Two thousand freaking twelve.
That still sounds like a year far in the future to me, yet by this time tomorrow (or already if you're Down Under), it will officially be in the past. It was a pretty strange year for me personally, as it was a weird transition from full-time college student to five months of unemployment before starting a full-time job in Baltimore by late October. I started the Monday right after the New York Yankees' season ended on that cold Thursday night in Detroit. It seems easy to forget that the Yankees were one of four teams left standing; depending on what I've heard from some fans, it was as bad a season as Boston's. Don't be fooled for a second by that line of thinking though.
Remember last January? The big news in Yankeeland at the beginning of the month was Jorge Posada finally deciding to call it a career after almost 2,000 games in pinstripes. It was time to say goodbye to the longtime catcher since injuries and ineffectiveness reduced him to platoon DH at the end of 2011, but it was difficult nonetheless. The Yankees would enter their first Spring Training without Posada since the Don Mattingly era, but they would do so with some exciting new mid-January acquisitions.
The 2011-12 offseason up through mid-January had been eerily quiet for the Yankees. Relive the excitement in case you forgot!
November 16, 2011
Signed Mike O'Connor as a free agent.
November 23, 2011
Signed Jayson Nix as a free agent.
December 8, 2011
Released Greg Golson.
December 9, 2011
Signed Freddy Garcia as a free agent.
December 13, 2011
Signed Gustavo Molina as a free agent.
Signed Matt Daley as a free agent.
December 28, 2011
Signed Hideki Okajima as a free agent.
December 31, 2011
Signed Andruw Jones as a free agent.
January 4, 2012
Signed Cole Garner as a free agent.
Signed Dewayne Wise as a free agent.
January 5, 2012
Signed Doug Bernier as a free agent.
To sum up, they brought back Jones and Garcia after both exceeded expectations, and made a few minor moves that were mostly inconsequential (apologies to Nix). Then, on January 13th, the bombshell dropped that the Yankees would be dealing top prospect Jesus Montero and bullpen swingman Hector Noesi to the Seattle Mariners in exchange for American League Rookie of the Year runner-up Michael Pineda and low-A pitching prospect Jose Campos. A mere hour later, we learned that the Yankees signed veteran Hiroki Kuroda to a one-year, $10 million deal.
The trade was very controversial around these parts since many of us loved Montero's promise on offense from the catching position, and that thread accompanying the story was one of the most commented in the history of this SBN site. It was hard to give up someone like Montero, but Pineda figured to be a tremendous addition to a rotation that was very mediocre behind CC Sabathia. Inserting Kuroda made it even better, and with Pineda's fellow '11 Rookie of the Year candidate Ivan Nova in the mix as well, it looked like the Yankees' 2012 rotation would be the best in years. One member of the previous few seasons' rotations made his departure a month later, just before pitchers and catchers arrived to camp. A.J. Burnett's tumultuous tenure came to an end in a salary dump trade with the Pittsburgh Pirates after highs like Game 2 of the '09 Fall Classic and lows like the vast majority of 2010-11. The deal gave the Yankees financial flexibility to make a couple of small signings that had a huge impact on this year's team--Raul Ibanez and Eric Chavez.
When Spring Training commenced, it immediately became apparent that something was wrong with Pineda. He showed up to camp overweight, his velocity was down, and something just didn't seem right. The bad news about Pineda was somewhat negated by the stunning rumors that Andy Pettitte had an itch to come back after a year and a half away from the game. The news was true, and Pettitte returned to major-league action within a month and a half. By then though, the season was underway and it wasn't off to a great start.
The season began with a whimper as the Yankees suffered a sweep in Tampa to the Rays that included a disastrous Opening Day. They recovered to have some April highlights, like Curtis Granderson's three-homer game against the Twins, and a nine-run rally in Fenway against the already-disappointing Red Sox. This joy was tempered by the news of Pineda's torn labrum that has kept him sidelined to next June at the earliest, defensive whiz Brett Gardner's continued elbow problems that forced him from the team until October, and even worse, an ugly ACL injury on the warning track in Kansas City to unparalleled closer Mariano Rivera. Both were lost for the season and the Yankees were only a few games over .500 as May came to an end.
Thankfully, the National League was there to cure the Yankees' woes. They pulled off their first 10-game winning streak in seven years, sweeping series from the Mets, Braves, and Nationals in the process. During this streak, they moved into first place for only the seventh day of the season, but they would not relinquish it for the remainder of '12. Even after losing a red-hot Pettitte to a broken leg for two months in late June, the Yankees took a seven-game lead into the All-Star break and sent four members of the team to Kansas City--the resurgent captain Derek Jeter, slugging second baseman Robinson Cano, the power-hitting Granderson, and ace Sabathia. Other fine seasons that might have been worthy in other years came from Kuroda, fill-in closer Rafael Soriano, and reliever David Robertson. Hell, even Chavez was healthy and productive for the first time in six years, and his work off the bench made him one of the top 10 Yankees of the season.
