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New York Yankees 2013 Preview: Kay and O'Neill on April's task

03/29/2013 11:05 PM ET
By Lou DiPietro

Both Michael Kay and Paul O'Neill agree that Kevin Youkilis needs to be a big part of the Yankees lineup in April.(AP)

As part of a four-part season preview series, the YESNetwork.com team caught up with many of the YES Network broadcasters during Spring Training to discuss 2013. In parts one through three, the gang weighed in on the Yankees' organizational depth and discussed what will be Mariano Rivera's final season; now, in the final part of the series, Michael Kay and Paul O'Neill debate how the Yankees can weather the storm of their offensive losses, especially early on, and weigh the merits of one name player tasked with replacing some of that punch.

By now, the potential perils of the Yankees offense have been debated at length; however, Brett Gardner back, Ichiro on board for a full season, and some new parts like Travis Hafner, Kevin Youkilis, and now Vernon Wells added, manager Joe Girardi thinks he has the right combination to keep the boat afloat early on and win all season without having to rely on the home run as much as in 2012.

Michael Kay and Paul O'Neill agree, with both men citing two specific subsets of Bombers who must use their talents to help the team weather the storm early on.

"I think that teams win with veterans, and the pitching has to keep them in games," O'Neill said. "From there, you fill in; you give young guys some opportunities - and a lot of guys start their careers thanks to an opportunity like that - and you just hope that one of these young kids catches fire and you win some games; when the big guns start coming back, the Yankees will be okay, but until then I think it's almost a challenge for the veterans to stay above water while others are out."

"I agree, and I think the key is that the pitching has to be outstanding; the Yankees have to get great pitching because they're not nearly going to score as many runs as last year no matter what," Kay added. "Anyone who thinks they are is kidding themselves; they've lost Granderson, Teixeira, and A-Rod, which is three of the four hitters in the middle of your lineup, and now won't have Jeter for a little while, so they've got to be able to pitch and create runs with hit and runs, bunts, steals, that type of thing."

Speaking of Jeter, he will start the season on the disabled list as he deals with stiffness and soreness in his surgically repaired right ankle, an issue that The Captain said doctors told him was normal. There's no exact timetable for Jeter's return to the lineup, but O'Neill believes that when it does happen and the ankle injury is in the rear-view mirror, The Captain will leave it there, even if he gets off to a slow start.

"I think as a player, once you get through Spring Training, you know whether you're 100 percent or not; so, when Derek does return, I think (the ankle injury) will be out of Derek's mind," O'Neill said. "Jeter's played so many games and knows so much about what he can and can't do, it won't be a problem; at this point, if he comes back and starts off hot, people will say 'oh, that's Derek Jeter,' and if he struggles people start asking if he's getting old. That's just how it goes."

 

When Jeter does reclaim his throne as starting shortstop, he'll be standing next to another veteran in Kevin Youkilis, one brought in to bridge the gap while Alex Rodriguez recovers from hip surgery.

Youkilis' numbers were down a bit in a rollercoaster 2012, but he hit 15 home runs last year - a total that appears as if it will tie Jeter for second place among the position players who break camp in 2013 - and Kay, for one, thinks he has the mettle to weather his own storm of acceptance while playing on the grandest stage in baseball.

"Youkilis is a solid player still, and he's played under pressure in Boston so I don't think New York will unnerve him at all," Kay said. "I laugh at the thought that Yankee fans are going to take a long time to warm up to him, though; as I like to tell people, if the Yankees didn't sign Youkilis, there would be a lot of ground balls to left field because they don't have a third baseman."

"I think the Yankee fans understand that Youkilis will be a big part of this lineup, especially early, so once you get over the fact that you rooted against him for so long and you see him in a Yankee uniform, it should be fine," O'Neill added. "He is an intense player, and that might be what this team needs and one of the reasons the Yankees brought him over here."

With Mark Teixeira out and Lyle Overbay, a lefty batter, looking to be the man to replace him early on, it's possible that Youkilis will man first base once in a while, likely against left-handed pitchers. That positional ping-pong may be tough for some to deal with, but O'Neill wasn't concerned about that fazing Youkilis - or the fans - either.

"A lot of where he plays will depend on who else fills the roster holes, but Kevin Youkliis is a fun player to watch day in and day out, and I think the Yankees fans will realize that once the season starts," O'Neill said.

And, in the end, Kay agreed that once baseball is in session, bleeding Yankee blue is all that matters.

"Yankee fans accepted Roger Clemens, Wade Boggs, Johnny Damon…I think if he gets off to a good start, they'll love Youkilis," Kay said. "And if he doesn't, it won't matter that he's an ex-Red Sox anyway."

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