It's been a while since we've entered spring training without the Yankees looking like an inevitable entry into the playoff mix.
That's not the case in 2013, which is yet another sign that we're living in a new baseball reality. The Yankees are getting a lot more attention for what they aren't than what they are as they start getting ready for the season.
With the Blue Jays making several splashy moves, the AL East is even more of a bear trap than it has been in recent years. The Indians and Tigers both have a chance to make real runs at playoff spots while the AL West teams will all benefit from the arrival of what looks like a historically bad Astros team in their division.
That's left the Yankees in the unusual position of being one of many strivers rather than being the team that everyone is measuring themselves against. Because we're so used to the Yankees in that more familiar role, the change in fortunes has led to a lot of people writing the team off before a pitch has even been thrown.
Joe Girardi isn't too happy with that opinion of his team. He took some time in Tampa to give his own impression of the team's chances this season, saying that the Yankees could win the World Series and that their quiet offseason isn't a sign of anything.
"I believe we're still a very talented club," Girardi said. "I know we didn't get it done in the playoffs, but you can win 105 games and not win in the playoffs. That doesn't mean you weren't a good team. There were teams that made big splashes in the free-agent market last year and were expected to win the World Series and get to the playoffs and didn't even get there. There's no guarantee."
Girardi's underlying point is sound. This is still a team with plenty of talent and the concerns we've heard about their age/depth/pitching/lineup are the same ones we've heard in recent seasons that still ended with a playoff berth.
Where he goes off the rails is when he starts trying to dress up the team's roster moves as things that have been wrongly perceived by the general public.
"If Hiroki Kuroda was a Dodger last year and signed with us, we'd say that's a pretty good signing," Girardi said. "If Andy Pettitte was an Astro and we signed him back, that would've been a pretty big signing. If Mariano Rivera was somewhere else and we signed the greatest closer of all time, that's a pretty big signing. Sometimes the people that we signed, we kind of overlook because they've been around here so much. Those are pretty big signings."
It's more than a little bit of a stretch that Girardi is trying to make since none of those guys are actually new arrivals. They are maintaining the status quo, especially in Rivera's case since Rafael Soriano is gone and the team doesn't have the same backup plan if Rivera were to get hurt again this year.
Whenever talk turns to the Yankees slipping off their perch, someone mentions 1965 because it was the last time that a long, fruitful run ended all of a sudden despite the presence of many players who had helped fuel the run in the first place. On paper, there's an unmistakable similarity between this team and that one.
Girardi's right that this year's Yankee team has enough pieces to return to the postseason. Johnny Keane would have been right if he said that in February 1965 as well and that's the scary monster hiding behind the curtain we're about to pull on another baseball season.