Much like this year’s political campaigns, Yankee fans want change.

Ever since the Luis Gonzalez bloop single fell into shallow left field, ending the Yankee reign atop the baseball world, the franchise has seemingly never been the same. And ǃ˙never been the sameǃ˘ in Yankee terms equals zero championships won. Each year since 2001 the Bronx Bombers either outlast the Red Sox for the division title or sneak in through the Wild Card as they did in 2007 only to encounter playoff defeat.

With newly minted Yankees dictator Hank Steinbrenner fully in the fold and taking after his father in more ways than one, Yankees fans are looking to ǃ˙restore orderǃ˘ in the universe, meaning the pinstripes are standing last in late October holding up yet another World Series trophy. An influx of young talented pitchers along with a powerful established lineup give fans hope this is finally the year (I know, weird).

Fire Brand Quote of the Team

” Too much reliance on young pitchers — not bad in concept, bad in reality”

- Evan Brunell

Statistics code: AVG/OBP/SLG for hitters. W-L, ERA, WHIP for starters. ERA, WHIP, IP for relievers.

C: Jorge Posada (2007 stats: .338/.426/.543)

Jorge Posada hit the jackpot in his age-36 season for the Yankees, having the contract year of contract years. His average spiked from .277 to .338, his OBP from .374 to .426, his SLG from .492 to .543, his runs scored (mostly luck but still) from 65 to 91 and finished with 42 more hits in just 41 more AB. For a guy turning 36 years old at the catchers position, that’s astounding. How did Posada pull this off? One main reason may be a relatively absurd .386 BABIP he enjoyed in 2007. Posada remains a top-five offensive catcher in the league and possesses 20-HR ability with the help of Yankee Stadium’s short porch, just don’t expect a batting line anywhere near last season’s for Posada.

1B: Jason Giambi (2007 stats: .236/.356/.433)

While most suspecting Steinbrenner would sign or make a blockbuster deal for a premiere first baseman, the Yankees instead desired to stay in house with Giambi and backups Shelley Duncan and Wilson Betemit. Contrary to public sentiment, Giambi was still a productive hitter in 2006 for the Yankees with a batting line of .253/.413/.558, 37 HR and 113 RBI. 2007, though, showed a sharp decrease in power and a sharp increase in time on the shelf or bench. With the loss of Doug Mientkiewicz, none of the Yankee backups at first base possess superior defensive qualities, but expect Giambi to be pulled around the seventh inning due to his complete incompetence.

2B: Robinson Cano (.306/.353/.488)

Truly one of the brightest young hitters in baseball, Robinson Cano should be plugged into the leadoff spot for 162 games this season if new manager Joe Girardi has any sense. While a .306 BA is down from the .342 he sported in 2006, Cano battled through a disastrous first half to hit .343/.396/.557 in late July in August to lead the Yankees late season push. Cano has his negatives- sometimes erratic defense, improved plate discipline that still needs furnishing- but, overall, the Yankees have their second baseman for years to come. Frankly, he scares the hell out of me.

SS: Derek Jeter (.322/.388/.452)

Jeter posted a typical line for him in 2007 while hitting .300 or better in every single month, even though he cooled down a tad in the second half. It’s controversial to say Jeter isn’t worth the upwards of $20 million he’s paid by the Yankees (yes, even with his calm eyes and leadership qualities = not worth it). Still, Jeter has improved on his defense from his younger days when it was positively criminal in the face of people somehow thinking Jeter had range, and one could argue that, other than 1999, 2006 was Jeter’s most productive offensive season. The power is declining but Jeter remains a perfect number two force.

3B: Alex Rodriguez (.314/.422/.645)

A-Rod is simply the best player in baseball and may finish his career as the best player ever. Not only has Rodriguez’s bat been hitting its absolute peak the last few seasons, but his glovework at third base has turned from a definite concern to very manageable. Really, a few errors here and there should be accepted by Yankees fans as long as .645 slugging percentages and 156 RBI seasons keep showing up at the end of the day. While the playoff numbers have yet to materialize and A-Rod’s fingers remain ring-less, expect his production to someday translate into October and he’ll soon become the toast of the town.

