Ah, the New York Yankees. Hated team and bitter rival to the Red Sox. The Stadium affectionately referred to as The Toilet … the home of The Slap … and the rivalry never reached heightened levels (and probably never will again) from 2003-2004 with the aftermath still raging.
Let’s learn about this 2007 team, as we’ll be seeing them often. 19 games, minimum, sto be exact.
Statistics code: AVG/OBP/SLG for hitters. W-L, ERA, WHIP for starters. ERA, WHIP, IP for relievers.
C: Jorge Posada (2006 stats: .277/.374/.492) | Wil Nieves (2006 stats: .000/.000/.000)
After struggling through an “off year” in 2005, Posada bounced back in 2006 with a very strong season, posting totals very similar to his career total. While it can’t be discounted that Posada could fall off a cliff in 2007 at age 35 due to him being a catcher, he did get a late start on catching, not gaining any more than 379 ABs in his career until 2000, when he turned 28 and got 505. He had appeared in over 100 games the two previous years however, and posted solid totals. Posada has long been a thorn in the side of the Red Sox, as he is a fiery character (remember his run-in with Pedro?) and has always been able to hit for contact, power, and has a discerning batting eye. He will never be considered one of the “great” catchers of all time, but he is worthy of a spot in Monument Park in the new Yankee Stadium when he retires and figures to be a thorn in the side of the Red Sox for at least one more year. He is a free agent after this year, and has stated a desire to play for at least three more years.
His back up, Wil Nieves, was traded to the Yankees during spring training of 2005 for Bret Prinz. Nieves will be 29 this year and exhibits absolutely no reason why anyone should expect any type of production out of Nieves. I think that the Yankees getting burned on Kelly Stinnett last year made Brian Cashman think that backup catchers are fungible: just get someone who won’t be too bad and you’re fine. This may be a mistake, as Posada may get hurt or tail off this year, and Nieves is BAD. He had a .644 OPS in Triple-A. The backup catcher’s job may be a revolving door all year.
1B: Doug Mientkiewicz (2006 stats: .283/.359/.411) | Josh Phelps (2006 stats: .000/.000/.000)
Mientkiewicz gets a lot dumped on him, but he’s really not a bad player. He’s not even a bad person, either. If it wasn’t for the whole fiasco with the 2004 World Series ball, he would be a pretty nondescript person. As it is, he has a pretty good national profile, and for some reason, people think he can’t hit. Look what he did in 2006. He hit .283/.359/.411. Sure, he has zero power, but as a #9 hitter as he is expected to be, that line is totally fine. It’s got good average, a solid OBP, and at least SOME pop. He’s hitting terribly this spring, but if he can match that line, his offensive issues are overblown.
Josh Phelps, picked in the Rule 5 draft, has been tantalizing people with his power since breaking in with Toronto, and looked like he was going places in 2003 with Toronto when he hit .268/.358/.470. He’s dissapeared since, and is trying to make the Yankees as a backup after spending all of last year in the minors. With a career line of .268/.336/.472 and still only 28, Phelps could turn in a solid season.
2B: Robinson Cano (2006 stats: ) | Miguel Cairo (2006 stats: .239/.280/.320)
I’ll be honest here. I don’t see Robinson Cano as a good player, and since I get a lot of negativity for that, I have started to also flat-out dislike Cano. Look, his OBP is atrocious. I am very, very aware that if you can hit for average and power consistently while disregarding OBP, then fair due should be given. Breaking in as a rookie in 2005 at age 22, Cano hit .297/.320/.458. Last year in 482 ABs, he hit a staggering .342/.365/.525. His power was nearly the same, his OBP, his strikeouts … his hits just went through the roof, that’s all, and he had a .369 BABIP (.300 is average). I don’t think he can repeat 2006. 2005? Sure, but this year is going to tell us a lot about who Robinson Cano is. I am a firm believer that you need three full seasons of work to know accurately how a player performs. This is the season for Cano.
Miguel Cairo is the Yankees’ version of Alex Cora. His stock has slipped since the last time he was in a Yankees uniform, but he is a fine choice as a backup infielder and shouldn’t hurt the Yankees.
3B: Alex Rodriguez (2006 stats: .290/.392/.523)
If it can be considered such a thing, Alex Rodriguez had an “off” year last year for the Yankees. Quickly becoming a player the fans love to hate, A-Rod hit .290/.392/.523 for the Yankees. It wasn’t as bad as his first season in pinstripes, but it was bad enough to rank as his second worst career season. That’s not to say he’s done at age 31, and I fully expect him to bounce back to his previous levels. The dominant story all year long is going to be if A-Rod opts out (He will. He can get another $150 million-plus deal from another team, and he’d be silly not to get that, especially since we all know his agent is Scott Boras and he wants the money) but the newfound A-Rod and his propensity to speak what’s on his mind may clear his mind and allow him to produce. A-Rod is going to try his hardest to put another MVP-type season together like he had in 2005 (it’s funny that he’s labeled as a failure despite having a MVP trophy) to try to quell all the detractors and put himself in good shape for a nice payday. I personally think he’s in store for a strong season, and that includes the postseason (his career line in the postseason is .280/.362/.485, for what it’s worth).
