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MLB.com Columnist

Richard Justice

Yanks might have the answer to age-old question

More often than not, New York gets what it needs from seasoned veterans

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MLB.com Columnist

Richard Justice

TAMPA, Fla. -- Wouldn't it be a kick in the pants if the Yankees ended up back in the postseason? They'd be the story of the year, wouldn't they? To see them succeed as gritty underdogs, to see them overcome all the departures and all the injuries, honestly, I feel a screenplay coming on. Are those feel-good Disney movies still big?

OK, maybe that's a hard sell when we're talking about the richest and most successful franchise in the history of sports. Here's the deal, though. Only a fool would count out the New York Yankees.

Even at this peculiar place in their history, no opposing manager or club executive is discounting them. Yes, the Yanks could finish dead last in the American League East. Their roster is so fragile, it's impossible to know what they're capable of.

As they bring in players from here, there and everywhere, it's going to take a while for the new players to get settled in and to figure out how the chemistry and teamwork and all that other stuff will play out.

At some point, Curtis Granderson will be back, and that will shuffle the roles in the outfield. As for Derek Jeter, Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez, the Yankees have absolutely no idea when they'll be able to play, or at what level they'll play when they return.

It has been fascinating to watch general manager Brian Cashman sort through his options as he has filled hole after hole in his lineup. He attempted to talk Derrek Lee out of retirement. Cashman wasn't joking when he said he'd be give Chipper Jones a uniform, too.

Those two players fit the prototype of the kinds of veterans Cashman has pursued the past two years. He has wanted guys who are at a certain point in their careers, guys who have played long enough to appreciate the opportunity to be part of the Yanks. Cashman has needed to be persuaded that they all would bring a team-first attitude into the clubhouse.

Cashman has a staff of data-driven analysts who may assess players differently than scouts who watch with their eyes. Yet he also believes in the old-fashioned values like experience and professionalism and working together.

If you're not sold on Lyle Overbay and Vernon Wells, you probably weren't sold on Bartolo Colon, Freddy Garcia, Eric Chavez, Ichiro Suzuki and Andruw Jones, either. Cashman took a chance on those guys when they weren't exactly hot commodities, and he got production out of all of them.

Cashman also saw them as solid men in the clubhouse. They were examples for the younger players and willing to do whatever manager Joe Girardi asked them to do. In addition, Hiroki Kuroda and Raul Ibanez were invaluable contributors in last season's run to the playoffs. They, too, didn't cause dancing in the streets when their signings were announced.

That's the striking thing about these new Yankees. All of them have been around the block a time or two. All of them are nearing the ends of their careers, and all of them seem appreciative of the opportunity and are willing to fit in however they're asked to fit in.

Maybe Vernon Wells really has fixed the flaw in his swing. Maybe Travis Hafner can stay healthy. Maybe Lyle Overbay finally is in the right place at the right time. Far from the craziness of that final season in Boston, Kevin Youkilis has had a healthy, productive Spring Training. Maybe he'll be as smart a signing as Ibanez.

It's a fascinating mix, and because they're older guys, there's a greater chance they won't stay healthy, so the whole thing could fall apart. But if they've all got one more good run left -- if Granderson and one or two of the others come back, if Kuroda and Andy Pettitte take their 30 turns -- the Yankees probably have a chance.

The Rays and Blue Jays appear to be better, and the Orioles have had a tremendous Spring Training. If those three teams are what they're supposed to be, and if the A's and Rangers are as good as most people think they'll be, and if the Indians or Royals or Mariners or another team is the surprise team of 2013, it'll be a mad scramble for the five AL playoff berths.

All Girardi has tried to do the last few years is get his guys to focus on that day's game. He doesn't seem to fret over yesterday or worry too much about tomorrow. Ignore the standings. Play hard. See what happens. Girardi convinces his guys that it's about playing one inning at a time. That is, execute the pitch, make the play, get on base.

That kind of stuff sounds simple, but it's not. In a place like New York, the manager's biggest challenge when things are going bad is to keep the noise outside the clubhouse. The Yankees have enough older players that this shouldn't be a problem. They've all had success in their careers, and they understand the grind of a long season.

And that's what the 2013 Yanks have to be about. Inside their clubhouse, they believe they're going to be good, and that's probably significant. They look around the room and think they've got enough to win.

"Honestly, I believe we're still the team to beat," Pettitte said the other day. "I like our club."

For sure, it's a different kind of Yankees club, and it'll be fascinating to watch it all play out. All those veteran guys coming together at one time is a unique mix. The Yanks might just be the most interesting team in baseball. Wouldn't it something if it worked out?

Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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