As the weather warms up and the Alex Rodriguez scandal fades a bit with real baseball games being played, expect this to be the new top problem for the Yankees:
You have to go all the way back to 1992 for a spring training of lower expectations than this one for both the Yankees and the Mets, where in both cases, our locals have a better chance of finishing last than finishing first this season.
When last seen, the Yankees were being booed out of the Stadium amid a blizzard of strikeouts en route to being swept by the Detroit Tigers in the ALCS last October, while the Mets, after playing above .500 baseball up until July 20, limped home with a 12-18 September, in front of a lot of empty seats, finishing fourth, 74-88.
Unfortunately, the offseason bore little fruit for either team in its hopes for a better ending in 2013. In the Yankees’ case there is sufficient evidence that they’ve regressed while GM Brian Cashman has sat back and watched one prospective improvement player after another go elsewhere, the latest being switch-hitting shortstop Jed Lowrie, who had 16 homers and 42 RBI with the Astros last year, and went to the Oakland A’s for defensively challenged first baseman Chris Carter and a couple of so-so prospects.
How will they contend without Jed Lowrie’s 90 games indeed?
You certainly shouldn’t be surprised by this, if only because I’ve been telling you for years that a significant portion of the fanbase needs this sort of pessimism is to create a sense of drama to following the Yankees, and that’s where the mainstream press finds their audience these days. So there’s going to be plenty of the papers over the next couple of weeks, and the key is to keep it in proper perspective and know when to shrug it off. I mean, more likely to be last than first? They’re closer talent wise to Boston than to Toronto? C’mon.
Most of all, keep in mind that despite all of their success, it’s not like the Yankees haven’t been down this road before. The 2007 and 2008 teams both had issues that were obvious from Spring Training on, and contra Madden, I don’t think this year is nearly as precarious as 2011 looked when camp opened. That, of course, was the year that Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia were competing for a job in the Yankees starting rotation (and both were eventually starting in April), while the Red Sox were being talked about as one of the greatest teams of all time. No disrespect to Toronto. This current roster at least looks better than that year’s team did, and the Yankees still won more games than any other American League team.
Which is not to say that everything is roses and there’s no chance of the season taking a horribly awful turn for the Bombers, just that it’s far too early to fret about that, and this team isn’t nearly so bad that you should assume that’s going to happen. Or find yourself pining for Jed Lowrie.