New York Yankees in town: Rotation woes, questionable moves weakened the empire

Ladies and gentlemen, for your booing enjoyment, please welcome the New York Yankees.

Heckle them. Jeer them. Despise them, as always, if you must.

But in this 2012 season, as April has reminded, Texas Rangers fans would be wise to resist the primeval urge to envy the 27-time champion Yankees.

Baseball's Rome is declining. It happens to all the great empires.

Oh, they can still spend money like drunken sailors. All free agents with checkbooks covet a wink from the Yankees.

But as the Yankees come to town for the start of a three-game series with the Rangers tonight, evidence suggests that this New York team harbors mortal flaws.

Like age. Injuries. And starting pitching.

The season is young, but Yankees starters CC Sabathia, Phil Hughes and Freddy Garcia have a combined ERA of 7.11.

New York is ninth in the American League in total team ERA. Yankee pitchers have allowed more hits (152) than any team in baseball.

Once upon a time, the Yankees filled out their starting rotation in December, usually by sliding a large sack of cash in the direction of the off-season's biggest-name free agent.

Now they're waiting on pitcher Andy Pettitte to return from his retirement. He will be 40 when he gets back to New York.

It's also been suggested that general manager Brian Cashman still has Roy Oswalt's agent on his phone's Friends and Family list.

Hiroki Kuroda, the Yanks' Tuesday night starter, is 37. Garcia is 35.

How did Cashman miss out on Jamie Moyer?

Karma followers would also point out that the old pitcher (38) that the Yankees jettisoned after last season, Bartolo Colon, is 3-1 with a 2.63 ERA for Oakland.

Another Yankee ex, A.J. Burnett, orphaned to Pittsburgh, pitched seven innings of three-hit, no-run ball in his first start for the Pirates last weekend.

No one doubts that lefty Sabathia will soon return to his dominating form. But Hughes labored through a disappointing season a year ago. And Kuroda, who signed a free agent one-year, $10 million deal to jump from the Dodgers, is not only coming from the National League to the American League, but also switching from a historically pitcher-friendly park to the Yanks' billion-dollar launching pad.

A major piece of manager Joe Girardi's starting pitching puzzle was supposed to be young Michael Pineda, acquired from Seattle. Baseball eyebrows raised when the Yankees sent their reported best prospect, catcher Jesus Montero, to the Mariners in exchange for 23-year-old Pineda.

But Pineda was also trying to make the switch from a notoriously offense-challenged park, which further should have red-flagged the drop-off in his performance in last season's second half.

Cashman made the deal anyway, and Pineda has been on the disabled list with rotator cuff tendinitis. In his last start in extended spring training, Pineda experienced pain in his right shoulder and was shut down after only 15 pitches. He may not throw his first pitch for the Yankees until 2013.

Amid the Yankees' rotation issues, once-phenom Joba Chamberlain's ankle injury -- from jumping on a trampoline -- has been relegated to a footnote.

And while past Yankee juggernauts could always rely upon their abundant farm system or the kindness of strangers (other teams willing to trade players for Steinbrenner family cash) to patch their problems, this appears to be a new era for the pinstripes.

In the Baseball America rankings of major league franchise farm systems, the Yankees are no better than eighth in the American League. They rank ahead of only one team, the Orioles, in the AL East.

The Rangers are ranked No. 1 in the Baseball America list.

Still, the AL West leaders aren't likely to sell the visiting Yankees short this week.

As the Rangers' Michael Young said, "It'll be fun. They're a good team and they're playing really well right now. It should be a good challenge. We're looking forward to it."

So welcome the Yankees.

Rome isn't what it used to be, but you'll easily recognize the familiar togas.

Gill LeBreton, 817-390-7697

Twitter: @gilebreton

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