The rest of the world is waiting for the Yankees to get old.
“They’ve been saying that ever since I’ve been around,’’ said Yankees general manager Brian Cashman. “They said it after 2001. They said it after we were reshuffling in 2003, and in 2004, my therapist said I wasn’t supposed to talk about it. After 2009, we can’t be winning with older guys.
“So I’ve always heard it. As long as we’re winning, people can keep saying it.’’
Fact is, the Yankees aren’t looking old.
Not when Curtis Granderson is hitting his 21 bombs, when Alex Rodriguez keeps climbing up the all-time lists, when Derek Jeter is 37 going on 27.
They’re winning with Mariano Rivera, the greatest closer who ever lived, on the disabled list for the rest of the year.
All in all, Cashman is pretty happy with the performance of his team.
“We have a championship-deep team,’’ he said. “We’re already showing depth with injuries, but at the same time, there are so many quality teams in our league that we’ll have our hands full.
“You always have to deal with injuries and other things during the course of the season. We’ve dealt with our share already and we’re going to deal with more, I’m sure.
“When the dust settles, I think our record is going to be good enough to contend.’’
The Yankees battled through a poor start by their rotation, the blow of losing young righthander Michael Pineda to a career-threatening labrum injury, and an underperforming Hiroki Kuroda (who has since picked it up). They got through the closer experimentation/injury with David Robertson, settled on Rafael Soriano, and have found new pieces for the bullpen, much like Boston.
No one can ever replace Rivera, though, as Cashman said, “We’ve found people to close who could be closing for other ball clubs. Where we’ll really miss Mo is in October, if we’re lucky enough to get there.’’
Cashman isn’t worried about not having chips to deal if he needs to make a trade-deadline move.
“I’ve never gone crazy at the trading deadline,’’ Cashman said. “I prefer not to do anything. We’ve been one of the top farm systems for a while so we have people to trade, but I’d rather keep them all.’’
And he doesn’t expect to have reinforcements from Triple A helping later on this season.
“Most of the next group of guys who are going to help us are in [Single A] Charleston right now,’’ Cashman said.
Catcher Gary Sanchez (15 homers, 51 RBIs), pitcher Jose Campos (acquired in the Pineda deal and currently on the DL), and outfielders Dante Bichette Jr. and Mason Williams are a couple of years away.
Cashman is monitoring his top two pitching prospects: lefty Manny Banuelos, who is currently on the DL, and righty Dellin Betances, who has a 5.78 ERA at Triple A and is trying to work out some mechanical issues. The Yankees have sent David Phelps back to the minors to have him stretch out as a starter.
If there is one team capable of pulling away in the AL East, it’s probably the Yankees. But Cashman doesn’t quite see it that way.
“I don’t know about that,’’ he said. “We’re wearing the crown right now, but Baltimore and Tampa Bay have had their time up there, and Boston has suffered through massively difficult injuries, and Toronto has just been killed with injuries to their rotation. But Boston is going to be reinforced here shortly.
“This is going to be a tough race because we’re in the toughest division in baseball. There are quality teams up and down this division, so every series we play within our division is a battle and a struggle.’’
Cashman isn’t surprised that the Sox have begun to turn things around under Bobby Valentine.
“He’s one of the smartest baseball people I’ve ever known,’’ Cashman said.
Still, there are some banged-up teams.
The Orioles, for instance, had a good thing going with their rotation, but now it’s adjustment time.
While Jason Hammel (8-2, 2.61) and Wei-Yin Chen (7-2, 3.36) have been amazingly consistent, Tommy Hunter (3-4, 5.70), Jake Arrieta (3-9, 5.83), and Brian Matusz (5-8, 5.00) are fading and could be in jeopardy of losing their jobs.
The Orioles seem to be in the market for a veteran starting pitcher, but it won’t be 49-year-old Jamie Moyer. Moyer went 1-1, 1.69 in three starts at Triple A Norfolk, but Saturday he requested his release after the team elected not to promote him.
The Orioles also have Chris Tillman, who is 7-8, 3.76, at Norfolk and he has made quality starts in four of his last five games. Zach Britton is also trying to come back from a shoulder injury.
The Rays won’t have Joel Peralta for eight games after his suspension, and have lost outfielder Matt Joyce (oblique strain) to the disabled list. Baseball people still wonder, how do they do it? They have excellent pitching but their lineup is nothing to shout about.
The Jays have lost three starting pitchers and are trying to keep their heads above water. They’re always involved in scenarios for big deals, but have yet to pull one off.
