February 28, 2013 at 1:00 am

Tony Paul: Baseball Insider

Yankees will aim higher than Tigers' Brennan Boesch to replace Granderson

Curtis Granderson suffers a broken forearm on a pitch by Toronto's J.A. Happ on Sunday. (Matt Slocum / Associated Press)

The Yankees, oh, they're in trouble.

We already knew the franchise was changing, having pledged — with a straight poker face, and then stunningly backing it up with an underwhelming series of signings this offseason — to get under the payroll luxury tax ($189 million) by Opening Day 2014.

But the immediate concern is their 2013 outlook, which suffered a significant blow with outfielder Curtis Granderson lost for 10 weeks, until at least May, after getting hit by a pitch in his spring debut.

Granderson reacted to the news of the busted right forearm with class, offering an "aw-shucks" type of quote. But you can bet the Steinbrenners reaction was far different, and four letters shorter.

The Yankees already were concerned with injuries, to third baseman Alex Rodriguez (hip), who may or may not play at all this season, and shortstop Derek Jeter (ankle), whose comeback from the injury suffered in Game 1 of last fall's ALCS against the Tigers is hardly yet complete.

New York also suffered three big losses in free-agency — the sad-sack Pirates, of all people, outbid the Yankees for catcher Russell Martin (replaced by Francisco Cervelli), outfielder/designated hitter Nick Swisher (replaced by crap-shoot Travis Hafner) moved on the Indians, and reliever Rafael Soriano landed with the Nationals. The latter, despite a dazzling 2012, actually is the least of their worries, assuming closer Mariano Rivera is fully healed from the freak ACL injury that cost him most of 2012.

Replacing Rodriguez, for the time being, at third Kevin Youkilis, who's uber frail and past his prime.

The Yankees have been the toast of the American League East for nearly two decades now, having won it 13 of the last 17 years, including in 2012. But the face of the division is changing, and it's poised to be tougher now, with the sudden resurgence of the Orioles, and the go-for-it attitude of the Blue Jays, who made a series of monster trades this winter. And the Rays, probably the best-run organization in the game, always are going to be in it.

Speaking today, still more than a month till the regular season begins, it's not a stretch to see a scenario where the Yankees and even-more-puzzling Red Sox finish fourth and fifth in the division, which hasn't before happened since the current, five-team alignment system was put in place in 1994.

That's not to say that's a lock, now. The Yankees, having brought back Hiroki Kuroda and Andy Pettitte, still have a solid rotation (again, if it stays healthy), led by CC Sabathia and Phil Hughes (there's that health "if" again). There's still lineup thunder, with Robinson Cano and Mark Teixeira.

But they have more issues than they're used to, first and foremost, now, replacing Granderson, the ex-Tiger. If only Michael Bourn had held off just a little while longer before signing with the Indians …

As for those speculating this could now be the ideal landing spot in a trade for forgotten Tiger Brennan Boesch, the left-handed hitter who theoretically could thrive with that short right-field porch at Yankee Stadium, I suggest you think again.

It may not seem like it, after having watched them pass on one top-shelf free agent after another this offseason, but these are still the Yankees. And they'll be aiming higher than Boesch.

Raburn rises again

If Reggie Jackson is Mr. October, and Derek Jeter Mr. November, then let's just say it.

Ryan Raburn is Mr. February-slash-March!

The former Tigers infielder/outfielder/butt-of-fans-jokes is at it again, this time in Indians camp, where he's batting .750 through the first four Cactus League games. That includes three homers belted in his first two games as he tries to make the team after signing just a minor league contract.

The blazing start actually had Indians fans and media members alike taking to Twitter to talk about the impact — get this, offensively AND defensively (because, you, know he's versatile, as he plays all positions pretty poorly) — he could have with the Indians in 2013.

So it's a good time to take a moment to provide this public-service announcement:

Indians fans, this is nothing new for Raburn. Just take last spring, of instance. He had six homers and 19 RBIs, all of that by one RBI coming in the first 10 games — theoretically, before the breaking balls came out in full force. He went on to .171 with one homer and 12 RBIs for the Tigers in 2012, and, to nobody's surprise, was handed his walking papers this offseason.

Raburn, 32, had big springs for Detroit in 2010 and 2011, too.

Of course, he had big moments during the season during his Tigers career, too.

So I'm not saying Raburn can't, or won't, play a positive role for the Indians, who oddly seem to think they're right on the Tigers heels after signing Bourn and Swisher, despite a rotation that gives up numbers that suggest the opposition is equipped with aluminum bats.

But spring won't tell us. Raburn is a super-cerebral player, whose own thinking — and over-thinking — can be his downfall. And that's not the issue during spring camp, when the mood is light and the pressure isn't so suffocating.

Update on ex-Tigers

There are several intriguing comebacks to keep an eye on, though one might be over.

Lefty Dontrelle Willis, trying to find his old magic for a Cubs team that originally drafted him, lasted just seven pitches in his first spring appearance before leaving the game. The injury was reported as shoulder tightness.

There's no telling when or if he'll pitch again, the latest bump in the road in a career that's become full of them. He won 68 games in his first five years, and just four, total, in the four years after that — including two in 24 outings for the Tigers. Willis, 30, didn't pitch in the majors last season.

Jeremy Bonderman's first game back had a happier ending, in that he felt fine, health-wise, following his one-inning stint was over Monday. The right-hander did, however, all three runs on two hits, including a home run, in his one inning of work for the Mariners.

But he knew it wasn't going to be all rosy in his first appearance since 2010. He had elbow surgery last year, and announced his plans to unretire before choosing to sign a minor league deal with his home-state Mariners rather than try a long-shot bid at cracking a loaded Tigers roster.

Reports were that Bonderman, 30, showcased a couple of good-location fastballs, and at least one nasty slider. Manager Eric Wedge said he was "impressed with what I saw."

Another former Tiger, Nate Robertson, 35, has resurfaced, too, after also not pitching in the majors since 2010. He's getting a look in Rangers camp, and even has a new delivery — the lefty is throwing more three-quarters. He's been in one game so far, throwing a scoreless inning in which he gave up a couple hits.

tpaul@detnews.com

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