I've written the Yankees preview for Batter's Box every year since 2005, the first year we started doing team/dkvision previews here on Canada's Baseball Leader. And every year, I pick them to win the division and usually to win the World Series.
Why? Because, unlike past years, the Yankee pitching suu-uuucks. Cliff Lee signing with the Phillies might prove to hurt the Yankees more than the Rangers, and could ultimately decide the fate of three 2010 playoff teams -- the Yanks, Rangers and Phils -- in the coming season.
It hurts me to write this. And I hope I am wrong -- way wrong. But to start with the big news, to avoid burying the lead, let's be up front with it ... the 2011 Yankees are a team that looks like it could well finish ...
... fourth. Fourth? As in, you know, one place out of last? Really? Let's answer a few questions that support that gloomy Bronx forecast.
The pitching "suu-uuucks"? C'mon, italicized and with five "u's"? Surely you're exaggerating.
Not so much. But that question is a tough one to start with, so let's come back to it while we ponder the fact that Freddy Garcia just beat out Bartolo Colon for a rotation spot -- which would be really good if this were, oh, eight years ago.
Okay then, let's start in the outfield -- that's always been a Yankee stronghold, right? Ruth, DiMaggio, Mantle, Jackson, Williams ...
Stop right there, seriously.
Nick Swisher is a good baseball player, and a markedly better hitter than his daddy Steve was. But per his evidently a propos surname, he strikes out a lot and is never going to threaten for a batting title. Suffice to say, he's no Jackson and certainly no Ruth in RF.
Curtis Granderson is an even gooder (more goodly? oh, right! I mean, "better"!) baseball player than Swisher, and might even threaten to take a spot on the AL All-Star team, but he's no Joe D. or Mickey or even Bernie (at his best) in CF.
Brett Gardner is a nice player, too, over in LF, though his stick is just okay (.268 career) and he has little power (eight homers in 852 career AB so far). Truth be told, his best asset is his speed (86 steals in 101 attempts) should the Yankees decide to run. Which the Yankees don't do.
The backups are an amazingly elderly (for a guy who turns just 34 in a few weeeks) Andruw Jones and Designated New Guy Chris Dickerson (just acquired for Sergio Mitre. Did we mention that the Yankees shouldn't be giving up ANY of their potential pitching resources?) FYI, Swisher and Gardner both left a very recent spring game against the Jays with minor "TBD" injuries. Probably nothing to concern Yankee fans, but hey Andruw and Chris -- be ready!Okay, the OF looks like it could be -- could be -- league average. Now about that pitching ...
Fine. What's wrong with the infield?
Oh, the infield? That's actually pretty okay. More than that, even.
Alex Rodriguez missed 25 games last year, but still hit .270/30/125. The eight 40- and 50-homer seasons are long past, but 35 homers and 140 RBI seem well within reach. Wait, make that 120 RBI -- guys have to be on base for him to drive them in! And his career .303 average will likely continue to toddle south, but this is still A-Rod, the best third baseman in franchise history.
To his left is the best shortstop in franchise history, a fellow future Hall of Famer in Derek Jeter. Jeter will become the first 3,000-hit Yankee in May but he turns 37 in June and let's face it, his glove has never been more than ceremoniously tinged gold.
One the other side of the bag, 2011's Robinson Cano is looking for his third consecutive 200-hit season and another (well-deserved in this case) Gold Glove, while 1B Mark Teixeira, at the age of just 31, looks to hit his 300th career homer (he needs just 25) and to rack up his ninth consecutive season of 100+ RBI. He'll need to jack his batting average back up toward .300 from las season's disappointing .256, but certainly don't bet against that! Oh, and by the way, Tex has four (well-deserved) Gold Gloves, including the last two.
There's even an interesting, former Hall-of-Fame-career-path corner guy in camp, Eric Chavez, but he's not gonna make the team, so never mind ...
Anyway, yeah ... this is arguably the best infield in major league baseaball, with an aging shortstop the only concern. If the Yankees are to battle into playoff contention again, the burden will lie with the infield.So, then, the pitching ...
Besides, like the ol' perfesser, Casey, once said, "If you didn't have a catcher, you'd have an awful lot of passed balls."
Right! And nobody has consistency behind the plate like the Yankees with perennial All-Star Jorge Po ...
Again, stop right there. Jorge Posada is being counted on in the Yankee lineup, sure, but his contributions are pencilled in right now from the designated hitter position. (Where he may split some at-bats with aforementioned doddering outfielder Andruw Jones).
The Yankee catching gear -- entrusted in the past to the likes of Bresnahan, Dickey, Berra, Howard, Munson, Posada and more (Matt Nokes! Um, never mind ...) -- is bestowed now upon former Dodger All-Star Russell Martin. It's amusing to think that the most interesting thing about Martin is his name (Russell Nathan Coltrane Jeanson Martin) or that the last Martin to significantly impact baseball in the Bronx was manager Bily the Kid. But for real, Russell is pretty good -- he just turned 28, owns both a Gold Glove and a Silver Slugger award, and the free-agent signee has shown career norms in the .280s with double-digit home run power. If he bounces bak from last season's disappointing .248 average, he could well put up 1990's Posada numbers, and the Yankees would be more than happy with that.
