The 2013 New York Yankees, even after three straight losses to the Mets, are 75.3 percent likely to make the playoffs, according to Baseball Prospectus.
This, by itself, isn't any surprise: the Yankees have participated in 17 of the last 18 Octobers. There hasn't been much money to be made betting against the Yankees over the past two decades.
But exactly who will be playing every day, let alone providing the Yankees with key hits when a traditional fall comes to The Bronx? Anyone who says they know for sure isn't to be trusted.
Typically, a team's most prolific hitters during the regular season are the players counted on in the postseason. Alternatively, a team's highest-paid players, even if they don't feature early, will be counted on once the postseason begins. Neither of these scenarios really applies to the 2013 Yankees. Most of their highest-paid players, most famously Alex Rodriguez but also Mark Teixeira, Derek Jeter and Curtis Granderson, are all out. And their three best home run hitters in 2013 after Robinson Cano -- Vernon Wells, Lyle Overbay and Travis Hafner -- don't appear to have set positions on the club once injured players return.
Accordingly, the Yankees seem to have set into motion the kind of plan that only works for the Yankees.
1. Employ some random mix of players
There's not an actual secret to it: the expanded payroll means even when the Yankees dumpster dive, they do so in bulk. So if Brennan Boesch and Ben Francisco don't work out, that's fine, Lyle Overbay and Vernon Wells might. When they fade, the next reinforcements come in.
Still, to see players considered has-beens come in and perform for the Yankees time and again can seem like some kind of mystical joke. It's the kind of Yankee magic that infuriates fans of the 29 other teams. Fine, Derek Jeter is Derek Jeter. But Aaron Small went 10-0 as a Yankee when they needed a starter in 2005. Glenallen Hill, released by the Cubs, was picked up by the Yankees in 2000, won American League Player of the Month honors, and hit 16 home runs in 143 at-bats.
So with the stipulation that someone or someones will likely step forward and give the Yankees enough hitting to support a strong rotation and ridiculous bullpen, here are your betting odds for just who that will be over the next few months.
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Robinson Cano, 1-5: Cano, so far, has been the best player on the Yankees, as expected. He's posting a 134 O.P.S.+, he's on pace to play his usual 159+ games (every year since 2007), he's just 30 years old, and he's heading into free agency. Cano, alone among Yankee hitters, has been the constant.
Some random guy currently hitting .180 for your favorite team, 2-1: Roger Bernadina? Chris Heisey? Jesus Guzman? Whatever, it's totally going to happen, and it's going to be annoying.
Curtis Granderson, 3-1: The second-best bet on the Yankees to hit in October has played eight games all season. But Granderson, 32, should be back and producing by the time the leaves start to fall. Not only is he historically durable, having played 156 games or more in three of the past four seasons, but his injuries aren't the kind that tend to linger. He was hit by a pitch in the spring, fracturing his forearm, and then hit by another pitch last week, fracturing his knuckle. Expect Granderson back, and fine, within a month.
Kevin Youkilis, 4-1: He's probably not an everyday player anymore. He played only 122 games last season, and regular work injured his back in 2013 17 games in. But Youkilis can hit some, defend well at first and third, and he's a righty bat in a lineup that needs righty bats. Used judiciously, Youkilis should help the Yankees this fall.
Travis Hafner, 5-1: Hafner has actually out-hit Cano on a rate basis this season, with a 137 O.P.S.+ over 41 games. And this isn't out of character, even within the framework of the disappointing second half of his career. His O.P.S.+ from 2009-2012 is 125. But his season-high in games over those four seasons is 118, and Hafner's already been bothered by a shoulder injury this season. The Yankees are going to use him judiciously, but there's simply no guarantee he'll be healthy enough to help in October. If he is, though, he should.
Brett Gardner, 7-1: The issue for Gardner isn't health so far, thanks to a season with far more in common with his 150+ game campaigns of 2010 and 2011 than his lost 2012. Instead, it is fair to wonder whether Gardner's spike in power, with 18 extra base hits already and a .430 slugging percentage that is higher than any he posted in even a minor league season, represents a new talent level at age 29. He is hitting far more fly balls than ever before, and converting them to homers at a higher rate than ever before. Expect him around, expect that glove to continue winning games for the Yankees. But the power is probably ephemeral, and without it, he's a sub-average offensive player.
Mark Teixeira, 9-1: Sure, Teixeira is down in Trenton this week, rehabbing and getting ready to join the Yankees. But a power hitter who already showed dangerous signs of fading in 2011 and 2012 is trying to play through a torn tendon sheath in his wrist. Usually, power hitters returning from wrist injuries take a while to find their power strokes -- so asking Teixeira to hit for power while managing such an injury seems like a fool's errand.
Ichiro Suzuki, 10-1: It should concern the Yankees that Suzuki, who effectively had two good weeks over two years in 2011-12, is at a 67 O.P.S.+ in 2013, and is 39. He's this high only because it is easy to imagine Suzuki coming up with one more key burst of greatness, and with a two-year deal and few outfield givens on the roster, there's a decent chance the Yankees give him the opportunity.
Lyle Overbay, 12-1: Overbay is almost precisely the player he was last season, when his limitations led to no team but the Yankees expressing interest in him this spring. The only change between this year and last year is that more than 15 percent of Overbay's fly balls have become home runs, a rate way out of line with his career norms, and one that will almost certainly moderate. But with Teixiera's injury a great unknown, expect the Yankees to keep Overbay around.
David Adams, 15-1: Adams is a legitimate hitter, and has held his own in his first 49 big league plate appearances. But staying healthy has always been difficult for Adams. An ankle injury scuttled a trade to Seattle that would have netted the Yankees Cliff Lee, and ultimately ended his 2010 season. For Adams to contribute to the Yankees this fall, he'll need to both stave off injury and stay ahead of both Youkilis and Rodriguez in the pecking order at third base.
Vernon Wells, 20-1: Sure, Vernon Wells has 10 home runs already, and was a terrific player as recently as 2010. But even his respectable .770 O.P.S. in 2013 is essentially an April-fueled illusion: he's at .635 in May, after a .911 April. This isn't a Yankee thing, with Wells posting an .856 O.P.S. from August 11 through September 13 last season for the Angels. It simply reflects that Wells, at this point in his career, is capable of one good-to-great month per season. He's probably had his already in 2013.
Alex Rodriguez, 25-1: This might be low. Rodriguez posted a respectable 113 O.P.S.+ in 2012, and was good as recently as last July. Nor does this reflect the absurd fantasy in some quarters that the Yankees will figure out a way to void Rodriguez's contract. But to ask a player just off of hip surgery, who turns 38 in July, to come back and provide offensive punch to a lineup, let alone to do it while under the microscope that Rodriguez will face, seems like a long shot to me.
Derek Jeter, 30-1: Take off the name, and what are you left with? A shortstop, turning 39 in June, who broke his ankle last fall, spent months rehabbing it after surgery, and broke it again in spring training. Because he's Derek Jeter, he'll get every opportunity to earn his way back onto the field, and he's apparently going to try his best to do just that. But betting against the ravages of age is a sucker's wager.