Every so often, there is a recalibration of the division based on the health of each team. Right now, the Yankees and Red Sox seem to be trending up, the Rays maybe holding steady, and the Orioles and Jays trending down.
“I think it’s going to be pretty tight all year,’’ Cashman said.
Apropos of nothing
1. In the Cubs series, Will Middlebrooks was “playing tall’’ at third base, according to a scout who was a major league third baseman. But since then, Middlebrooks seems to have corrected the issue.
2. Justin Verlander has a chance to start the All-Star Game for the first time. His final start before the break is scheduled for Wednesday, July 4. He’d be on full rest going into the All-Star Game July 10. That should be a treat.
3. Speaking of the Tigers, leadoff man Austin Jackson - not Prince Fielder or Miguel Cabrera - is the MVP of that team so far. Entering Saturday, the Tigers were five games over .500 when he was in the lineup and seven under when he wasn’t. He is leading the Tigers in slugging percentage at .533 and is hitting .315 (up from .249 last year). He is benefiting from a shorter stride into the ball, eliminating the leg kick. He also has been spectacular in center field and is 7 for 7 in stolen bases.
4. Ichiro Suzuki got his 2,500th hit last week, in his 1,817th game, fourth-fastest in history. Only Al Simmons (1,784 games), Ty Cobb (1,790), and George Sisler (1,808) did it faster. But the concern is that Ichiro is not excelling at leadoff after being moved out of the third spot. He has just a .293 on-base percentage for the year and a .262 OBP since being put in the leadoff spot June 1. His OBP in the leadoff spot is lower than his .270 batting average, as he has yet to draw a walk there.
5. Adam Dunn may be on track for Comeback Player of the Year with 23 homers, but he is also on pace to break Mark Reynolds’s season strikeout record (223). Dunn currently projects to 53 homers and 257 strikeouts.
6. The Indians’ record in one-run games is 12-2 (.857), best in the majors. Over the last four years, they have the best record in the American League in one-run games at 84-70.
7. Quote of the week, courtesy of Indians manager Manny Acta, in reference to how difficult it is to make a trade-deadline deal: “Everybody needs something, but it’s not like going to the store for a can of tomato sauce.’’
8. Someone needs to redo Marlins Park. It’s gaudy in certain places.
Apropos of something
One thing to watch in Colorado is whether that coaching staff will be dismantled, particularly pitching coach Bob Apodaca.
He was Bobby Valentine’s pitching coach with the Mets, and if Apodaca, who has been the Rockies’ pitching coach for 10 seasons, is let go, Valentine may seek to hire him at some point.
It doesn’t appear that Valentine and Bob McClure - who was thrust upon him - have developed much of a rapport. McClure is on leave and had not returned to the team as of the weekend.
Apodaca is now trying to coach a four-man rotation, necessitated by the fact that the Rockies don’t have five good starting pitchers.
They dropped Jeremy Guthrie, who is 3-6 with a 6.68 ERA overall but has gone 1-5 in seven starts (36 runs, 30 earned, in 34 2/3 innings) since coming off the disabled list. He hurt his shoulder when he fell off his bicycle and spent three weeks on the DL.
Guthrie is in the bullpen and now considered trade bait.
The Rockies have used 10 starters this year. The rotation has averaged less than 5 1/3 innings a start. When the four-man was instituted Tuesday, the starters’ 6.31 ERA stood to be the third-highest in major league history, trailing only the 1930 Phillies (6.71) and 1996 Tigers (6.38).
That 6.31 ERA also was double the league-leading 3.08 of the Washington starters. Houston had the second-highest rotation ERA in the NL at 4.64 - still more than a run and a half lower than the Rockies’.
The starters’ average of 5.19 innings would rank as the fourth-lowest in history, behind the 2003 Rangers (5.14), 1977 Mariners (5.14), and 2007 Rangers (5.17). Pittsburgh is the only other NL team this year averaging fewer than six innings from its starters (5.62).
It’s pretty sad when you have to go back to an old-fashioned four-man rotation because you can’t come up with five starters.
Updates on nine
1. Alfonso Soriano, LF, Cubs - He didn’t help his trade value last week by not running out a liner that Will Middlebrooks bobbled. Baseball people were outraged, but Cubs manager Dale Sveum actually defended his player afterward. “Normally when a guy does that, you yank him off the field,’’ said one longtime baseball executive. “You can’t tolerate that. Whether it’s a veteran or a rookie. You have to take a stand. But major league managers are so afraid to do anything like that.’’ Soriano did hit well in interleague play as a DH: .360 with 4 homers and 8 RBIs.