The Yankees were riding high at 10 games ahead of the second-place Baltimore Orioles on July 18th, but a four-game sweep at the hands of the surging Oakland Athletics and an A-Rod hand fracture at the hands of a Felix Hernandez fastball sent the Yankees on a disappointing spiral (these incidents were did not come in handy). The Yanks went 19-25 between then and September 4th as they squandered a double-digit lead for the first time in 84 years, falling to a dead-heat with the Orioles. They stayed afloat though, despite shoddy umpiring, further injuries (this time to CC, Mark Teixeira, and Nick Swisher), and a SuperNova collapse. Thanks to strong pitching all year long from Kuroda and fill-in-closer Rafael Soriano, some late-season walkoffs by Ibanez, and red-hot Septembers by Ichiro and Cano though, the Yankees stayed on top to win their 18th AL East division title.
Boy, it was a woof of a ride, but they made it to the playoffs, where they faced the division rival Orioles. The Orioles were one of the big stories of the baseball season, as they squashed the pundits' predictions with their first playoff apperance and winning season in 15 years, then beat the two-time defending AL champions to get into the ALDS. A ninth-inning explosion and a dominating performance by CC gave the Yankees Game 1 in Baltimore, but it was the most fans would see of life from the offense all October. They wasted a fine outing from Pettitte in a 3-2 Game 2 loss, then were two outs away from squandering another good effort from Kuroda at Yankee Stadium and falling to the brink of elimination when Ibanez came to the plate against All-Star closer Jim Johnson, pinch-hitting for A-Rod. Voldemort saved the Yankees' bacon with a game-tying solo homer, then won the game three innings later with a lefty-on-lefty circuit clout against Brian Matusz.
Even with this unexpected 2-1 series lead, the offense again played like crap in a 13-inning, 2-1 defeat in Game 4, so it was up to CC to bail the Yankees out in the decisive fifth game. He came up huge with a four-hitter as the Yankees scratched out a few runs to win the game 3-1 and take the hard-fought series. It turned out to be the Yankees' last victory of '12. The ALCS was a complete disaster in every sense of the word. Not even another ninth-inning, game-tying homer from Ibanez could get the Yankees a Game 1 win over the Detroit Tigers, and they lost both the game in extras and their captain to a gruesome ankle injury. The pitiful offense managed only two runs for the remainder of the series, as they never even had a lead throughout all 39 innings. Cano, A-Rod, Swisher, Granderson, and Chavez were the main culprits, but it's not like anyone on the team set the world on fire in defeat. The Yankees limped into the offseason after falling in their first playoff sweep in 32 years. Coincidentally, the San Francisco Giants subsequently swept the Tigers in the World Series.
So far, the 2012-13 offseason has been like the 2011-12 offseason was until the big Pineda trade/Kuroda signing--quiet. The Yankees did not take long to bring back Kuroda, Pettitte, and Rivera on one-year deals. They let catcher Russell Martin walk to the Pirates after declining to offer him a multi-year contract, but they brought in longtime rival Kevin Youkilis to man third base after it was revealed that A-Rod would miss extensive time in '13 following another hip surgery. In December, they have also bid adieu to Swisher and Ibanez while bringing Ichiro back on two-year deal. It also appears that Soriano will also not be coming back since he opted out and the Yankees have been hesitant at making many commitments beyond '13 in their quest to get payroll below $189 million for '14 to avoid a heavy luxury tax.
What will '13 bring? It's hard to say yet--as last January and February proved, many things can happen before pitchers and catchers report. Hell, backup catcher Chris Stewart did not even join the team until the last day of Spring Training this year. Here's what we know though--the best second baseman on the planet will be back in Cano. One of the best 1-2 pitching punches in the league will be back in CC/Hirok. The greatest shortstop and closer in franchise history will be back in Jeter and Mo. Many more pieces to the core that just won the division title will also be back; it's not doom and gloom. There is still work to be done on the '13 squad, but there is time.
I look forward to the start of the '13 season... it's been far too long since I've last watched live baseball.
Bring on pitchers and catchers.
Bring on Spring Training.
Bring on freaking Opening Day.
Here's to 2012's AL East champs, and here's to 2013's hopeful World Series champs.