The New York Yankees are used to having off-field distractions at the start of spring training and manager Joe Girardi said this year is no different, with recent allegations that Alex Rodriguez may have been using performance-enhancing drugs as recently as last season.
Rodriguez, 37, remains in New York, rehabilitating from last month’s hip surgery. Yet Girardi faced questions about the All-Star third baseman as players arrived today in Tampa, Florida.
“You walk on the field and you put the thoughts in your head that aren’t part of the game away,” Girardi said at a televised news conference. “You go do your job. Our guys will do that. They’re used to doing that. I don’t ever think I’ve come to a Yankee camp where there hasn’t been something that people might call a distraction.”
Girardi said that, while he’s spoken with Rodriguez this offseason about the three-time American League Most Valuable Player’s rehab, they didn’t discuss last month’s report in the Miami New Times that Rodriguez had bought performance-enhancing substances from a clinic in Coral Gables, Florida. Major League Baseball is investigating the report, which Rodriguez has said is false.
“My concern is getting him healthy and that’s what I’ll focus on,” Girardi said. “You’re always curious about things that you read about that are potentially damaging to your players and to baseball, of course. But I’m going to wait for MLB to do their thing.”
The Yankees signed former Boston Red Sox third baseman Kevin Youkilis in December as a replacement for Rodriguez, who the team has said will probably miss at least the first three months of the season. It was one of the few offseason additions for New York, which also brought in Travis Hafner as a potential designated hitter. Nick Swisher, Russell Martin, Raul Ibanez, Eric Chavez and Andruw Jones, who combined for 94 home runs last season, all left the team in the offseason.
The Yankees re-signed Ichiro Suzuki and will have another outfielder, Brett Gardner, back after he was limited to 16 games by injury last season. Girardi said Gardner, who totaled 96 stolen bases for New York during the 2010-11 seasons, can have 50 to 60 steals this year if he stays healthy.
“We don’t quite have the home-run hitters that we’ve had in the past,” Girardi said. “When you look at our club this year, there’s more speed. Our offense is going to be different, but I believe we’re going to score runs. It’s just going to be in a different fashion than it has in the past.”
The Yankees have 14-1 odds of winning the World Series, according to the Las Vegas Hotel’s Super Book, tied for eighth among baseball’s 30 teams. The Los Angeles Angels (7-1), Detroit Tigers (7-1), Washington Nationals (8-1), Los Angeles Dodgers (8-1), Cincinnati Reds (10-1), Toronto Blue Jays (10-1) and defending-champion San Francisco Giants (12-1) all have better odds entering spring training.
New York isn’t even the favorite in the AL Eastern division, which it’s won 12 of the past 15 years. With 9-5 division odds, the Yankees are second to the Blue Jays at 8-5.
The Yankees still need to figure out who their starting catcher will be, while 38-year-old shortstop Derek Jeter is returning from ankle surgery. CC Sabathia had offseason surgery to remove a bone spur from his pitching elbow and 43-year-old Mariano Rivera is also coming back from knee surgery that cost him almost all of the 2012 season. His replacement last year at closer, Rafael Soriano, signed with the Nationals.
Girardi said that the Yankees won 95 games last season, while overcoming long-term injuries to Rivera, Gardner and pitcher Michael Pineda. Rodriguez, first baseman Mark Teixeira and pitcher Andy Pettitte also missed time because of injuries in 2012, when the Yankees reached the AL Championship Series before getting swept by the Tigers.
“When I look at the season that our club had last year, they were extremely resilient, there were people who stepped up in roles they weren’t expected to do,” Girardi said. “We need to do that again.”