In the past 18 years, the Yankees reached the playoffs 17 times. They led the AL East 13 times. They won five World Series. And they spent more money than anyone else.
It is entirely possible that they will do all of those things again in 2013. Wise judges never count the Yankees out. But they are a weakened franchise, perhaps more vulnerable now than in the past two decades, and the off-season has seen the rise of two free-spending aspirants, the Toronto Blue Jays and Los Angeles Angels.
As big spenders go, the Blue Jays are traversing unfamiliar terrain while the Angels cover old ground. A new dimension for the Angels is their battle with the suddenly well-heeled Dodgers for the hearts and minds of southern California fans.
Meanwhile, the AL East appears ripe for a reshuffle. The Yankees are old and hurting. The fallen Red Sox are retooling but unmenacing at the moment. Cash-strapped Tampa Bay remains a threat but is treading water. Baltimore, a surprise playoff team in 2012, is already the oddsmakers’ last-place pick for 2013.
And speaking of odds (for what they are worth), the Blue Jays at 15-2 are favoured to win their first World Series in two decades, thanks mainly to a pair of eye-popping trades that brought R.A. Dickey, Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle and Jose Reyes to Toronto within a month.
Toronto general manager Alex Anthopoulos has heard all the conjecture about the aging Yankees, the stonewashed Red Sox and the wide-open AL East. He does not buy a bit of it.
“The fact that the Yankees and Red Sox have the resources that they have, whatever the perception of [the division] being open can be closed in a minute with a trade, with a free-agent signing,” Anthopoulos said recently. “Those resources can open up so many things.”
It is all relative, of course, but the Yankees are facing new limits on their resources, which is one reason they sat by quietly while the Blue Jays, Angels and Dodgers played bulls in the market.
These are not the Yankees of George Steinbrenner, who, as one New York writer observed, would have snapped his fingers and signed both Zack Greinke and Josh Hamilton this winter. George’s son, Hal, is in charge now, and has decreed that over the next year or two, the club will drop its payroll below US$189-million, the current threshold for baseball’s luxury tax.
The Yankees have paid more than US$200-million in luxury tax since 2003, when revised rules were set in place to penalize baseball’s most extravagant spenders. The Bronx Bombers have surpassed the threshold every year. And because they did not miss a single year, each year they have been forced to pay an extra penalty above the luxury tax itself under what might be called a “thumb-your-nose” rule.
Hal Steinbrenner insists this must stop.
“I’m looking at it as a goal,” he said back in March. “But my goals are normally are considered a requirement.”
The luxury-tax payroll threshold is well out of reach for most clubs. And given the Yankees’ current financial commitments to aging players, they will continue to push the limit, likely exceeding it again in 2013.
But in what seems like Bronx blasphemy, we are finally hearing that even the Yankees have their spending limits. On the field, age is adding another limitation.
At 32.7 years, last season’s Yankee offence was the oldest in the team’s history. The trend continues.
So far this off-season, they have made no significant deals, unless you count the free-agent signing of Kevin Youkilis, who is coming off a lacklustre season and will be 34 on Opening Day. They re-signed Mariano Rivera, 43, Ichiro Suzuki, 39, and Andy Pettitte, 38.
Although Jeter is expected to be ready for Opening Day and enjoyed a stellar season in 2012, he will turn 39 in June. Alex Rodriguez will be almost 38 when he returns from hip surgery at mid-season. Combined, they will collect US$45-million next year, roughly the total payroll projected for the Miami Marlins, whose fire sale helped the Blue Jays vault into overnight contention.
For the record, the last time the Yankees finished lower than 3rd in the A.L. East was 1992. For those scoring at home, that was 20 years ago. Could it happen in 2013? Maybe…