LF: Hideki Matsui (.285/.367/.488)

Most people may not realize this, but Matsui will turn 34 years old this June and is a hitter clearly on the decline in the next couple seasons. Saying that, Matsui remains one of the most reliable and consistent players in all of the majors. Other than a wrist injury in 2006, Matsui takes the field every day, delivers 20+ HR, hits away from the Bronx and at home, and delivers in big situations time and time again. The one concern with Matsui is his .185/.343/.346 September line last season, although that was hindered by an unlucky .194 BABIP. Let’s hope he’s wearing down instead.

CF: Melky Cabrera (.273/.327/.391)

I was convinced up until the ’07 season that Cabrera is nothing more than a fourth outfielder. While I still feel like the Yankees could do better in center field (maybe the answer is Austin Jackson eventually), Cabrera has proven he can contribute as a starter at the major league level. His upper-cut swing doesn’t translate into much power and Melky only managed 24 doubles in 545 AB last season along with eight home runs, but Cabrera does have the ability to spray balls all over the field and keep the average steady. His range/arm in centerfield has mightily improved over his professional career.

RF: Bobby Abreu (.283/.369/.445)

I’ve been one of the biggest Abreu fans since he entered the major leagues, and always valued his qualities as severely underrated on a national scale. Even as a lifelong backer, I still can’t help but feel the glory days for Abreu are behind him. While still driving in his annual 100 runs hitting third on a potent Yankee offense, Abreu finished 2007 with a career low in slugging and has now hit less than 20 home runs in both seasons in pinstripes, even with the short porch (10 HR at home). Shockingly, Abreu only managed four long balls through the first three months of the season. Along with below average defense in right field, expect Abreu to provide value nowhere near the amount he’s being paid in 2008.

DH: Johnny Damon (.270/.351/.396)

Hate to say I told you so. When Red Sox Nation was up in arms in complete panic mode over the immortal Johnny Damon ditching the Rooters for the Bombers, I remained calm. I saw a clear overpay from the Yankees side, a monumental decline on the horizon and applauded Theo for holding his ground in the face of criticism. Now we have Jacoby Ellsbury and the Yankees are stuck paying the barely useful Damon $13 million as a designated hitter. Damon’s doubles, homers, RBI’s, average, on-base and slugging all declined in 2007. Expect a slight bounce back but nothing more than league average production in 2008.

SP: Chien-Ming Wang (19-7, 3.70, 1.29), Andy Pettitte (15-9, 4.05, 1.43), Phil Hughes (5-3, 4.46, 1.28), Ian Kennedy (1-1, 1.89, 1.16), Mike Mussina (11-10, 5.15, 1.47)

We all realize the Yankees are going to score a boatload of runs this season. Starting pitching, and even the quality of the bullpen, will make or break the Yankees campaign to retake the AL East. GM Brian Cashman convinced Hank Steinbrenner to hold on to young arms Hughes and Kennedy rather than take the bait for Johan Santana, and now it’s appropriate to assume Cashman’s job lies on the right arms of the two young pitchers. At the top, Chien-Ming Wang will provide plenty of quality starts and his turbo sinker is usually extremely effective, but will he wear down again this season? Andy Pettitte opted to return to the Yankees this season and still possesses a quality fastball-curveball combo, yet his formerly pinpoint location seemed to waver at times in 2007. Mike Mussina was a total disaster and the chances that he rebounds to put up even close to a low 4′s ERA in the AL East is doubtful. The Yankees rotation will either be mediocre or vault near the top of the league depending on the maturity and deliverance of the healthy Phil Hughes, Ian Kennedy, and, eventually, flamethrower Joba Chamberlain.

RP: Joba Chamberlain (0.38, 0.75, 24.0), LaTroy Hawkins (3.42, 1.23, 55.3), Kyle Farnsworth (4.80, 1.45, 60.0), Edwar Ramirez (8.14, 1.81, 21.0), Brian Bruney (4.68, 1.62, 50.0)

The Yankees bullpen heads into the 2008 season looking weaker than those assembled in Boston or Toronto, and could be even worse when Joba Chamberlain departs for the rotation around mid-season. I felt Cashman should have acquired another veteran arm to begin the season and placed Chamberlain in the rotation, where extended innings equals more value for a phenomenal arm like Joba’s. Following Rivera and Chamberlain, will LaTroy Hawkins (his last stint in the AL East ended poorly), the wild and completely unreliable Kyle Farnsworth and Bruney/Ramirez/rookies combo really get the job done? It may be fair to say the bullpen is the weak link on the 08 Yankees. Expect the trade deadline to solve this issue.

