But one that hasn’t been well-documented is that I don’t believe you have to have a $200 million payroll to be world champions. So it is something that’s important to us, but only if we’re sure we’re fielding a championship-caliber team. I mean, I just can’t say that enough. We are going to field a championship-caliber team every single year.”
However, nearly half of that payroll is on the disabled list.
Jeter is still recovering from a serious ankle injury that required surgery after he had to be carried off the field in Game 1 of the ALCS. He will start the season on the disabled list, despite a heavy rehab schedule this offseason to avoid just that.
“It pretty much looks like what’s going to happen,” Jeter said to reporters in Tampa on Tuesday. “I’ve told you guys all along my goal was to be ready on Opening Day and I didn’t reach it. Yeah, it’s disappointing.”
At least Jeter is talking about the majority of the season, because the three other major injuries will have the Yankees missing players for at least a month.
Even with a career-high 28.5 percent strikeout rate last season, Granderson hit 43 home runs and scored 102 runs. He could still hit 30 if he returns from a broken forearm suffered on Feb. 24 by May, which is when his original prognosis of 10 weeks has him returning.
Teixeira’s batting average has declined from .292 to .251 in his four seasons with the Yankees but the power has still been there. Despite missing 38 games last year, he hit 24 home runs, but it is possible that the torn tendon sheath might sap some of the power from his bat.
Teixeira’s return if everything goes smoothly could be sometime in June but it also is a similar injury that Toronto slugger Jose Bautista suffered on July 16. Bautista tried to rehab it and play through it but eventually needed surgery.
And then there is Rodriguez, who not only was revealed to be suffering from a second hip injury but who also was named in a performance-enhancing drug report from Florida. Combine that with his rapid state of decline, and it’s hard to predict what his performance will look like whenever he returns.
Also factoring into the pessimism among Yankee fans are the replacements.
Kevin Youkilis was signed to a one-year deal to replace Rodriguez at third, Wells was acquired to play left field while Brett Gardner handles center field in Granderson’s absence and first base could be manned by either Juan Rivera or Lyle Overbay.
Youkilis hit .307 in 2010 but since then has batted .246 in his last two seasons. Wells batted .222 in two seasons with the Angels after hitting .280 in 12 years with Toronto.
Rivera has limited first base experience and batted .244 in 109 games for the Dodgers last year, while Overbay has not batted higher than .270 since 2008.
The Yankee starting rotation is expected to be good enough but even that has question marks behind CC Sabathia. Hiroki Kuroda is 38, Andy Pettitte will be 41 in June and Phil Hughes has been dealing with a back injury.
The Yankees have had question marks before but still had enough to overcome those. Fans will find out soon if the Yankees can do the same this year.
Follow Yankees beat writer Larry Fleisher on Twitter @LarryFleisher.