New York Yankees
2002 Record: 103-58
1st place AL East
Home: Yankee Stadium
The Yankees are a team which is very hard to figure out. They have an incredible depth in starting pitching, glaring defensive weaknesses, and several players who are very completely unknown quantities. The biggest factor on this team might be a mental one. With owner George Steinbrenner voicing discontent with both his manager and star shortstop as well as meddling in the offseason and pushing GM Brian Cashman to sign two players who have yet to prove themselves in the Major League.
No longer a strong point of the Yankee’s game, this year’s offense is riddled with holes and question marks. In the infield the Yanks have three very strong bats in Derek Jeter, Jeremy Giambi and Alfonso Soriano. I feel uncertain about saying that Soriano will be the same player he was last year but even with a 30% fall off he would be superb. If he could strike out less, he’d move his game up to yet another level.
Third baseman Robin Ventura and utility infielder Todd Zeille are both older players who had excellent seasons in 2002. Both are questionable as to endurance and whatever offense they will be able to provide this season.
In the outfield the Yankees have a bit of a situation. It seems that Hideki Matsui will certainly be given every chance to start. What he can do with a bat is still very up in the air and will have many roto analysts and fans alike watching him eagerly during the spring. I’m going to hold off on any prediction to his value because I think he could easily flop in NY.
The rest of the outfield consists of Bernie Williams, who is a lock to play everyday, Raul Mondesi, and Rondell White. Because of Matsui, White will become a bench player and may share in DH duties.
The Yankees are the richest team in baseball when it comes to starting pitching. Even with the trade of Orlando Hernandez the Yankees still boast seven pitchers capable of starting. These include Mike Mussina, Jeff Weaver, Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte, David Wells, Sterling Hitchcock and Jose Contreras.
Two of them will obviously find themselves in the bullpen which made both Ramiro Mendoza and Mike Stanton expendable. The bullpen itself is good, if not the dominating bullpen of the last few years. New additions Antonio Osuna will likely take on the set up role but could close in a pinch.
An issue which should be of concern to Yankee fans is the defense, which is more than a little suspect. At least four positions feature players who are rated below league average defensively.
I think the Yankee’s biggest worry is not the rival Boston Red Sox but the pressure coming from the boss. Any challenge the Red Sox might have made to the division title probably went down the drain when the Yankees made sure that Colon didn’t end up in Boston. It was dirty, sneaky, and underhanded, it was also brilliant.
Unless the Yankees self-destruct the AL East should be a one horse race.