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MLB Opening Day 2016: Health and youth will make or break the Yankees

Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

The two biggest factors for the Yankees in 2016 will be whether or not they can stay healthy and whether or not their youth movement continues to be successful. Not completely unrelated to one another, relying more heavily on youth allows the Yankees to get away from needing older, injury-prone players to produce quite as much.

None of that is to say that there aren't older players the Yankees are relying on. Three of them, in fact, are quite essential to how the season goes for the Bronx Bombers. Alex Rodriguez, Carlos Beltran, and Mark Teixeira are all closer to the end of their careers than the beginning. Rodriguez and Beltran are both looking at retirement in the next couple of years. Can their bodies stand up to the wear and tear of a full MLB season?

Rodriguez and Beltran managed to stay on the field in 2015, but Teixeira wasn't quite as lucky. His broken leg was fluky, to be sure, but it continues a pattern for the first baseman of just not being able to grind out a healthy season. Teixeira and Rodriguez carried the team offensively at the beginning of the season, and the Yankees will need them to do so again if they have hopes of getting back to the playoffs.

The good news, however, is that there are more and more younger players being mixed in with the old guard. Didi Gregorius and Starlin Castro are a dynamic duo up the middle that should be solid for many seasons to come. The rotation is made up of primarily younger players with only CC Sabathia really representing a veteran presence. Middle relief will likely also be younger rather than older with prospects getting a chance to prove themselves.

Youth doesn't necessarily mean a player is free from the worries of injury. In fact, that young pitching rotation is made up of four guys with huge injury concerns and a pitcher who is barely out of rookie eligibility. Masahiro Tanaka's elbow is going to be a concern with every pitch he throws, especially as long as he continues to be more middling than dominant. Michael Pineda has looked incredible at times, but injuries have kept him from really taking the next step. Nathan Eovaldi turned in a fantastic performance in the second half of last season before injury cost him the rest of the year.

The outfield is another group where injuries are a concern. Both Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury, who are supposed to represent the more reliable outfielders, were hobbled in spring training by lingering injuries they suffered last season. They both seem to be healthy right now, but neither one has shown that they can actually stay that way. Ellsbury seems more prone to end up on the disabled list with whatever ails him but Gardner plays through it to the detriment of his offense. That's not necessarily a good trade off.

If this team can stay healthy, the sky is really the limit. That is a gigantic if, though. It seems like the success of the Yankees every year depends on whether or not a group of guys can avoid serious injury, and maybe that is true for players on every team. The AL East is there for the taking without any one team being a clear favorite without obvious holes. Getting production out of their youthful players and keeping their injury prone players healthy will really be the difference in the Yankees making the playoffs and watching October baseball at home.