During Mariano Rivera’s press conference to announce that he would be retiring after this season, he said that he would love for his last-ever game to be the final game of the World Series, won by the Yankees of course.
But if Rivera keeps his word on 2013 being his last professional season, his career will likely end without capturing his sixth World Series title. That’s because the Yankees’ roster has changed dramatically this offseason, between losing players to free agency and a recent string of injuries.
When the Yankees traded for Ichiro Suzuki last summer, it meant that all nine of the team’s starters had at least one All-Star appearance. But even so, the lineup featuring Derek Jeter, Nick Swisher, Robinson Cano, Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, Curtis Granderson, Raul Ibanez, Russell Martin and Ichiro could not advance past the Detroit Tigers in the ALCS.
This was a team that relied heavily on home runs with a simple formula: If they hit home runs, they usually won, and when they did not, they often lost.
From this lineup, Swisher signed with the Indians, Ibanez with the Mariners and Martin with the Pirates. Those three eliminate 64 combined home runs from last season.
Rodriguez will miss at least half the season dealing with his hip injury. Granderson and Teixeira were each recently injured in spring training games, aand they’ll also miss a chunk of time. That’s another 85 home runs right there.
While at least Granderson and Teixeira will eventually return to the lineup, that is a significant chunk of offense to be missing. Jeter is also coming off injury, which further adds to the question marks surrounding the Bronx Bombers.
Players like Brett Gardner, Eduardo Nunez, Juan Rivera, Kevin Youkilis, Francisco Cervelli and the newly-signed Ben Francisco will fill in when needed. These guys can all be good role players, but to have them fill in for extended time -- other than maybe Youkilis -- is asking a ton.
The situation seems so desperate right now that Yankees general manager Brian Cashman reached out the retired Chipper Jones in an attempt to bring in some offense. Jones was not interested.
Cashman has also been in contact with former slugging first baseman Derrek Lee, who did not play at all last season, and Scott Rolen, who is also likely heading toward retirement.
Rather than rely on the long ball this season, a combination of small ball and strong pitching will be the Yankees’ emphasis. The starting rotation is a bit on the old side, but if Andy Pettitte and Hiroki Kuroda can stay healthy and complement C.C. Sabathia, the Yankees will still be competitive.
Phil Hughes is slowly returning to the mound after dealing with bulging discs in his back. Ivan Nova is also in the mix for a starting spot.
Of course, if the Yankees can get the ball to Rivera with the lead in the ninth inning, consider the game over. But it won’t be as easy this year as in years past.
Even if Rivera hangs up his spikes after this season without the Yankees winning the World Series, he’d still have enough rings to fill a whole hand.