Written by Mike Chiari
Published: 05 March 2008
After a tumultuous off-season of controversy that included the A-Rod free agency saga, Clemens’ and Pettitte’s mentions in the Mitchell Report, and to a lesser extent, Derek Jeter’s reported tax evasion, the Yanks are finally gearing up to make yet another post-season run. The rival Red Sox upstaged the Yankees once again in 2007, but rather than make a big splash in free agency, the Yanks took care of their own free agents. The most significant change will be Joe Girardi taking over as the Yankee skipper. It’s tough to say what type of impact, if any, the managerial change will have on fantasy production. The Yanks head into the season with the possibility of having a rookie and two second year players in the starting rotation. If the Yankees lineup can continue to thump, these young arms will be in a position to succeed, as will the Yankees as a whole.
Alex Rodriguez (3B):
Talk about a bounce back season. A-Rod answered all the critics in ‘07 with what could be considered the best season of his career. Without Alex Rodriguez, the Yankees would’ve been dead in the water within the first month of the season. A-Rod was often times Ruthian in his monstrous home run clouts and clutch performances. Not only did he pound 54 balls out of the yard and drive in an astounding 156 runners, he also hit .314, scored 143 runs, and swiped 24 bases. It was undoubtedly one of the greatest fantasy performances ever. There’s certainly concern of a decline in production since it’s highly unlikely he could ever reach those numbers again, but he’s still the best player in baseball in the best lineup in baseball. Even if you have half a brain you should be smart enough to take A-Rod first overall… no questions asked.
Robinson Cano (2B):
Robinson Cano continued to make great strides in 2007, just his third major league season. He wasn’t able to match his AL leading .342 average of 2006, but his power numbers improved to the tune of 19 HR’s and 97 RBI. Throw in a .306 average and 93 runs scored, and you have an elite second bagger. As Cano’s year by year trends would suggest, he should only continue to improve. Expect the jump to 20 HR’s and 100 RBI in a stacked Yankee lineup. He’s definitely a top 3 second baseman in the league.
Derek Jeter (SS):
Jeter may not put up particularly eye popping statistics, he may be getting older, and he may not be the flashiest fantasy selection, but he’s as consistent as they come. Consistency is one of the most important keys to fantasy success. If you can find a guy who puts up good numbers and stays healthy year in and year out, and at a traditionally weak shortstop position no less, you’re off to a great start. Let’s take a look at some of Jeter’s incredible accomplishments. 11 straight seasons of at least a .290 average, at least 100 runs in 10 of his last 11 seasons, 200 hits in 3 straight seasons, and at least 70 RBI in every full season of his career. 2007 was certainly no exception as he put up a .322 average with 12 HR’s, 73 RBI, 102 runs, and 15 SB’s. There’s a bit of concern over Jeter’s injury troubles and constant struggles in the playoffs last season, but he remains a key cog in an explosive offense. He should be able to produce in his sleep in that 2 hole.
Jorge Posada (C):
Raise your hand if you saw that one coming. At the ripe old age of 36, Posada put up the absolute best season of his career. At an age where most catchers are put out to pasture, Posada was one of the top two most productive catchers in the entire league. His .338 batting average was not only 51 points higher than his previous career best, it was the first time he hit over .300 in his entire career. Furthermore, Posada performed beyond his career averages with 20 HR’s, 90 RBI, and 91 runs scored. Of all the top tier catchers in the league, there’s none with more question marks than Posada, though. It’s fairly concerning that Posada put up his best season at his age and during a contract year. One of these days he’ll hit the wall, and who’s to say it won’t be this season. The Yanks would be best served within the next year to get another capable catcher and move Posada to first to prolong his career. As long as he’s catching though, he’s a risk, although even a moderate regression would still make him at least a top ten catcher in the league.
Mariano Rivera (RP):
The best closer in league history looked human for the first time in years during the 2007 season. Compared to his career statistics, Rivera’s numbers were fairly underwhelming. This can be attributed to uncharacteristic struggles very early in the season. The only Yankee who really came to play in September was A-Rod, so it was a team wide problem really. Regardless of all the adversity Rivera faced over the course of the season, he still managed to save 30 games and 34 opportunities, whiff 74 in 71.1 innings, and post a solid 3.15 ERA. If it was anybody other than Mariano Rivera, fantasy owners would have been more than happy with his production. The fact remains, however, that this is the guy that you can normally count on for an ERA in the 1’s and at least 40 saves. It’s possible that 2007 was the beginning of the end for Rivera, but I fully expect a bounce back year due to the way he seemed to find his groove as the season progressed.
Bobby Abreu (OF):
Buried. That’s what so many fans and fantasy owners did to Bobby Abreu after his atrocious start to the season. They buried him. Well, Abreu proceeded to rise from the dead in the second half season and put up simply astounding numbers. It was no coincidence that Abreu’s revival and the beginning of the Yankees late season dominance came hand in hand in ‘07. Along with Derek Jeter, Bobby Abreu is the catalyst of the Yankee offense. Whether it be a grind-it-out walk, a timely base hit, or picking his spot and swiping a base, the Yankees offensive success hinges on him. Abreu went from a potential bust to what I estimate as a solid second tier fantasy contributor. The best thing about Abreu is you pretty much know what you’re going to get out of him. His 30 home run days are well behind him, but he contributes so well to plenty of other categories. Just look at his 2007 numbers. A .283 batting average, 16 HR’s, 101 RBI, 25 steals, and an eye-popping 123 runs scored. Abreu is a multi-category force and would be the perfect #2 outfielder for any fantasy squad.