2. Brent Morel, 3B, White Sox - The Morel experiment at third base hasn’t worked, so Orlando Hudson is playing there - further reason why the White Sox should be in the Kevin Youkilis hunt. They had insisted they weren’t until recently; now they are talking to the Red Sox again. They realize they can’t continue with a combination of Morel (nursing a sore back) and Hudson, when combined they’re not even hitting .170. “We’re trying to make a go with Orlando, who’s learning on the job,’’ said manager Robin Ventura. “He’s had some tough at-bats, and the energy level is good for us. Everybody can pinpoint ways you’d like to improve. It’s got to improve with what we’ve got. It’s not coming from anywhere else.’’ Ventura may have spoken too soon. It could come from Boston.
3. Matt Garza, RHP, Cubs - About six teams have been on the phone with Theo Epstein consistently. As far as we can tell, the Braves, Tigers, Cardinals, Red Sox, Jays, and Royals have had interest. Garza is Epstein’s biggest chip, so he won’t let him go without a great package in return. The concern some have is whether Garza can control his emotions enough. He sure did in 2008.
4. Mark Reynolds, INF, Orioles - He is more than available to the many teams looking for righthanded-hitting corner infielders, so Youkilis isn’t the only popular guy out there. With Reynolds come the strikeouts, and he obviously is not as good defensively as Youkilis, but his power could be intriguing.
5. Jed Lowrie, SS, Astros - One team to watch in pursuit of Lowrie is Detroit, which would likely move him to second. The Tigers need a second baseman desperately and could use another bat. Right now, Lowrie is healthy and playing well. Don’t be shocked if he is also on the Phillies’ radar. Houston has a few chips (Brett Myers, Brandon Lyon, Wandy Rodriguez) that could help contenders.
6. R.A. Dickey, RHP, Mets - Trade Dickey? Blasphemy, right? A National League talent evaluator thinks it’s the perfect time for the Mets to strike. Dickey is going through one of those perfect stretches, the type that Tim Wakefield had now and again. The Mets aren’t going to have the money to make the moves they need to make at the trading deadline to stay in it, so why not continue with their three- or four-year plan and begin replenishing by making the best pitcher in the league available?
7. Zack Greinke, RHP, Brewers - When teams ask about his availability, they are getting “not yet’’ from Milwaukee, but the fact is, he will be available as soon as they hear the right offer. Greinke is due to be a free agent, and there doesn’t seem to be any chance of the Brewers signing him long-term. As one NL general manager said, “If you take him on, you have to know what he is. He’s not an ace, but a middle-of-the-rotation guy who can pitch quality innings and games for you. That’s why it’s tough to give up a lot for him.’’
8. Cody Ross, OF, Red Sox - He is in that group of guys starting to get attention as possible bats to add to a struggling lineup. It’ll be interesting to see whether the Sox make him available. Considering that they have Carl Crawford and Jacoby Ellsbury on the way back, they probably have to consider it. Also in that category could be Daniel Nava, who is garnering more interest because of his patience and switch-hitting. The Mets’ Scott Hairston is also developing into one of those guys.
9. Francisco Liriano, LHP, Twins - It wasn’t long ago we wrote that it would be difficult for the Twins to deal him because he had fallen back so much. But suddenly he’s a viable trade chip. Overall, he is 1-7 with a 5.74 ERA, 65 strikeouts and 38 walks in 64 1/3 innings. But those numbers piled up in three distinct phases. In six starts before getting demoted to the bullpen: 0-5, 9.45, 21 K, 19 BB, 26 2/3 IP. In five relief appearances: 0-0, 4.91, 9 K, 7 BB, 7 1/3 IP. And in five starts since returning to the rotation: 1-2, 2.67, 35 K, 12 BB, 30 1/3 IP. It would still be hard for a contending team to trust him, but that doesn’t mean he won’t be moved.
From the Bill Chuck files: “Entering the weekend, Alfredo Aceves had 14 three-up-three-down innings, and Jonathan Papelbon had 10.’’ Also, “Entering the weekend, Red Sox relievers Scott Atchison and Matt Albers had allowed 11 earned runs in 77 innings, while in three starts, Daisuke Matsuzaka had allowed 11 earned runs in 16 1/3 innings.’’ And, “Entering the weekend, the three AL teams with over-.500 records that had the worst records against other over-.500 teams were the Indians at 16-21, the Red Sox at 17-22, and the Blue Jays at 22-28.’’ . . . Happy 50th birthday, Charlie Mitchell.Nick Cafardo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.