February 15th, 2007 14:38 EST
New York Yankees Preview
This off-season, the Yankees have shown that Brian Cashman is running the personnel operations once again. By trading away fading superstars Gary Sheffield and Randy Johnson, the Yankees made room for the future of the team, and that should be a scary thought for much of baseball.
While the Yankees have not jumped completely into the 90s mode of development that won them a dynasty, this off-season had elements of it. Instead of buying a big pitcher on the market, they brought back classic Yankee Andy Pettitte. He will take the number three spot in the Yankee rotation, behind Yankee developed surprise Chien-Ming Wang and the steady ace, Mike Mussina.
Since they lost out on Daisuke Matsuzaka, the Yankees signed the next best Japanese starting pitcher. Kei Igawa has been projected anywhere from a solid number three to a steady number five guy in the major leagues. His scouting report is not nearly as complete as Matsuzaka’s.
Igawa’s role will be either the number four or five starter, depending on the unpredictable health of Carl Pavano. Pavano threw exactly zero pitches in the majors last season, but still made headlines for his myriad of injuries. He is penciled in as the number four starter as the Yanks open spring training.
The Yankee rotation cannot be rated as highly as the Red Sox, but it is most definitely competitive in the American League, in the top four. If Wang can come close to repeating last year’s quiet breakout season of 19 wins, and Mussina can continue his Hall of Fame caliber career, the Yankees will have plenty of offense to support their top two.
Philip Hughes and Tyler Clippard are excellent pitching prospects who will likely push their ways to the Stadium sometime this season. However, an early arrival due to circumstances in the majors could stunt their development and hurt their confidence.
However, the bottom of the Yankee rotation poses a problem, mainly if Pavano does not complete his comeback, or if Igawa is a bust. Those two question marks plus Pettitte’s declining stamina and skill will keep the Yanks walking a tight rope.
The offense of the Yankees loses only Gary Sheffield, who missed the majority of last season anyway. Bobby Abreu, Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui will be the outfield trio, the best in the league for my money. This outfield also contains a bright young star whose role looks to be getting smaller, Melky Cabrera. He will provide relief at any outfield position whenever needed. Cabrera is a terrific young talent who will be tough to keep on the bench.
The newcomer to the everyday lineup will be former super-sub Andy Philips. He will be the starting first baseman for the lack of a better candidate, keeping Jason Giambi as far away from a glove as possible. However, if Philips does not perform offensively (he must improve his strikeout to walk ratio and on base percentage to cut it), Giambi will undoubtedly be looked at as a first baseman, which would allow Abreu to move to DH and get Cabrera into the lineup much more frequently. Doug Mientkiewicz has also signed on and will likely be used as a special defensive sub more than anything else.
Of course, the Yankee lineup also consists of Captain Derek Jeter, catcher Jorge Posada and the man of a million descriptions, Alex Rodriguez. He is the most disputed, most highly paid and most scrutinized player baseball has ever seen. His contract has an opt-out clause at the end of the season, and unless he performs in the clutch and/or wins over the New York media, that could be a realistic option for him. MVPs, 40 home runs and 100 RBIs will not cut it for A-Rod in New York. To earn the content admiration of the fans and media, he will not only need the Yankees to return to the World Series, but he will need to lead them there, something he has failed miserably in attempting to do.
The final piece of the puzzle is second baseman Robinson Cano. He is my x-factor for the Yankees. His offense will likely be coming from the eighth or ninth spot in the order, and in this lineup, he has the talent and demeanor to thrive under the radar, and be a tremendous advantage. He is the perfect example of the Yankee formula for success, which has apparently been reborn.
What about the bullpen? The question is pressing for innings seven and eight, but absolutely solid for the ninth, for now at least. Legendary closer Mariano Rivera has expressed displeasure about not being offered an extension to his deal, which ends after this season. He also seems irked by treatment of seemingly immortal Yankee Bernie Williams, who was offered a non-guaranteed contract.
Rivera will still be the closer for the Yanks this season, but other than that, the bullpen is not very solid. Mike Myers is employed as “David Ortiz specialist.” Really, that is his job. Scott Proctor will be counted on as a set up man, middle reliever and long reliever with his extremely durable rubber arm. Kyle Farnsworth can be effective but is acutely inconsistent. Chris Britton is the only significant addition, a righty imported from Baltimore. He will be a decent middle relief option.
Mainly Miguel Cairo, the backup to three infield positions and main pinch-hitting candidate, will man the Yankee bench. Mientkiewicz, as well as Josh Phelps will be other possibilities. Cabrera is the 4th, 5th and 6th outfielder. Wil Nieves will step in if Jorge Posada ever needs a night off.
Offense is no doubt a strength, especially when they have the capability to utilize Cabrera. The starting rotation will be sturdy for at least three days a week. However, questions abound if any injuries occur. Hughes is a guy to watch when he breaks in. The bullpen is a major question mark that will likely need to be addressed in a midseason trade.
This lineup is undoubtedly a playoff caliber team.
MR Luis Vizcaino
MR Sean Henn
MR Darrell Rasner
LR Jeff Karstens
LR TJ Beam
LR/spot starter Brian Bruney
It seems as though Cashman has the reigns again, free from the dictatorship of the extravagant but injudicious George Steinbrenner. The player development is coming along, with guys like Cabrera, Cano and Hughes ready to step into their roles as Yankees. Although they are looking to transition, it is never wise to upset veterans by failing to employ a legend in Williams. There could be many repercussions if he is not signed. Headlines are nothing to the Yankees, as this team will battle it out with the Red Sox once again for AL East and glamour team supremacy.
My Chicago Cubs preview is on deck, coming Monday, while the Dodgers are in the hole.