AGING YANKS LOKK AT TOUGH A.L. EAST

Aging Yankees still look tough in AL East

By Nick Cafardo

|  Globe Staff  February 24, 2013

Mark Teixeira

David J. Phillip/Associated Press

“This is a very good team, and every player in here thinks we can have a great year,” said Mark Teixeira (above).

The color of the New York Yankees is gray.

The temples of Andy Pettitte, Mariano Rivera, Ichiro Suzuki, Derek Jeter, and Hiroki Kuroda have begun to change. Pettitte has a son who is a senior in high school. Ichiro has more white flecks in his hair than black. Jeter walks with a limp as the result of a broken ankle.

Even Phil Hughes, one of the younger Yankees at 26, discovered last week that he has a bulging disk in his back.

Old team for sure. But a doomed team?

That’s where the Yankees will fight you.

It seems we’ve been calling them old for a few years now. Maybe one of these times we’ll be right and can say, “See, I told ya so,” but there’s a sense in the Yankees clubhouse that we’re all wet again.

“This is a very good team, and every player in here thinks we can have a great year,” said Mark Teixeira.

And that pretty much sums it up.

The Yankees had a change in philosophy this offseason. They decided that they didn’t want to give up draft picks, they wanted to limit long-term contracts, and they wanted to get under the luxury tax threshold.

So they did not bid for Josh Hamilton or Zack Greinke. They allowed Nick Swisher to leave. One move they may regret is allowing Russell Martin to sign with Pittsburgh for two years, because now their options at catcher are Francisco Cervelli, Chris Stewart, Bobby Wilson, and Austin Romine.

“Defensively, no problem,” said general manager Brian Cashman. “We’re not looking for catching. We just know our offensive production at that position isn’t going to be as good as in the past.”

They are loading up for a mega-contract for second baseman Robinson Cano. They are dealing with more Alex Rodriguez steroid fallout and the chance that the third baseman may miss most of the season after hip surgery.

Cashman is trying to find the kind of bench that has been so important to the team’s success the past few years. Eric Chavez, Raul Ibanez, and Andruw Jones, all capable role players, are gone. Cashman has brought in reasonable facsimilies in Kevin Youkilis and Travis Hafner. He’s searching for a righthanded-hitting outfielder and feels Matt Diaz or Juan Rivera could handle the job.

He is trying to add a little more pitching depth, especially if the two-week layoff for Hughes, an instrumental part of this team, sets him back.

“It’s a very tough division with a lot of tough teams,” said Cashman. “I don’t see any last-place team here. Boston would have avoided it last year if they didn’t have the injuries. I don’t see them in last place at all. They were very capable until they hit the injuries.

“I think the division is wide open. Toronto did a great job. Boston did a great job. Tampa Bay always does a great job. Baltimore had a great season.”

How far could the Yankees fall? Or will they simply be a 90-win team year in and year out, no matter how much they age?

“The biggest mistake they made was losing Martin, and not that he had a great offensive season, but he handled that staff pretty well,” said an American League scout. “They can absorb the Swisher loss, especially if Youkilis and Hafner come through and Brett Gardner can get back to the things he did so well.

“I don’t think they have to worry about Mariano, but now without [Rafael] Soriano, they don’t really have that safety net.”

Soriano opted out of his contract and signed a two-year deal with Washington, but they hope a comebacking Dave Aardsma can fill his role. Aardsma, a former Red Sox pitcher, had successful years as a closer in Seattle. He had hip surgery for a torn labrum two years ago, and while he was coming back from that, he blew out his elbow.

Hip surgery and Tommy John surgery. But Aardsma says he is back, throwing as well as ever.

And the Yankees still have a pretty formidable lineup.

With Ichiro, Jeter, Teixeira, Curtis Granderson, and Cano in the middle of the order, there’s still a great deal of firepower.

Teixeira looks to be in an outstanding shape. Sure, his OPS has declined the past four years from .948 to .846 to .835 to .807, but he’s still a force, still the guy the opposing pitcher hates to face.

In addition to catcher, Cashman predicts that offensive production at third base and right field also will decline. But enough to cause the Yankees problems scoring runs?

