The New York Yankees haven’t won the World Series in a year, which is way too long by Yankee standards. When your payroll is just over $200 million per year, this expectation has some validity (the small measure of the 27 World Championships which define every inning this team plays also factors into this issue as well). On top of the usual atmosphere of expectation around Yankee camp, there are a few unusual feelings as well: rejection and uncertainty. This was not a good offseason for Yankees, who missed out on landing their only major free agent target in Cliff Lee. His rejection of Yankee dollars left the club unable to go move-for-move with their division rival Red Sox, and they are now not the most talented roster in their division any longer. Will this trend carry over into April, when the games come off of paper and projections and return to Yankee Stadium? Can one of the league’s most devastating lineups prepared not only to produce at their already league best level, but potentially increase their output to compensate for a weakened pitching staff? Those are just a few of the questions surrounding Joe Girardi’s 2011 squad, who will look to stand firm in the midst of Major’s best, and most improved, division.
1. CAPTAIN’S SEAT: Much has been made about Derek Jeter’s battles with the Yankee front office, both this past winter and even this spring. What is being understated is what the team itself knew all along: having #2 in uniform was, and is, a must. While he isn’t the player he was even a few years ago anymore, he still is an All-Star caliber talent. Even in his decline, he still scored 111 runs and stole nearly 20 bases. But most importantly, on the high paid roster in the game, with egos and personalities that reflect it, he is unquestionably the heart and soul of the club and what keeps it all moving day in and day out. For that reason alone, he’s the most valuable player on the team, still.
2. SHUT EM DOWN: For what they didn’t accomplish in the starting rotation, they reversed course on and attacked via the bullpen. In adding Rafael Soriano, who led the AL with 45 saves a year ago, to be their gateway to Mariano Rivera; they ensured that if they were going to get beat, teams better get it done before the 8th inning. This gives an already strong bullpen featuring Joba Chamberlain, Pedro Feliciano and Sergio Mitre and chance to make a constant difference, in addition to adding some security to the starters to throw easier due to the fact they have support behind them.
3. MURDERS ROW IS STILL HERE: Okay, maybe that’s an overstatement, but this Yankee lineup still is more than capable of winning games on its own, and top to bottom is still the best lineup in baseball. Robinson Cano came to the forefront last year, and was not only the most dependable bat in the lineup, but also the best. That’s saying a lot when Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez are hitting in front of you, both of whom hit over 30 home runs and 100 RBI, again. Add in what will likely be a healthier Jorge Posada, who has been relieved of catching duties to become a full-time DH. Curtis Granderson, had a subpar debut, yet still hit 24 home runs. He is one of the most diverse weapons in the game and should be one of the most improved performers in either league.
1. DON’T JUMP IN THE DEEP END: Outside of CC Sabathia, and his annual 19+ wins, there isn’t a long-time proven or dependable arm in their rotation. Phil Hughes delivered on his potential last season, but wore down noticeably late in the season. If AJ Burnett was playing card, it would definitely be the joker and he would definitely be wild. There’s simply no more inconsistent pitcher than him in the game. After that, they are rolling the dice on a combination of Ivan Nova, Freddy Garcia and the resurrection of Bartolo Colon, who showed up at Spring Training looking more like Bam Bam Bigelow than a guy that once threw 100 miles per hour easy. Cliff Lee made a big impact with the team he landed with, but arguably he made an even bigger impact on the one he didn’t.
2. MIXED SIGNALS: What will they get from their catchers spot? With Posada finally giving in as an everyday receiver, they made a move to land a former All-Star on the mend in Russell Martin. However, his health has slipped as far as his production (he hasn’t hit over .250 since 2008). Francisco Cervelli is in the mix, but he has been for a while without winning the job. The easy option is top prospect Jesus Montero, especially for his big power bat, but there are major questions about his ability to hold up behind the plate. Posada isn’t a bail out option anymore, so this could be an issue that remains in rotation all summer.
3. SWIMMING IN SHALLOW WATERS: There is a lack of depth behind every major part of this team. With the injury histories and age of many of its key players, this could become a potentially crippling issue if worse comes to worse. Andy Pettitte’s retirement created a big depth issue on the pitching staff they haven’t recovered from. In the lineup, Ramiro Pena, Andruw Jones, Ronnie Belliard and even Eric Chavez are being leaned on to be support beams. Not a good sign.
LINEUP/PITCHING with 2010 stats/info (Impact player in BOLD)
- Derek Jeter-SS: .270 avg/10 HR/67 RBI/18 steals
- Curtis Granderson-CF: .247 avg/24 HR/67 RBI/ 7 triples
- 3. Mark Teixeira-1B: His .256 average was by far the worst performance of his career, but do not expect that to happen again. However, expect an eighth straight year of 30 homers & 100 RBI.
- Alex Rodriguez-3B: .270 avg/30 HR/125 RBI
- Robinson Cano-2B: .319 avg/29 HR/109 RBI/200 hits
- Jorge Posada-DH: .248 avg/18 HR/57 RBI
- Nick Swisher-RF: .288 avg/29 HR/89 RBI/91 runs scored
- Russell Martin-C: .248 avg/5 HR/26 RBI
- Brett Gardner-LF: .277 avg/5 HR/47 RBI/ 47 steals
- CC Sabathia-LH: 21-7, 3.18 ERA, 197 K’s
- Phil Hughes-RH: 18-8, 4.19 ERA, 146 K’s
- A.J. Burnett-RH: 10-15, 5.26 ERA, 145 K’s
- Ivan Nova-RH: 1-2, 4.50 ERA, 26 K’s
- Freddy Garcia-RH: 12-6, 4.64 ERA, 89 K’s
Closer: Mariano Rivera-RH: 33 saves, 1.80 ERA, 45 K’s
Setup: Rafael Soriano-RH: 1.73 ERA, 57 K’s, 45 saves
RUNDOWN: The death of the Yankees is greatly exaggerated. Matter of fact, many of the problems they are perceived as having are only problems because they belong to the Yankees. The rotation isn’t as great as it could have been with Pettitte or Lee, but they have a great stopper in Sabathia and still have the best closer in the game to intimidate any team that hasn’t sealed the victory before it gets too late. Despite the additions of the Red Sox, I still give this lineup the slight edge in production (for God’s sake, they’ve got 5 guys that hit 25 homers, one guy that stole nearly 50 bases and a Jeter to boot). The battle for the AL East will be close, and most likely will only have the Sox and Yanks as legit contenders this year. I think they will see how things start off with the pitching they have and see how they matchup with Boston, and take it from there. They have the ability and prospects to acquire anything they may need, and one way or another; the Yankees will still be playing postseason baseball this year.