CL: Mariano Rivera (3.15, 1.12, 30 saves)

Rivera is still an above average closer in the majors, but some trends are concerning, such as nearly one hit per inning in 2007 (formerly unheard of), an ERA jump from 1.80 to 3.15, a WHIP jump from 0.96 to 1.12 and only 30 saves. As Rivera grows older, his once killer repertoire will become less killer and the numbers will slowly decline. It would be foolish for us to think a few blown saves in April will equal a disastrous season for Rivera like we tend to hope for every season. He is still a weapon at the closers spot, but no longer belongs in the upper, upper echelon with Papelbon, Putz and Nathan.

MGR: Joe Girardi

Girardi is completely unproven in a high-stress, immensely critical situation like he now has to deal with in New York, and certainly has a difficult job to do pleasing Yankees fans. The jury is obviously still out on Girardi. We should get a better idea of his tendencies as the season progresses. Girardi is known specifically for his disciplinary attitude and militant style, so it will be interesting to see how that mindset translates to Yankees veterans like Posada and Jeter. As a former catcher, I would fathom Girardi is successful in New York and remains manager for years to come. How he handles the young pitching is another factor to keep an eye on.

GM: Brian Cashman

Cashman’s tenure as Yankees GM has been a mixed bag of success and blunder. His preference of Hughes/Kennedy over Santana will be ridiculed under a microscope for the entire season and you know the Steinbrenners will have a tight leash on Cashman’s job security. While bad contracts like Wright, Pavano, Giambi, Damon and Farnsworth have hindered the Yankees somewhat, his overall resume is also filled with division winners and AL champions. It has to be easier to do with $200 million, though, right?

Fire Brand‘s Favorite Move:It has to be re-signing Alex Rodriguez. Once the superstar pushed the greedy Boras out of this way and negotiated with the Yankees face-to-face, the revelation that A-Rod, even through rough experiences with the fans, wanted to remain in pinstripes. With an ego that large and motivation as high as Rodriguez’s, there was no doubt to me that he felt he had something to prove: win a ring with the Yankees. Until that is accomplished, his career will be incomplete. Re-signing the reigning MVP with plenty of power left in his bat kept the Yankees a division contender.

Fire Brand‘s Least Favorite Move:Two key decisions, or lack thereof, in terms of the bullpen that I have a clear problem with. First, Joba Chamberlain belongs in the rotation. The fashion in which the Yankees plan to start him in April and May throwing at 100% for one inning, then move him down to the minors for a month to transition to the rotation, then call him up around the break to begin six or seven inning starts could prove disastrous to a young, powerful arm. This not only poses a clear risk, but it devalues what Chamberlain could be providing in the Yankee rotation full-time. The next move would have been to deal for someone in the form of Pat Neshek as a clear eighth inning arm instead of relying on this combination to bridge leads from, say, Wang to Rivera.

Fire Brand‘s Prediction:The Yankees and Red Sox will battle it out dramatically for the large majority of the season before Boston takes off in September and claims their second straight division crown.

Categories: Alex Rodriguez Andy Pettitte Bobby Abreu Brian Cashman Chien-Ming Wang Derek Jeter Hank Steinbrenner Hideki Matsui Ian Kennedy Jason Giambi Joba Chamberlain Joe Girardi Johnny Damon Jorge Posada Know Thy Enemy Kyle Farnsworth LaTroy Hawkins Mariano Rivera Melky Cabrera Mike Mussina New York Yankees Phil Hughes Robinson Cano

24 Responses to “Know Thy Enemy: 2008 New York Yankees” Subscribe

  1. Dave B. March 20, 2008 at 8:24 PM #

    I'd be slightly surprised if the Yanks don't take this division by 3+ games.
    I disagree with the sentiment that moving Joba to the pen is a bad play. It would be a bad play if that was the long term plan, but that isn't the case. Putting a pitcher in the pen to start the year is a classic way to keep a pitchers innings down but still allowing them to contribute. Joba will be pitching the most important innings of games, 7th and 8th, but will keep himself under the 30+ innings rule.
    Relievers get a bad rap in the eyes of "modern" fans but that is dumb. The problem with relievers are not they aren't important but when they are being used. A pitcher pitching in the 7th and 8th inning can be more valuable then the guy pitching the 1-5th.