The "cool names for Yankee catchers" (Yogi? Elston? Thurman? Come on!) theme continues with this year's backup, either Jesus Montero or Francisco Cervelli. To start the season, it will probably be Montero, the latest Yankee phenom (remember, they woudln't include him in a deal to Seattle for Lee) as Cervelli is out at least a month with a fractured left foot. Not to worry, Martin will catch 140 if he's healthy, and Montero's future is probably as a DH when Posada decides to hang 'em up.
Okay, nice job on the preview, though a bit of a downer. Thanks and ...
Wait a sec. Don't you want to hear about the pitching?
Oh, goodness, I nearly forgot!
Understandable. Much of the Yankee '11 pitching experience might end up being ... forgettable.
Okay, you've got the front of the rotation, with three guys who are absolutely counted on to tbe the Three Aces, like Clemens-Pettitte-Cone of the '90s. And the #1 slot, filled by LHSP Carsten Charles "C.C." Sabathia looks to be in good hands. He's won 40 games for the Yankees over the past two seasons, never misses a start, and ranges toward 200 strikeouts every season, with a career-best of 251 the year before he donned pinstripes. Sabathia is baseball-card-listed at 6'7", 290# -- but realistically, he's more like 315 pounds, and that could catch up to him quickly and in a big way (think "Mickey Lolich").
Then comes the youngster, Phil Hughes, the effective righty counterpoint to Sabathia's southpaw tosses, a kid who won 18 games last year at the age of 24. I can't find anything negative to worry about with Hughes, though last season's 4.19 ERA (right in line with his career 4.20 mark) isn't precisely a positive harbinger.
Third in line is a guy Jay fans will remember, not always fondly, the sometimes-great, always-erratic A.J. Burnett. Now 34, Burnett has amassed a career mark of 110-100 to date, with a career ERA just a shade under four (3.99). He's 23-24 in two seasons as a Yankee, including an uninspiring 10-15 last season, so Yankee fans should consider carefully that earlier phrase, "absolutely counted on."
(P.S. pitching between C.C. and A.J., shouldn't Philip Joseph Hughes go by "P.J."?)
The fourth spot, with Mitre off to Arizona, belongs to Ivan Nova. (Sergio Mitre and Ivan Nova ... seriously, who is coming up with these names, Frank Zappa?) Nova is just 24 and owns all of one career victory at the MLB level, so let's put him and his apparently electric stuff in the "let's wait and see" category.
The previously-mentioned Freddy Garcia won 12 games for the White Sox in 2010 and has 133 career wins, but write this down under "safe bets" -- the fifth spot in the Yankee rotation is going to be a revolving door to rival those in the downtown' Apple's high-rise office buildings. Garcia. Colon. Millwood. Prior? Fill in the name of whatever Scranton-Wilkes Barre Yankee wins three in a row here (______).
For the Yankees to win anything in 2011, the starting rotation has to more than hold up; Sabathia needs to stay healthy and dominant, Hughes needs to take the next step, Burnett needs to ring up 17 or 18 wins, and Nova and someone in that fith spot needs to figure it out to league average levels.
Mo Rivera is 41, and though the all-time saves leader might manage to make a run at his 600th career save this season (he needs to match his age and notch 41 to get there), he is much closer to playing "Enter Sandman" as a career theme song than to intimidate opposing hitters. Which is one reason why the Yankees signed free agent Rafael Soriano (who actually out-saved Rivera last year, 45-44). After that, there's Joba Chamberlain, who's part dominating fastball and part enigma; Colon,who will be the long man until Garcia mis-steps; and guys named Robertson, Logan and Feliciano, who are, well, guys in the bullpen.
So the Yankees could well be frighteningly awesome from the seventh through ninth innings (Joba > Soriano > Sandman) ... if the starting rotation can get them there.
But somehow, they'll manage to win, right?
Well, actually, Joe Girardi will manage, and if the Yankees are smart, he'll be in that position for a looong time. Girardi has managed four big league seasons (three in the Bronx) and finished first once (won the title in '09), second once, third once and yes, fourth once -- with Florida in 2006, the only time he's won a Manager of the Year award so far.
Good news for Girardi, I guess, is that he's proven he can be rewarded for finishing fourth.
And ... so?
So ... fourth place. (Seriously, are you paying attention? This preview leads with that, and didn't you get the not-so-subtle hint in that last sentence above?) Red Sox win (that hurts even more to write), Tampa takes the AL Wild Card, Toronto is a solid and promising third, and the Orioles are terrible, finishing fifth. The Yankees aren't terrible -- 82 or 83 wins, something like that, in contention until late August or so -- but in the beast that is the AL East ... that points to fourth place.
That's right, Yankee fans of a certain age ... it's 1988-92 all over again ...
P.S. to my dad, uncles and cousins who are all Much Larger than I am .... as noted above, I hope I am wrong -- way wrong. That's all!