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Girardi believes Yankees will win big

Joe Girardi says the defending AL East champions are a World Series contender.

Associated Press

Joe Girardi says the defending AL East champions are a World Series contender.

TAMPA — Manager Joe Girardi believes the suggestion that the Yankees are getting old is an old story.

He points out that people have been saying that for a decade, including last year, when they racked up 95 victories and took the American League East.

So even as the Yankees opened camp Tuesday with their share of questions, from the health of shortstop Derek Jeter and closer Mariano Rivera to another controversy surrounding Alex Rodriguez's alleged performance-enhancing drug use, Girardi has the same old expectations for his club.

"This team could win 95 games and get to the World Series," Girardi said in his opening spring news conference. "There's a lot of talent in this room."

The Yankees' fate could partly rest on the shoulders of two of their oldest — and most important — players. Girardi is optimistic Jeter, 38, coming off left ankle surgery, will be their everyday shortstop. And he is happy to hand the ball in the ninth to Rivera, 43, whom he called the "greatest closer of all time" but who missed the final four months last season due to knee surgery.

However, as confident as Girardi is in the two future Hall of Famers, no one knows for sure. "You want to see him," Girardi said of Jeter. "And you want to get over the 'I'm done worrying about him' stage. Same with Mo."

The Yankees won't be seeing much of Rodriguez, 37, who will continue rehabbing his surgically repaired hip in New York to prepare for his post All-Star break return. Girardi said it has nothing to do with avoiding the potential camp distraction of Rodriguez, who was linked in a Miami New Times report last month as a client of alleged PED supplier Anthony Bosch. Rodriguez, who has denied the report, is just getting off crutches and Girardi said the "best place" for him is with specialists in New York. "He's not ready to do anything with us from a baseball standpoint," Girardi said.

Aside from Rodriguez's absence, there has been considerable focus on what the Yankees lost, including catcher Russell Martin (Pirates), outfielders Nick Swisher (Indians) and Raul Ibanez (Mariners) and reliever Rafael Soriano (Nationals). Gone are nearly 100 of their MLB-leading 245 homers from 2012, and even though New York signed veteran Kevin Youkilis (one year, $12 million) to play third base, Girardi admitted the offense will have a different look.

The Yankees still boast some pop, with Robinson Cano, Mark Teixeira and Curtis Granderson, but will rely on speed at the top with Brett Gardner and Ichiro Suzuki.

"I believe we're going to score runs," Girardi said. "It's just going to be in a different fashion."

The Yankees don't have an established catcher, picking this spring from among the trio of Francisco Cervelli, Chris Stewart and Austin Romine. But their bullpen remains mostly intact (Rivera replacing Soriano) and they'll have the same starting rotation. That staff is topped by a healthier CC Sabathia, who feels relief after an offseason procedure on his throwing elbow, which was more of an issue last year than initially stated. Girardi considered retaining veterans Andy Pettitte, 40, and Hiroki Kuroda, 38, as "big signings," overlooked because they were returning players.

The Yankees may not have made as big a splash this winter as other teams such as the Blue Jays, but Girardi noted that some of the biggest offseason spenders last year didn't make the playoffs.

"If other clubs want to think that we're vulnerable, that's okay," Girardi said. "But I love the character in that room, and the way they find ways to win games. And that's important."

Joe Smith can be reached at joesmith@tampabay.com.

Girardi believes Yankees will win big 02/12/13 [Last modified: Tuesday, February 12, 2013 7:35pm]
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