  2. Full Manny March 21, 2008 at 5:46 AM #

    Girardi couldn't even handle the media in Florida, so it will be fun to watch him struggle in New York. And I'd put money on the fact that Steinbrenner will be twice as annoying an owner when the team does poorly. If he says the things about Steinbrenner that he said about the Marlins owner, he won't even last the season.

  3. Sean O March 21, 2008 at 6:26 AM #

    I disagree that Cano should be leading off. I'd go with Jeets first (exceptional OBP), Abreu, Slappy, and so on. Cano looks like a great #5-#6 hitter for years to come. And, that's why I dislike him so.
    Damon was a stupid move then, and it's a stupid move now.

  4. Hugh March 21, 2008 at 9:03 AM #

    Good stuff, but I disagree with your assessment of Cashman. He only got the reigns after the 2005 season (beforehand he was merely Steinbrenner's pawn) and since then he has made only one bad contract signing to my knowledge (Farnsworth). Successful transactions that Cashman has completed in that same time span include the Abreu trade, the Johnson trade, the Wright trade, and the signing of Pettitte. He's also revitalized the farm system and not frivolously traded away the current core of players. Cashman, in my mind, is most critical part of the Yankees' attempt to "restore order"… as you put it.

  5. The Don March 21, 2008 at 11:36 AM #

    I think joba does not belong in the rotation considering he's struggled there, and has done much better as a reliever. He will probably battle with Mark Melancon for the closer spot when Rivera retires.

  6. Casey Jones March 21, 2008 at 4:30 PM #

    Any reason for your prediction Dave B? Usually when someone makes as bold a prediction as the Yankees winning the division by 3+ games, they back it up with some kind of logical explanation.

  7. Dave B. March 21, 2008 at 1:01 PM #

    3 games was bold? Without going into why I believe this to be so i will quote PECOTA:
    Yankees – 97/65
    Red Sox – 91/71
    The Red Sox are a good team. The Yanks are a great team. They are stacked at almost every position besides center. Wang and Pettitte are good guys to build a rotation around. Phillip Hughes is a complete stud and is very underrated. With Joba and Rivera in the pen, they have a very solid bullpen.

  8. jvwalt March 21, 2008 at 2:08 PM #

    It's a huge leap of faith for the Yankees to depend so heavily on young, relatively untested pitchers: two-fifths of their rotation plus their #1 setup man. Young pitchers almost always go through periods of adjustment, fatigue, even injuries. The Yankees will be beating some long odds if they get consistent production from all three. And if they don't… well, it doesn't matter how many runs they score. Slo-pitch softball teams never do well in the postseason, even when they survive a 162-game campaign.
    The Yankees are not a great team. The Yankees have a great lineup, a lousy bench, and a very iffy pitching staff with no depth. (And if you want to get picky, they are the opposite of "stacked" at first base. Giambi is a lamppost in the field, and declining at the plate.)

  9. Brent Nycz March 21, 2008 at 3:05 PM #

    The Don… struggled as a starter after a few Spring Training games? Don't you think it's a little silly to mandate a pitcher stay as a reliever just because of a few S.T. starts in only his 2nd major league season (and 1st full one)?

  10. Sean O March 21, 2008 at 3:07 PM #

    I don't for a second consider the Yankees to be a "great" team, but I see no reason why they won't spend 20 mill. to fix their problems at the deadline. And, unfortunately for you Dave, I agree with you.
    We're the same team as last year, and the Yankees, Indians and especially Tigers are way better. If we had Santana, I would've already been looking forward to defending our title in '09. Lester and Ellsbury aren't going to help us get anywhere.

