The Yankees. The second most successful franchises in the majors and one who just suffered the greatest choke in sports history. Now the tables are turned. Before, the Yankee fans always said “The Red Sox are like our little brothers … the rivalry is all you – you’re annoying.” Yeah, that’s why the Yankee fans are spewing vitrol about the ‘BloSox’ this off-season. Well, this year they’re going to take a massive step back because last year the Pythagorean Projections had them 12 wins over what they should have, which is incredibly lucky. So even though it’s possible they improved (I contend they did not) they could lose 12 more games. As someone at Baseball Prospectus opined, they’ll struggle to win 90 games. One caveat: I am not an expert on the Yankees, nor have the 25-man rosters been set. Thusly, people covered here may or may not make the team, as I am guessing here as to who will make the team in terms of backend relief pitchers or reserves.
DH Jason Giambi / Ruben Sierra We all know about Jason Giambi and how he hit .342/.477/.660 for the Athletics in 2001. He signed with the Yankees after that and while was not as good as he was as an A, he was still very much a threat in 2002 and 2003. In 2004, he fell apart, presumably because of the steroids. In 264 AB he hit .208/.342/.379. I sincerely doubt he’ll return to .660 SLG or even .527 SLG (2003) and 41 HR. However, I think he can bounce back to post something around .256/.386/.475 – or around 25 HRs. It’s not the Giambi of old, but the Yankees will take it. The backup DH and LF Ruben Sierra who has made amends with Joe Torre over his fractious 1995 stay with them, and claimed new life after being relatively absent from 1998-2000. Last year he had 307 AB and hit .244/.296/.456 with 17 HR. I don’t expect him to get many more at-bats than that so he should revert to a line of about .263/.299/.400 in 115 AB, but he’s one of the clubhouse leaders, so he’s valuable in that regard.
C Jorge Posada / John Flaherty Jorge Posada posted his second best career year in 2003 and fell back to normalcy in 2004. He’s 33, so he’s farther ahead than Varitek is on the curve, so Posada is due to fall apart any year now. I’ll bet he stays fine this year, but we see a little more slippage in statistics. Let’s go with .270/.390/.450, which is still not bad at all for a catcher. Flaherty, a former Red Sox, spent five (long) years with the Devil Rays and his desire to win was so much he predictably signed with the Yankees. He hasn’t won a ring with them yet (yay!) but he has been winning. Ever since coming to the Yankees his average and OBP have stayed relatively the same, but he has a heck of a lot more SLG. He ended up at .252/.286/.465 and is more than an adequate backup although at 36, his time is drawing nigh.
1B Tino Martinez Tino returns to the Yankees after leaving after 2001 because of Jason Giambi. Now we’ll see if they haven’t won because of the Curse of Tino or Curse of Knoblauch. Tino is still a pretty good hitter, and I would expect him to put up statistics around his career norm, which is .273/.347/.477.
2B Tony Womack / Rey Sanchez Tony Womack is such an oddity. He was headed on the road to nowhere before he pulled out a .307/.349/.385 season from nowhere. Even though it would be great if he returned to his .190/.200/.215 levels of 2003 (great for the Red Sox, not for him) I’m not counting on it because usually when someone “turns a corner” at this age, it means they’re going to stay around the corner. They’ll continue regressing, but not back to previous levels. So I’ll peg him at .280/.325/.370 for him, which will be contentious in New York. Backing him up will be ex-BoSox and current no-hit guy Rey Sanchez. If Womack fails, they’re going to have to go outside the organization to get a 2B, and we could see Alfonso Soriano return in this capacity.
3B Alex Rodriguez A-Rod had an offyear last year in his first year at third base hitting .286/.375/.512. All were not surprises except the slugging average. I think A-Rod’s going to get back to 40-HR power – around 45. I’ll say he has a great chance at repeating 2003, where he slugged 47 HR with 118 RBI and hit for a .298/.396/.600 line. I will say this though: After this season, it is truly in the Yankees best interests (in other words, why am I saying this? If Brian Cashman reads this and thanks to me, does it, I’ll kill myself) to move A-Rod back to short after this year, Jeter to second, and sign Aramis Ramirez for packs of money to man third.
SS Derek Jeter Jeter was hitting lousy through May and then finally recovered to hit .292/.352/.471. I think he’ll repeat this, I think his .300+ hitting days are over. Eventually, he’s going to have to move to second because he just is losing the range for shortstop, but he’ll get through another year without a huge outcry much like this year. What’s scary is that he’s being paid over $20 million through 2010, and we’re entering the 2005 season. By the time the 2007 season rolls around, Jeter’s going to be another Jason Giambi in terms of drain on a team’s finances.
LF Hideki Matsui Matsui is truly the most dangerous hitter on the Yankees. However, the Red Sox figured out how to shut him up, courtesy of 1) Mike Myers and 2) Pedro “Matsuing” him. If we can get him “Matsuied” again this year, we’re good. In all seriousness, Matsui scares me. He hit .298/.390/.522 and even though he’s going to be 31, I think he can improve to .310/.420/.575. If he does, that’s one scary dude, especially in a combo with A-Rod (but not as good as Ortiz and Manny, bwa ha ha) but if anything, he’ll repeat the same season. All I know is the only person I’m afraid of when he comes up to bat is Hideki.
