MLB Preview: New York Yankees

2011 was a good season, but the Bombers always have World Series on the brain.

When can a 90 win season be called a disappointment? When it’s the Yankees winning 90 regular season games and failing to win three in the post season. Although disappointment is probably too harsh considering the patchwork pitching staff. However nobody could have predicted how well the bullpen would perform to hide several deficiencies in the starters. It was because of the holes in the starting staff that the Bombers failed to move past the Tigers.

Now a brand new season is nearly here. The long, mild winter is ending and spring training games are coming to a close. No more number 94 on second turning a double play with 87 1/2 on first. The Yankees start their march towards their 28th World Series Championship on a six game road trip against divisional rivals. The real Opening Day comes on Friday when the Yanks will be taking on the Rays. Are any of our readers upset by the travesty that ESPN would have you believe Opening Day in Japan was? Listening to ESPN radio it sounded as though they were completely unaware that this is something that has been done several times before, including Yankees vs Blue Jays, and the real joy is the home opener. While I’m almost as excited as Tim Tebow to see baseball start again, it is Opening Day at the stadium that means more to me as a fan. Enough about that. Let’s take a look at the 2012 New York Yankees.

Rotation

This was what kept Brian Cashman up at night. He needed to bring in more arms to back his ace, but first Cashman needed to sign a new deal with that ace. CC Sabathia and the Yankees had relatively short and harmonious contract negotiations because the Yankees knew they needed CC much more than he needed pinstripes. It looked as though CC Sabathia, known for being a workhorse, was overworked down the stretch run. It would have been nice to see some sort of fitness clause in the new deal, but alas we have to hope for the best. Ivan Nova was a bright spot after Phil Hughes proved ineffective and spent significant time on the disabled list and Freddy Garcia provided some consistency in the back end of the rotation. The biggest surprise was Bartolo Colon who held the rotation together before breaking down completely in the second half of the season. AJ Burnett was a circus, or a roller coaster, whichever you prefer, but now he is out of town.

With some new faces and old faces the Yankees find themselves with what could be a formidable staff, but as Bill Self of Kansas reminds us, you don’t play the

Cheer up Pineda, it's only spring. (Kim Klement-US PRESSWIRE)

games on paper. The major acquisitions of the off season were that of Hiroki Kuroda via free agency and Michael Pineda in the Jesus Montero trade. Bringing in Kuroda instantly gave the Yankees a credible number two starter behind Sabathia. The only question will be how he will translate from the National League. Pineda adds depth to the rotation as well as a building block, along with Nova, for a solid staff for years to come. However that plan has hit a snag as Pineda, who struggled mightily throughout Spring Training, will start 2012 on the disabled list with tendonitis in his shoulder. Hopefully he will come back stronger after this injury.

To add even more depth and a potentially quality lefty starter, the Yankees re-re-acquired Andy Pettitte, who has come out of retirement. With his experience and veteran savvy the Yanks hope he can shore up the back end of the rotation. Essentially he and Freddy Garcia are occupying the same role at the present time, but it is expected Pettitte can win that battle. Really after a year off no one knows for sure how this will turn out. Then there is Phil Hughes. Personally, I bailed on him when he tanked the second half of his 18 win season. He hasn’t looked the same, but it appears he has secured the number three spot as Nova has also struggled throughout the spring. So far it looks as though this rotation is again filled with question marks however this staff has a higher floor and infinitely higher ceiling.

Grade: B+. I want to give them an incomplete, but that’s a cop out. This rotation could be solid 1-5 if Pineda and Nova build on their rookie seasons, Hughes rebounds and Pettitte comes back to close to what he left as.

Bullpen

As previously mentioned, the bullpen was a major strength of this team last season. With Mariano Rivera performing brilliantly as he has throughout his hall of fame career it was the emergence of David Robertson that helped solidify the set-up role. Many thought Joba Chamberlin would step into that role, but he was lost for the season when he underwent Tommy John surgery. This season the Bombers were jumping up and down with Tim Tebow like excitement to have Joba back. Unfortunately so was Joba on the trampoline and he dislocated his ankle, putting this year into serious jeopardy. Similar to Hughes I have bailed on Chamberlin, but you can never have too many arms in the pen and a loss is a loss. Raphael Soriano also was a candidate for the setup role, but he too suffered with injuries last season before a stellar return.

I won’t spend too much time talking about middle relief. It is extremely important for the days when the starter can’t bring it, but no middle reliever is great. Hector Noesi, who pitched well as a long man and spot starter was lost as part of the Michael Pineda trade, which was understandable because you have to give to get, but could prove to be a weakness.

Grade: A They lack a strong lefty presence and the middle relief is questionable, but Soriano, Robertson, Rivera is probably the best 7,8,9 combo in the game.

Catcher

It is always difficult replacing an institution, but it looks as though the Yanks have found their man with Russell Martin. Because of his injury history he was only signed to a one year deal and the Yankees picked up the option for this season. Behind the plate he calls a good game and seems to have a great relationship with the staff. At the plate he leaves something to be desired, but catcher isn’t where a team should look for offense. Guys like Jorge Posada are an anomaly. Backing up the backstop is Francisco Cervelli and Austin Romine. The Yankee organization doesn’t seem sold on Cervelli who brings more passion than talent, but it looks like he will continue to catch on Martin’s off days.

Grade: B-Great defense, solid depth, little to no offense.

