The Yankees made a huge splash during the offseason by spending almost half a BILLION (yes, that’s right) to sign three free agents, CC Sabathia, Mark Teixeira, and A.J. Burnett, to make up for their shortcomings and make themselves favorites to win the AL East once again. However, between controversy and injury the Yankees are no sure thing.
While the pitching will be better, questions about the offense are rampant, especially after superstar Alex Rodriguez had to undergo hip surgery just before spring training. That on the heels of A-Rod’s exposure and confession about steroid use, created a media circus that will haunt the slugger even when he is healthy and could be a distraction all season long.
2008 Regular Season Record: 89-73
New Yankees Stadium looks pretty classic.
Rank: Third in the AL East 8.0 games back
Home Park: Yankees Stadium
C - Chris Stewart (Trade from White Sox)
C - Kevin Cash (Free Agent from Red Sox)
C/OF - Eric Fryer (Trade with Brewers)
1B - Mark Teixeira (Free Agent from Angels)
1B/OF - Nick Swisher (Trade from White Sox)
2B - Doug Bernier* (Free Agent from Rockies)
3B - Justin Leone* (Free Agent from Giants)
SS - Angel Beroa* (Free Agent from Dodgers)
OF - Todd Linden* (Free Agent from A’s)
OF - John Rodriguez* (Free Agent from Rays)
LHP - CC Sabathia (Free Agent from Brewers)
RHP - Jason Johnson* (Free Agent from Dodgers)
RHP - Brett Tomko* (Free Agent)
RHP - A.J. Burnett (Free Agent from Blue Jays)
C - Ivan Rodriguez (Free Agent signed with Astros) C - Chad Moeller (Free Agent)
1B/DH - Jason Giambi (Free Agent signed with A’s)
3B/OF - Wilson Betemit (Traded to White Sox)
OF - Bobby Abreu (Free Agent signed with Angels)
OF - Justin Christian (Released)
LHP - Chase Wright (Trade with Brewers)
RHP - Darrell Rasner (Contract sold to Japan)
RHP - Sidney Ponson (Free Agent signed with Royals)
RHP - Mike Mussina (Retired)
RHP - Carl Pavano (Free Agent signed with Indians)
P- Chris Britton (Released)
*Signed minor league contract.
Strengths: Starting Pitching, Offense if healthy
With a rotation of CC Sabathia, Chien-Ming Wang, A.J. Burnett, Andy Pettitte and Joba Chamberlain, the Yankees will be putting out one of the best fivesomes in the American League and should be able to translate that into plenty of wins.
Well, that’s true if the offense can score runs and the bullpen can hold them. And so long as the offense stays healthy they should be able to score plenty of runs. Problem is that they aren’t starting as healthy as they’d like and will be missing A-Rod for at least a month, and that many of their key players - including Chien-Ming Wang, Hideki Matsui and Jorge Posada are all returning from major injuries.
Weaknesses: Relief Pitching, Age, Defense, the Alex Rodriguez intangible factor
There is a lot to talk about here so let’s take things in order.
To call the Yankees relief corps a weakness is perhaps a bit of an overstatement, but for certain it’s not as good as that of the Red Sox, or even as good as the Rays pen (excepting of course Marino Rivera who by far outclasses Troy Percival). Since those teams will be the main opposition this season and both teams feature good offenses, this could be a concern, especially since the NY bullpen will have to pick up innings for Andy Pettitte who’s moving on in age, and Joba Chamberlain who’ll be on an inning count this season.
Age is another concern - especially for a team which features five position players over 32, a 38 year old closer and a 36 year old starter who is on the decline. Of those players, three of them are coming off of major surgeries (hip surgery for A-Rod, knee for Hideki Matsui, shoulder for Jorge Posada). All are at the point in their careers where it’s reasonable to expect diminishing returns, increased injury risk, and slower healing.
Oh and lets not forget the defense. The Yankees are very questionable defensively especially up the left side, where Derek Jeter has lost a few steps in his range, and Johnny Damon has lost about half an outfield in range. Couple that with an aged Jorge Posada, who’s got a questionable shoulder and you could see a whole lot of running going on against the Yankees this season.
And that’s only part of the defensive equation, as Hideki Matsui will find himself limited to DH duties, a spot that A-Rod might well need to take over when he returns from the DL.
That could mean that the Yankees deal with several months of defense from Cody Ransom a 33 year old journeyman, with just 183 major league at bats and 11 errors to his credit. That’s in line with his career numbers playing at the minor league level where he had a .959 fielding percentage at third base.
The last factor is the A-Rod factor, and in truth, part of it is intangible. Of course, the injury isn’t intangible, and that is the biggest concern. Questions about how much the injury will affect him upon his return are going to abound. Will he lose a step defensively? Will he be able to return right away to full time action, or will he need to DH for a while? Will this affect his swing? His speed? Even when he’ll return is up in the air.
But of course, even if A-Rod is healthy, he’ll have to deal with even more pressure than he usually does and Alex hasn’t handled pressure well in general. Between the steroids controversy, what looks to be a messy divorce, and having his sex and dating life plastered all over the gossip columns, Alex will have plenty of distractions. Shouldering that and the pressures of playing in New York and World Series expectations will be a lot to handle.
SS - Derek Jeter
LF - Johnny Damon
1B - Mark Teixeira
DH - Hideki Matsui
C - Jorge Posada
2B - Robinson Cano
RF - Xavier Nady
3B - Cody Ransom
CF - Brett Gardner
SP1 – CC Sabathia
SP2 – Chien-Ming Wang
SP3 – A.J. Burnett
SP4 – Andy Pettitte
SP5 – Joba Chamberlain
CL – Mariano Rivera
One question that need answering:
Do the Yankees have enough depth to survive injuries this season? The questions about A-Rod and the fragility of their offense are becoming more and more obvious. Mark Teixeira is certainly being paid enough to shoulder the burden, but asking him to carry the whole team by himself is a lot to ask - he’ll need big seasons from the hospital corp. If they fail so will the Yankees.
It’s easy to predict the Yankees making the playoffs, either as the division winner or the wild card team, but I think this team is fragile, so much so that they could easily be the biggest disappointment of the 2009 season. And while I know I’ll get hate mail for saying it, that’s what I’ll predict, that the Yankees will flop and finish third, behind the Sox and Rays.