  11. Brent Nycz March 21, 2008 at 3:08 PM #

    stay as a reliever for the rest of his career*

  12. Eric SanInocencio March 21, 2008 at 4:19 PM #

    "Hate to say I told you so. When Red Sox Nation was up in arms in complete panic mode over the immortal Johnny Damon ditching the Rooters for the Bombers, I remained calm. I saw a clear overpay from the Yankees side, a monumental decline on the horizon and applauded Theo for holding his ground in the face of criticism. "
    It's really tough to make this assesment halfway through the contract. One can make the argument that Damon's 2006 season was outstanding, including a huge spike in power and MVP like output to lead the Yankees to the Division Crown. Adversely, the Sox finished in 3rd and never got proper production out of that position.
    To name the contract all bad because of one season is unfair. In 2007, Damon was hurt half the season and in the second half got back to the leadoff hitter he has been. If he continues to spiral downward this year, than I'll start to agree with you.
    Ellsbury has two months of time in the majors, so don't annoint him yet. That's unfair to him. He has all the talent yes, but he can struggle mightily too. Not all great prospects pan out. He is far from a certainty.
    You can't make that statement definitively now for either side. Halfway through a contract isn't the best time to decide how the whole deal plays out. People have great years as they age, look at Posada for example. Plus, Ellsbury hasn't proven enough yet to merit a "lock" status as a great center fielder.
    Other than that, great post and I look forward to all 19 games this season. Nothing better than Yanks/Sox.

  13. Casey Jones March 21, 2008 at 4:32 PM #

    Dave PECOTA projected the Yankees to win the division last year as well. According to most sources the Red Sox are the favorites this year to win it all. I think your opinion on the team is rather optimistic. There's no arguing that the Yankees don't have a great offense, but they're clearly not stacked at every position.
    Damon had an OPS of .747 last year. Among LF with 400 AB last year, that would rank him 20th out of 26. Melky had an OPS of .718 which ranked him 22nd among 28 CF with at least 400 AB last year. Giambi's OPS of .790 would have ranked him 20th of 28 1B with 400 AB had he registered enough at bats to qualify. There are also plenty of Yankees in trends of decline.
    And as far as pitching goes, the Yankees have plenty of question marks. They have a decent ace in Wang, but he's certainly not an top of the line ace compared to others in the AL. Pettitte, whose numbers have really fallen off the past two years, will be 36. It's unsure whether the Yankees third starter Mussina is capable of being effective at the major league level anymore. He's turning 38 himself. And as for Hughes and Kennedy they're not at all proven at the major league level yet. It's kind of rolling the dice seeing how they do.

  14. Casey Jones March 21, 2008 at 4:36 PM #

    I'm curious Sean O, what did the Yankees do to get better?
    And Eric, I think it's fair to say it's a bad contract given that he can't play center field anymore. And his offensive output is well below average for a corner outfielder.
    As for Ellsbury, sure he's somewhat unproven, even though he did lead the Red Sox to their World Series victory. But a much larger portion of the Yankees team is unproven. About half their rotation and the only legit set up guy on the team have less than 100 major league innings combined.

  15. Full Manny March 21, 2008 at 4:49 PM #

    Chamberlain – 1 start above Double-A
    Hughes – 9 starts above Double-A
    Hughes – 18 starts above Double-A
    Even great prospects with that little experience will struggle, likely putting up production below league average.

  16. Full Manny March 21, 2008 at 4:51 PM #

    Not to mention, none of those pitchers can actually start for a full season. I guarantee the Yankees will need to rely on guys like Igawa to make up innings.

  17. Dave B. March 21, 2008 at 9:38 PM #

    Go postion by position:
    C Yanks
    1st Sox
    2nd Yanks
    SS Yanks
    3rd Yanks
    LF Sox
    CF Push (Ellsbury is overrated and unproven)
    RF Yanks
    DH Sox
    SP1 Sox
    SP2 Sox
    SP3 Yanks
    SP4 Yanks
    SP5 Yanks
    RP Yanks
    CL Push
    Based on my extremely crude run threw of the teams i get 9 Yanks, 5 Sox and 2 Pushes. Best case for the Sox it could be 8-7, still in favor of the Yanks.
    You talk about Damon like it matters how bad he is. He is the fourth OFer. Who is better, Kielty or Damon?
    Yanks pitching is questionable? When was the last time you checked the Sox staff? We are looking at Colon. Did anyone watch him last year?
    The Yanks are a really good team. They are the best team in baseball. They were the best team last year. They were the best team pretty much every year the past 15 years. People lose fact of this because they haven't been winning WS but that is due to luck. The best team hardly ever wins it all.