Infield

Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, Robinson Cano and Mark Texiera. That’s two future hall of famers, one budding superstar and one of the best defensive power hitters in the game. Those are the positives. The negatives? The left side of the infield (Jeter and A-Rod) is old! Fans have watched Derek Jeter’s decline in extreme slow motion as he seems to push off that one season when he has officially hit the twilight years. He has lost some of his pop and balls that were bloop singles years ago are having trouble finding their way out of the infield. What’s worse has been the sharp decline of A-Rod. It looks as though his body is breaking down as he has undergone surgery on his hip and last year on his knee. As the legs go, so does the power and the mighty A-Rod became a singles hitter. He is healthier right now, but how will he hold up throughout the season? Even as his bat failed him, Rodriguez was still rock solid defensively, giving him the edge over the youngster Eduardo Nunez.

Robinson Cano is now the star of this infield. He hits for both average and power and has improved defensively avoiding the lazy mistakes of early in his

With A-Rod and Jeter on the decline, how much will be asked of Nunez?

career. With A-Rod losing his pop last season Cano slid into the cleanup slot and excelled. I am anticipating a lot of playing time for Nunez at third and short, which will be a nice young infield. Did I mention Tex? Not really. Incredible defensive player with good power numbers, but his average has been falling off. The most frustrating thing about this offense last season was the inconsistency. Cano, Tex and Jeter all saw declines in their averages. The Yankees had trouble stringing together hits at times hoping for Cano, Tex or mostly Granderson to provide the big home run.

Grade: A- Age on the left side, power on the right, solid defense above average offense.

DH

One of the more overlooked moves of the off season was bringing in Raul Ibanez. He will be the left-handed designated hitter for most of the season with Andruw Jones taking the role of the right-handed DH. Both guys are late in their career and will get some starts in the outfield, but primarily look to add a little more power to this already potent offense.

Grade: B Last year Jones had a slow start and Ibanez will be facing a lot of new pitchers.

Outfield

Let’s go left to right shall we? Brett Gardner will continue to patrol left field for the Yankees in 2012 and that’s just fine. He is a speedster and plays a good left although his arm is a little less than accurate as he rushes many throws with runners on the move. The biggest question is will this year be the year when he steps up to the lead off spot. He is a good hitter with two strikes and often gets deep into the count, but doesn’t get enough hits or walks with an on base percentage of .353, a full thirty points below Jeter. In center field Curtis Granderson looks to follow up his MVP caliber 2011 season with another big time year at the plate. He was nearly 25% of the Bombers offense. It is hard to believe this season can be anywhere near as grand, but the Yanks are depending on a similar season. Then in right we have fan favorite, Nick Swisher. Swish struggled mightily to start last season. As a switch hitter his numbers looked as though he were a right handed hitter who forgot which side of the plate to stand on sometimes. His OPS hit a low in his time in pinstripes last season with .822 when it had been up above .870. What he gave the Yankees was great plate discipline and good power numbers. The lineup needs him to return to his patient ways of grinding out at bats and getting on base consistently. While Swish may not be the most important player on the team he is a great clubhouse guy. Also rotating in the outfield will be Jones and Ibanez. Yikes I wonder which guy would win in a race.

Grade: B- If Swisher returns to form this could be as high as a B+ for the offense. Defensively right field is a liability.

If I were manager:

Lineup                                                      Rotation

LF Brett Gardner                                 CC Sabathia

CF Curtis Granderson                        Hiroki Kuroda

1B Mark Texiera                                  Michael Pineda

2B Robinson Cano                              Ivan Nova

3B Alex Rodriguez                              Andy Pettitte

DH Ibanez/Jones                                     Bullpen

RF Nick Siwsher                                 CP Mariano Rivera

SS Derek Jeter                                    SU Raphael Soriano

C Russell Martin                                MRP/SU David Robertson

I could have trotted out the same lineup as last season since all of the pieces are the same, but I was frustrated with the order last season. If I could shake things up I would love to see Gardy step into that lead off role. We need to begin to think about life AJ (After Jeter, not Burnett) and if he is our lead off man, that’s tough. The rotation is if all falls into place the way the Yankees have imagined it. Pettitte comes back to form eats some innings at the back end and the sophomores continue to grow. I could easily see one of the two ending up in AAA while Hughes holds down a spot, but I think he will go to the pen (again) and Freddy Garcia will be relegated to mop up duty. Also I see Robertson taking a slight step back and being supplanted by Soriano in the set up role.

Best Case Scenario: 100-62 1st AL East

Nova and Pineda emerge as the future great one, two punch while CC carries the load through the season. Granderson takes a step back while Cano, Tex, Swish and A-Rod return to 2009 form and hit the cover off the ball. Did you know that every year Kentucky won the Men’s NCCA basketball championship the Yankees also won the World Series? History repeats itself.

Worst Case Scenario: 87-79 3rd AL East

The exact opposite of what I said previously as A-Rod continues to miss significant time with injury and the pitching staff underachieves. Very possible with two sophomores, and the inconsistent Phil Hughes. However, the offense is there and the front office has done a nice job of getting depth for the rotation bringing in Pettitte and Garcia who if nothing else can eat some innings and provide double digit wins.

How they’ll finish: 94-72 1st AL East

I honestly have very little idea of how this season will go, but I’m learning from my mistakes. Uncertainties don’t translate into losses all the time. I thought the Giants would be terrible this season and look how they turned out. It is essentially the same team as last year with upgrades in the rotation. They will make the playoffs, but who knows how far they can go. The Rays are a serious threat, Boston looks to rebound and the West improved significantly this off season.

-Erik

Is this a World Series caliber club? Let us know what you think via our twitter (@seeuinoctober) or leave us a comment.

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One thought on “MLB Preview: New York Yankees

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