Hideki Matsui (OF):
I’d like you to sit there for a minute, and without looking at his stats, tell me how you feel Hideki Matsui fared in the 2007 season. My guess is that most feel like he struggled based on his late season injuries, and questionable playoff performance. In actuality though, Matsui put up his usual solid numbers in ‘07. How does .285-25-103 sound to you? A healthy Hideki Matsui is one of the surest things in fantasy baseball. As sure as day turning to night, Hideki Matsui will drive in 100 runs. Since playing every single game his first three seasons in major league baseball, Matsui has struggled mightily with injuries over the last two seasons. He missed about 1/3 of the 2006 season with a wrist injury, and missed 20 games in 2007 with an assortment of nagging injuries. I feel as though Matsui is absolutely worth taking despite any injury concerns though. It’s likely that he’ll see some time at DH this year which should alleviate some of the everyday stresses he experiences playing in the field. Take Matsui and bank on at least 100 RBI.
Chien-Ming Wang (SP):
While Wang may not be the sexiest fantasy selection, the guy flat out produces. Most of his numbers would be considered anything from average to below average by most, but there’s one thing that he’s done better than anybody in baseball the last two seasons. That thing is win ballgames. It can be argued that he gets fantastic run support, and that’s absolutely true, but why should he be penalized for playing on a good team? Well, he shouldn’t, because he simply does what he has to do to succeed. Some pitchers have to strikeout 200 guys or completely avoid allowing base runners or else they’ll implode. Wang, the premiere groundball pitcher in the game, simply gets guys out. Wang’s pitching style earned him a 19-7 record, a 3.70 ERA, and 104 K’s in 199.1 innings. Many have said that Wang’s style will catch up with him. A popular school of thought is that Wang’s groundball’s could start finding holes, and therefore adversely affect all his statistics. Two straight seasons of 19 wins and a 3.6-3.7 ERA speaks for itself. Wang won’t disappoint you.
Johnny Damon (OF):
Damon had a pretty strange season. He struggled mightily early in the season like many Yankees, but rebounded nicely in the second half. It seemed as though his offense really picked up when he starting seeing time as the designated hitter. A foot injury nagged him nearly all season, so it’s understandable that he performed better when he didn’t play the field. It took a super human effort in the second half just to bring his numbers back to respectability. While he failed to build upon his fantastic Yankee debut in 2006, his fabulous second half spells good things for 2007. His final line ended up as .270, 12 HR’s, 63 RBI, 93 runs, and 27 SB’s. As a whole his season ended up being a solid one. If nothing else, Damon is a great stolen base option who fills other categories as well.
Phil Hughes (SP):
When Hughes was called up by the Yanks in late April, he paid immediate dividends. In just his second career start, he took a no-hitter into the 7th inning against the Rangers. Unfortunately, he severely sprained his ankle and was unable to finish the game, and it also forced him to miss three months. He pitched fairly well in 11 starts down the stretch, but was most impressive in relief appearances in the ALDS against Cleveland. Hughes projects to be a mid-rotation starter for the Yanks in ’08 and should easily build on his modest 2007 numbers (5-3, 4.46 ERA, 58 K’s). Hughes has limitless potential, but be sure not to overpay for such an unproven commodity. There’s little doubt that Hughes should be an ace starter in the future, but I wouldn’t place such high expectations on him just yet.
Joba Chamberlain (P):
Nobody burst onto the scene and made an impact like Joba Chamberlain did in 2007. The amazing thing is that he really came out of nowhere and captivated baseball fans everywhere. The rich got richer as Chamberlain became a bona fide superstar in New York in absolutely no time. Joba will be a trendy fantasy pick this season, but his situation is complicated. He was always meant to be a starter, but he was lights out as a reliever last season. The Yanks would be hard pressed to get production like that (2-0, 0.38 ERA, 34 K’s in 24 innings) out of somebody else in the bullpen. It’s already been said that Chamberlain will begin the season in the pen, but I would fully expect him to enter the rotation at some point during the season. While he would certainly be more valuable as a starter than a reliever, he’s draftable either way. You should take him, but don’t reach based on his unreal ‘07 stats.
Andy Pettitte (SP):
Pettitte’s Yankee homecoming was a successful one in ‘07, and he was a much needed stabilizing force in the rotation. The crafty lefty was solid all year long as his numbers would reflect (15-9, 4.05 ERA, 141 K’s in 215.1 innings). It was definitely an important move by the Yanks to retain Pettitte in the off-season. With the amount of youth expected to be on the Yankee pitching staff, Pettitte will be an important mentor, and he’ll be counted on to pitch consistently well. All is not well with Pettitte, though. First off, he’s been a big injury risk over the last few seasons. He was able to stay healthy last season, but he no longer has access to the thing they may have kept him healthy. That leads me to my next point. Pettitte’s image definitely took a hit when his name was mentioned in the Mitchell Report. Pettitte’s one saving grace was that he admitted to using HGH while recovering from an elbow injury. While it’s possible that this could be a distraction for Pettitte all season, I think he did well by admitting it. If this goes away and becomes a non-story, I fully expect Pettitte to perform well in ‘08.
Ian Kennedy (SP):
Kennedy showed glimpses of his great talent in three starts in the 2007 season. Kennedy reminded everybody of a young Mike Mussina. If he can have a career anywhere close to Mussina, he’s going to be a good one. Kennedy’s numbers of 1-0, 1.89 ERA, and 15 K’s in 19 innings were outstanding. It’s not clear if Kennedy will earn a spot in the Yankees’ rotation from the onset in ‘08, but I fully expect him to at some point during the season. Kennedy is an excellent sleeper pick (especially in AL only leagues) since his fellow Yankee pitching prospects get so much more pub.