Ichiro is still a very good player, both offensively and defensively. He can still run. He has one of the most accurate arms in baseball.

Youkilis has lost his extra weight, feels better than he has for a while, and if he’s the old Youkilis, what a shot in the arm for the lineup. And Hafner is one of the strongest men in baseball, now looking up at that short porch in right field.

The Yankees still have a strong rotation of pitchers who are capable of 15-20 wins. The Hughes injury could be big, but if indeed his problem can be resolved with rest, then you’re talking about CC Sabathia, Pettitte, Kuroda, Hughes, and Ivan Nova.

You also have David Phelps with a year’s worth of experience, and Adam Warren, the next young Yankee pitcher who could make an impact.

Color them gray. But too old?

“At some point, they [the critics] will be right,” said Cashman. “We’re going to keep trying to defy them. If we stay healthy, we’ll be very competitive.”

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ANOTHER SAD SACK A-STIFF STORY

Cousin of Alex Rodriguez — the man the Yankees slugger says convinced him to take steroids — is selling World Series ring he got as gift

Yuri Sucart, apparently tired of the notoriety that comes with being associated with Rodriguez, approached a South Florida memorabilia collector a few months ago to see if he would be interested in the World Series ring. The collector asked Goldin to help him determine the ring’s authenticity.

Comments (9)

By / NEW YORK DAILY NEWS

Published: Saturday, February 23, 2013, 9:52 PM
Updated: Saturday, February 23, 2013, 10:10 PM

	Alex Rodriguez hiding his face from the sun or possibly in shame, with even his cousin cutting some ties.

Storms Media Group

Alex Rodriguez hides face from the sun or maybe in shame, with even his cousin cutting some ties.

Even cousin Yuri no longer wants anything to do with Alex Rodriguez.

The diamond-studded, 2009 World Series ring A-Rod gave his cousin Yuri Sucart — the man Rodriguez says talked him into using steroids — will go on sale Monday, and sports memorabilia auctioneer Ken Goldin says it could fetch as much as $40,000….

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CERVELLI’S DEFENSE IMPRESSIVE IN OPENER

Cervelli’s defense impresses in spring opener

By Bryan Hoch / MLB.com | 2/23/2013 5:05 P.M. ET

Phelps breaks down his outing00:00:44
2/23/13: Yankees pitcher David Phelps discusses his scoreless outing against the Braves in the Bombers’ first Grapefruit League game of 2013

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — The Yankees still believe their three-headed catching competition may take all of Spring Training to sort out, but Francisco Cervelli definitely made a good first impression in the club’s exhibition opener Saturday.

Manager Joe Girardi wants to see strong defensive play from his catchers this spring, and Cervelli answered the call in New York’s 8-3 win over the Braves, firing a rocket to second base that nabbed Atlanta’s Todd Cunningham attempting to steal in the second inning.

“Amazing. It feels really good,” Cervelli said. “I’ve been working a lot on my throwing, so I’m not surprised. I threw really good in winter ball. I got a lot of people out, and I feel like I’m back to what I used to be in ’09.”

Girardi said that Cervelli also did a nice job blocking balls behind the plate on Saturday before noting, “I mean, that’s a beautiful throw. You can’t make it any better than that, so that’s a good sign.”

Cervelli is vying with last season’s backup, Chris Stewart and prospect Austin Romine to serve as the Yankees’ Opening Day catcher. Cervelli went 0-for-2 with a walk while Romine had a two-run single, but Girardi said he has urged the catchers not to worry about their offensive statistics.

“I made it clear to them in a meeting [Friday],” Girardi said. “Defense is No. 1 here. We need to play good defense.”

Cervelli was disappointed to be demoted to the Minors as camp concluded last season, but said that he eventually came to see the setback as an opportunity to hone his game.

“I just tried to cover all the little holes that I used to have in the past,” Cervelli said. “I’ve been working so hard. I want to hit, too, but the priority here is the defense.”

Cervelli said that he felt his throwing peaked at the big league level in 2009, in part because he had trouble adjusting to not playing every day. The result was that Cervelli said he developed bad habits of rushing throws and jumping at pitches before they reached his glove.

