Yankees -- and their fans -- in for an interesting ride
TAMPA, Fla. -- OK, Yankees fans, let's see what you're made of. First, sit up straight and dry your eyes. For heaven's sake, stop that whimpering.
For the last 20 years or so, you've been unable to enjoy the journey. Don't even think of arguing, because I may know you better than you know yourselves.
You begin every Spring Training fretting about October. It was like the first 162 games didn't count, and in your mind, they didn't. You sweated the small stuff to the point that you got obnoxious.
You'd work yourselves into a lather over the fifth guy in the rotation or the sixth guy in the bullpen. If someone's batting average dropped six points, you'd scream for The Boss to spend $100 million to fix something that might not even be broken.
If the Yankees did happen to win the World Series, you immediately began wringing your hands about the following season. Yankees fans only seemed happy when they were unhappy. There was always trouble around the corner.
So this season is going to be good therapy for every single one of you. You'll be given a unique opportunity to see the world differently.
The Yankees will begin this season picked to finish behind the Rays and Blue Jays in the American League East. Some people will pick them to end up behind the Orioles and Red Sox, too.
Because the Yankees have little power and an aging roster, every game is going to be a challenge. Suddenly, fans will be keeping an eye on the farm system to see how Adam Warren, Mason Williams, et al, are doing.
On the other hand, fans will now be able to enjoy all the small moments that add up to a season. When the Yankees beat the Indians, 4-3, on a Tuesday night in June, fans will be able to appreciate it for the accomplishment it is.
Maybe Brett Gardner will double and score the winning run on a Kevin Youkilis single. Maybe Joe Girardi will get six good innings out of Andy Pettitte and then need four relievers to get the game into Mariano Rivera's hands.
When it's over, a dozen or more guys will have contributed. All of the Yankees' flaws -- that is, a lack of power -- will be on display. Fans will be on the edge of their seats, and, in the end, exhausted -- and hopefully happy.
These Yankees will be about aggressive baserunning, tight defense and quality pitching. Robinson Cano will need to have a monster year, and Curtis Granderson and Mark Teixeira will need to be productive when they return from the disabled list.
There are going to be a bunch of low-scoring games, because the Bombers -- at least for a while -- won't be bombing anyone.
In other cities, fans have watched baseball this way for years. They did not look ahead. They appreciated every night they were able to enjoy all the twists and turns, then they left the ballpark feeling pretty darn great about things.
These Yankees have had a bizarre few months. They did not re-sign five of their top 10 home run hitters -- Nick Swisher, Russell Martin, Raul Ibanez, Eric Chavez and Andruw Jones -- who accounted for 94 of the team's AL-leading 245 long balls.
And then Alex Rodriguez, Granderson and Teixeira -- accounting for 85 more -- all went down.
Suddenly, Cano, who hit 33 in 2012, is the last power hitter standing. He may be joined by Granderson and Teixeira in May, but that's uncertain.
General manager Brian Cashman spent cautiously but smartly this winter, grabbing Youkilis and Travis Hafner off the free-agent market.
Suddenly, the Yankees might be the most interesting team in baseball. After all the losses, it'll be fascinating to see what Girardi is able to piece together offensively.
Things can change quickly. The Yankees have a bunch of players in Double-A whom they love. They also love what Hafner and Youkilis have brought to the clubhouse. They're also checking the trade market for a bat, preferably a left-handed one.
We don't know how good the Yankees are going to be. If you're an optimist, you look at Ivan Nova's solid spring and think he might be poised for a nice season. You look at CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda and Pettitte, and you don't see a better front three in the AL East, other than perhaps in Tampa Bay uniforms.
The Yankees' lineup, as mix-and-match as it might be, probably is still as good as the Rays'. Even the scouts who are gleefully picking the Yankees to end up last in the division acknowledge they could also win the World Series.
What if the rotation stays healthy all season? What if Rivera is good enough to allow David Robertson and the others to fill in the roles in front of him? Finally, what if Granderson and Teixeira get healthy and Cashman is able to add one more bat?
This season is different only because for the first time in about 18 years, the Yankees don't seem to have a playoff spot locked up before Opening Day. In other words, they'll have to scratch and claw -- like most teams do.
It could be great fun to watch. It'll be different, but great fun. Enjoy the ride, Yankees fans. See you at the Stadium.
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.