  18. Sean O March 21, 2008 at 11:48 PM #

    The Yankees are not the best team in baseball by far. The Tigers were neck and neck with the superlative Indians for much of last year, and they replaced Sean Casey with Edgar Renteria and Brandon Inge with Miguel freaking Cabrera.
    I'd say the Yankees improved with Joba the hut and Kennedy replacing much worse players. I simply don't see this as our year, though I hope we're proven wrong.

  19. Gerry March 21, 2008 at 7:53 PM #

    Well, Dan, that is an amazing post.
    Starting from the bottom of your list, few outside NY would claim that this CL torch hasn't been passed from Rivera to Papelbon.
    You favor the Yanks Pen over Okajima, Delcarmen, Timlin, Corey, Snyder, Lopez, Aardsma, Hansen, Breslow, Hansack, Tavarez, Masterson, Jones, etc.???? So far, Dan, the data just isn't on your side, historical or projected.
    In the rotation are you really placing Mussina over Wake? You may be right, but Wake should win his standard 15 – 17, while Mussina's decline should continue. Why is Wake discounted every single year despite his wins?
    And can you really divine how this magnificent matchup will conclude between Hughes/Kennedy and Buckholz/Lester. Lester is the only one with real MLB experience, owning an 11 -2 record in 2 short years while sick. Let's see how he does as, finally, healthy and at full strength. Buckholz, Hughes and Kennedy are raw rookies who look great, as raw rookies. In terms of speculation, wouldn't it be wiser to at least project a 50 – 50 here? Colon isn't even in the mix yet, and won't be unless he returns to stud-hood, which I am sure you hope for as much as we.
    Damon does not really compete against Kielty, though their numbers may be closer this year. Damon also competes against Manny, Ellsbury, Crisp and DH Papi. Sorry.
    I won't go into the lineup or bench or coaching.
    Finally, the same Yankee team is returning with, like the Sox, a few super-rookies in the mix. The Yankees weren't the best team in baseball last year, by a long shot. The same team with, like the Sox, a few super-rookies in the mix, returns in 2008. Are they a really good team? Heck yes. The best? Heck no. That's not a bad thing. The days of parity are here.

  20. Dave B. March 21, 2008 at 8:55 PM #

    The Tigers? Come on. Bonderman is an injury waiting to happen. Willis post a 5 ERA in the NL. Kenny Rodgers is collecting SS. Their bullpen is pretty bad as well. If Bonderman and Verlander don't give them 32+ starts each and Rodney and Zumaya don't come back strong than this team wont even compete with the Indians. They may score 950+ runs but that still may not be enough.

  21. RollingWave March 22, 2008 at 12:04 AM #

    I love the general consesus of guys who think the Yankees are inferior to the red sox because Hugehs and Kennedy are unproven and will struggle (a correct assesment) and Moose is old (Also correct) but then somehow Buchholz and Lester are proven and Wakefield isn't prone to age related issues

  22. Moshe Mandel March 22, 2008 at 10:33 AM #

    The article is well written, and I think fair. Both teams are excellent, and as Yankees fan I think the Sox winning the division is perfectly realistic.

  23. Jim Johnson March 22, 2008 at 8:43 PM #

    The Yankees-Red Sox comparison is up over at The Bronx Block for those who would like a read-through from the other side of the rivalry.

  24. Dan G March 23, 2008 at 5:36 PM #

    "You favor the Yanks Pen over Okajima, Delcarmen, Timlin, Corey, Snyder, Lopez, Aardsma, Hansen, Breslow, Hansack, Tavarez, Masterson, Jones, etc.???? So far, Dan, the data just isn