CF Bernie Williams / Bubba Crosby Bernie Williams has surprisingly stayed constant in 2004 after taking a dip down in 2003, from .333/.415/.493 to .263/.367/.411. Given Bernie’s age and his leg issues, I’m going to project another dip to .250/.354/.405. The Yankees’ big weakness this year and for next year will be finding a true centerfielder. As for Bubba, he couldn’t hit if his life depended on it, but provides steady outfield defense and is a fan favorite. Nobody to worry about, though.
RF Gary Sheffield What was lost in all the “Sheffield for MVP” calls was that he slipped significantly. In 2003 he had a .330/.419/.604 line, and went to .290/.393/.534. So the pressing question is this – was it the natural decline of a 36-year old slugger, or was it his shoulder problems that were plaguing him? In my opinion, it was both. Sheffield has hit .365/.450/.577, so while his average is back up, his power is not. All things considered, I’m giving him a .301/.405/.525 line. He’ll still be a threat, but his age and injuries are going to catch up to him pretty soon.
SP Randy Johnson / Mike Mussina / Carl Pavano / Jaret Wright / Kevin Brown Randy Johnson’s ERA in Spring Training is 3.38. I know, I know, it’s only Spring Training, but considering he had a big off-year (by his standards) in 2003 and he’s moving to the AL, to high expectations, I don’t think he produces an ERA under 3.00. Not that it’ll be the 4.26 of 2003, but it won’t be the dominance he has had from 1997-2002 and 2004. I can see him finishing with an ERA around 3.25 (I accidentally typed this as 5.23, wouldn’t that be awesome?) with a season much similiar to Curt Schilling in 2004. (Speaking of Curt Schilling, a former Red Sox player, I believe it was Cesar Crespo, remarked on how much better Schilling looked in spring training than last year – hmmm…) A year ago I wrote why why Mike Mussina would not survive and guess what? I was right! For once. He ended up with a 4.59 ERA (I called for him to to have an ERA around 4.47) and went 12-9. Now that Randy Johnson is here, Mussina slides back to being the #2, so he might improve his statistics a bit, but his days of an ERA under 4.00 are over. If Carl Pavano repeats his 2004 years, the Yankees have a good pitcher – a 3.00 ERA with 1.17 WHIP. He finally achieved his season at 28, but I’m really skeptical that he can improve or stay around it. I think he’ll be better than his career ERA, but not a ton better. His career ERA is 4.21. I can see him ending up at 3.50. Jaret Wright is a baffling decision especially since 2004 was the first good season he’s had since 1996, when he pitched for A-Ball. He’s always had promise, but never claimed it until this year. He could be a big bust. As for Kevin Brown, he had a 4.09 ERA in 22 GS this year. Not bad, but he blew up in the postseason and any hope of him returning to under a 4.00 ERA is unfounded. I expect him to have so much trouble with his back that he retires after this year.
RP Mariano Rivera / Tom Gordon / Felix Rodriguez / Paul Quantrill / Steve Karsay / Mike Stanton / Tanyon Sturtze Rivera pitched 78.2 IP this year, only 8 more innings than last year, but appeared in ten more games. He still posted a scintillating 1.94 ERA, saving 53 games. The 34-year old should post another strong year, but his brick wall is fast approaching. He probably won’t slowly regress, he’ll slam into the wall one of these days. Tom Gordon set-up Rivera to perfection, a 2.21 ERA in 89.2 IP. He’ll probably be used in less IP without as much effectiveness, but he should still rank among the best. Rodriguez, coming over from Philadelphia for Kenny Lofton, gives the Yankees another good arm and he should end up around 60 IP with an ERA under 4.00 as he helps take the slack off Gordon and Quantrill. Quantrill followed up his 75.1 IP, 1.75 ERA season with the Dodgers in 2003 with 95.1 IP and a 4.72 ERA. The IP will decline, the ERA probably won’t. Steve Karsay has been injured for the last two years, and probably won’t be as effective as he once was, but gives the Yankees another quality arm. Stanton returns to the Yankees, having posted a 3.16 ERA last year in 77.0 IP. Stanton should take a hit moving back to the Yankees, but should be a very good lefty option. Tanyon Sturtze, while posting a 5.47 ERA, late in the season seemed to take to the relief role and if he can harness his filthy stuff, could become a premier RP. Overall, the Yankees have one of the strongest bullpens in the game.
When It’s All Said And Done…
While the Yankees have a great bullpen, their bench is non-existent and this is going to hurt them a lot this year as their aging gets another year tacked onto it. They’re going to be pretty solid in the pitching department but their offense will take a hit. In the All-Baseball AL East preview, I picked the Red Sox for 96-wins, winning the Wild Card. However, that week I was sick to death and nervous of the starting rotation. If our starting rotation pulls through, then as I said earlier, we’re winning a lot. If all goes well, I can see 120 wins out of this ballclub. That won’t happen, so a tempered optimistic projection could be 104 games. So a projection right down the middle is 99-100 wins for the Red Sox. If the Yankees implode, they could finish in third place. However, if the Red Sox implode, they can win 104. Each team’s fortunes is so largely dependent on the rival team’s fortunes. Worst case: 89 – 73. Best case: 104 – 58. Most likely case: 95 – 67.
FINALLY … Opening Night is in a day. Can we PLEASE get in the stinking time machine and go forward 23 hours (daylight savings time!)!? I cannot STAND the wait any longer.