Pop quiz: on Opening Day 2013 whom did New York Yankees manager Joe Girardi pencil in as the designated hitter in his lineup? Don’t cheat. Don’t go to Baseball-Reference or Retrosheets. Try to think of the answer yourself.
Are you on your 18th guess?
The correct answer is … (the immortal) Ben Francisco.
Brian Cashman isn’t about to go into 2014 facing a similar scenario. Much like the last time the Yankees missed out on the playoffs in 2008, the Bombers are spending big money to restock and reload their roster. In light of the signings of Jacoby Ellsbury, Brian McCann and Carlos Beltran along with Robinson Cano’s shocking departure to Seattle, New York is looking at almost a entirely different opening day lineup from 2013 to 2014.
Assuming CC Sabathia gets the ball as the starting pitcher, the only other holdover from April might be outfielder Brett Gardner, if he isn’t traded. This is somewhat of a quirk since the Yankees started 2013 with four key players on the disabled list: Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, Mark Teixeira and Curtis Granderson.
This was the lineup Girardi wrote to face the Red Sox on April 1, 2013:
- Brett Gardner, CF
- Eduardo Nunez, SS
- Robinson Cano, 2B
- Kevin Youkilis, 1B
- Vernon Wells, LF
- Ben Francisco, DH
- Ichiro, RF
- Jayson Nix, 3B
- Francisco Cervelli, C
Let’s compare to a hypothetical April 1, 2014 lineup when the Yankees open up in Houston to play the Astros.
- Jacoby Ellsbury, CF
- Derek Jeter, SS
- Mark Teixeira, 1B
- Carlos Beltran, RF
- Alfonso Soriano, DH
- Brian McCann, C
- Kelly Johnson, 2B
- Brendan Ryan, 3B (maybe A-Rod?)
- Brett Gardner, LF
Some sort of firm resolution in A-Rod’s pending suspension makes the situation a lot clearer. It’s hard to see Ryan — signed as Jeter insurance — playing third on a regular basis, which could open up more at-bats for Nunez.
There’s also the issue of age, which you will hear about ad infinitum as we zero in on Spring Training. The average age of the nine players listed above is 33.5 — it bumps up to over 34 if Rodriguez is included. This doesn’t factor in a pitching staff with Sabathia (33) and Hiroki Kuroda (39) or reserve outfielders Vernon Wells (35) and Ichiro (40).
The age issue might be overblown, but in the case of the Yankees it can’t be completely glossed over, mainly since the team is heading into 2014 with a 40-year-old shortstop, who is a sure-fire first-ballot Halll of Famer, but also coming off injuries that limited him to 63 at bats in 2013. Expect the Yankees DH spot to be passed around like a blunt at a Snoop Lion concert.
Whichever way you want to look at it, the Yankees are going to feel and look like a completely new team come Spring Training after free agency and players returning from injury. Even with all these changes, the biggest difference the Yankees are going to face in 2014 is the ninth inning when somebody else, likely David Robertson, is tasked to close out the game rather than incomparable Mariano Rivera.