He also experienced a rash of passed balls last year at Triple-A, seeming so upset by the demotion to the Minors that his parents, Manuel and Damelis, traveled from their home in Venezuela to trail their son around the league for three weeks.

“When they saw the situation, I told them, ‘I’m fine,’ but they’re 50-something years old so they do whatever they want,” Cervelli said. “They showed up in Buffalo. They said, ‘We’re here, so what are we going to do now? We’re going to follow the bus everywhere we go so you better play better, and that’s it.'”

Cervelli has worked with Minor League catching instructor Julio Mosquera to tighten the defensive aspects of his game, and after playing in winter ball, Cervelli believes he reported to camp with the necessary tools to win the everyday catching job.

“Right now, I look at the past and I think it was [for] the best,” Cervelli said. “Maybe last year, the first two months in Triple-A was bad. The frustration, you don’t understand it in the moment, but when you have a little time and you think a little fresh, you realize things happen for a reason — and always a positive reason.”

Jeter runs infield for first time since broken ankle

TAMPA, Fla. — Yankees captain Derek Jeter ran on the infield dirt Saturday at George M. Steinbrenner Field, the first time he has done so since breaking his left ankle last October.

“He ran the bases a bit, slowly,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi said after New York’s 8-3 Grapefruit League victory over the Braves in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. “He’s at least outside, doing some running, so that’s good.”

Jeter has said that he expects to be ready for the Yankees’ April 1 opener against the Red Sox in New York, but he is about two weeks behind the rest of the team’s position players in his preparation.

The Yankees expect Eduardo Nunez to receive the majority of the early spring reps at shortstop, with Jeter first being eased into duty as a designated hitter later in camp.

Rotation candidate Phelps effective in first start

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Yankees right-hander David Phelps had little reason to complain after turning in his first Grapefruit League start of the year on Saturday.

Phelps threw two scoreless innings in New York’s 8-3 victory over the Braves, scattering three hits and getting a little help from his defense as the hurler’s spring bid for the rotation officially began.

“I was really happy with the way I commanded my fastball,” Phelps said. “That was one of the biggest things that I wanted to do, come in today and get ahead of guys with my fastball. I felt we were able to do that today.”

Manager Joe Girardi said that he was pleased in Phelps’ ability to throw first-pitch strikes. Right fielder Zoilo Almonte helped Phelps out in the first inning, throwing out Atlanta’s Reed Johnson at third base on a Freddie Freeman single, and catcher Francisco Cervelli gunned down Todd Cunningham attempting a steal of second base to end the second inning.

“Results are always going to matter to me, but as of right now I’m happy my arm felt good,” Phelps said. “I felt my stuff is where it needed to be for right now. I’m really satisfied with the way the ball was coming out. That’s one of the biggest things for me, is just the ball is coming out, keeping it down and hitting my spots. That’s really important for me.”

Phelps was 4-4 with a 3.34 ERA in 33 games (11 starts) as a rookie with New York last season and enters Spring Training projected to fight with Ivan Nova for the fifth slot in the Yankees’ rotation.

“I’m not coming into the spring trying to beat somebody out for the spot,” Phelps said. “I’m just trying to go out and continue what I was doing last year and have some success, and hopefully build my confidence up and get ready for the season to be ready to pitch in whatever role they ask me to.”

Bombers bits

• Yankees right-hander Nick Goody, a sixth-round selection from Louisiana State University in last year’s First-Year Player Draft, hobbled into the clubhouse on crutches following a minor traffic accident on Friday. Goody was diagnosed with a sprained right ankle and was sent for an MRI on Saturday.

• Yankees right-hander Phil Hughes continues to feel better after being diagnosed with a bulging disc in his upper back, Girardi said. Hughes has been taking anti-inflammatories and is expected to begin a regimen of underwater agility training at the team’s Minor League complex on Sunday.

• Almonte hit the Yankees’ first home run of the spring, an opposite-field two-run shot off the Braves’ Jordan Walden. Girardi said that he is “excited” about Almonte, a switch-hitting corner outfielder who played last season at Double-A Trenton.