SS: Derek Jeter (2006 stats: .343/.417/.483)
Derek Jeter had a heck of a year last year and has been showing a resurgence since his .292/.352/.471 affair in 2004. He’s steadily increased his batting average each year, and stole a career-high 34 SB last year. Penciled into the two-hole, he should continue excelling there with Johnny Damon setting the plate and Bobby Abreu and Alex Rodriguez driving him in. Probably the most complete #2 hitter in the game.
LF: Hideki Matsui (2006 stats: .302/.393/.494) | Melky Cabrera (2006 stats: .280/.360/.391)
Matsui hasn’t had that MVP year that many people (including me) suggested he was on the cusp of having yet, but he’s still a very solid player with a career line of .297/.372/.485. Time will tell if he can keep up his production after 172 total AB last year in his age 32 season after wrenching his wrist on the Yankee green grass last year. As of Monday, Matsui has hit .365/.389/.500 in his ABs, so he looks to be rounding into form, and we’ll have to hope J.C. Romero can destroy Matsui much like Mike Myers did.
CF: Johnny Damon (2006 stats: .285/.359/.482)
The former Red Sox exhibited strong power last year and has professed a desire to hit third in a lineup. Sorry, not happening, Johnny. Damon is a great leadoff hitter who does everything well. While he gained power due to the short porch in right-field, his batting average slipped. Damon was well worth the money in 2006, and looks like he could be worth it again 2007, but I have to wonder if all his naysayers are right, and Damon’s high water mark (in terms of average) topped out in 2005, when he hit a career-second-best .316 (.327 in 2000). As of Monday, he was hitting .220 in spring training, but take it from a Red Sox fan, Yankee fans: he doesn’t turn it up until the games mean anything and he’s sitting on the couch naked, five minutes before the first pitch.
RF: Bobby Abreu (2006 stats: .297/.424/.462)
The Red Sox were in the Abreu sweepstakes until they pulled out, fearful of the cash invested in Abreu. Of course, the Red Sox then went crazy during free agency, second only to the Chicago Cubs. Putting that in the past, Abreu is simply amazing. He’s lost all semblance of dominating homerun power since his Home Run Derby showing, but boy, can he work a count and take a walk. Abreu is definitely the Yankees’ answer to Kevin Youkilis. He’s likely to hit third and should rack up the runs scored and RBI totals. Along with Mariano Rivera, Jorge Posada and Andy Pettitte, he’s an impending free agent (disregarding club/player options).
DH: Jason Giambi (2006 stats: .253/.413/.558)
Giambi’s lost any ability to hit for average, but he’s still racking up these walks like a man possessed and displays prodigious power. I’ve made no secret of my distaste for Giambi (after being a fan of his in Oakland) so I can’t say I’m rooting for his success, but he’s recovered from his pathetic (and enjoyable) .208/.342/.379 season in 2004 to post a .271/.440/.535 line in 2005 and then the above line last year. Shifting to fulltime DH, his statistics and opinion have made it clear he prefers first base. If he gets off to a ridiculously slow start, the Yankees may panic and throw the iron-gloved Giambi back out at first-base to recover his production. Either way, I’ll just have to deal with seeing his face 19 days of the year until I can forget about him again. (And yes. I really do dislike him.)
SP: Chien-Ming Wang (2006 stats: 19-6, 3.63, 1.31) | Mike Mussina (2006 stats: 15-7, 3.51, 1.11) | Andy Pettitte (2006 stats: 14-13, 4.20, 1.44) | Kei Igawa (2006 stats: 14-9, 2.97 in Japan) | Carl Pavano (2006 stats: 0-0, -.–, -.–) | Jeff Karstens (2006 stats: 2-1, 3.80, 1.19) | Darrell Rasner (2006 stats: 3-1, 4.43, 20.1)
This rotation is replete with injury-prone players and players with giant question marks next to their names as to what they can contribute. This rotation has the potential to be one of the worst in the majors, and is already shaping up to be that way what with the top two contributors already going down to injury…
Wang is going to miss the first month due to a strained hamstring (which always takes a while to heal, which is why I accurately predicted last year Robinson Cano would miss his target return date from the exact same injury) but when he returns, should assume the mantle of ace of the team. Despite no strikeout totals, Wang has been very good and is driving Rob Neyer nuts. Count me among the Neyer believers that Wang can’t succeed long-term without whiffing more players, but for now, the statistics do not lie.
Mike Mussina hasn’t looked that great this spring. He’s not striking out many batters, but last year offered a resurgence for Mussina, who had been trending towards obscurity the previous two years. Time will tell if Moose repeats what he did in 2006, but for the Yankees to have any chance, he needs to do so. If he reverts to 2005 and 2006 form, it won’t be pretty, because right now the rotation consists of Mike Mussina, Carl Pavano, Kei Igawa, Andy Pettitte and Darrell Rasner. It’s a pretty laughable rotation, to be honest with you.
No one knows if Pettitte can contribute this year, and he’s been struggling with back spams all of Spring Training. Pettitte, who is one of my personal favorites, is also coming off a subpar year in the NL Central no less … and has been hurt two of the past three years. Those who think Pettitte can be a solid #2 could be right … but so could those naysayers who say Pettitte is done. Pettitte is the true wild card here and will dictate a lot of the success of the Bombers’ starting rotation.
Kei Igawa is an import of Japan, who may people feel will fall flat on his face. Not blessed with overwhelming stuff, Igawa has a good changeup but has not been impressive in spring training. As a matter of fact, before Wang and Pettitte went down, the Yankees were seriously considering having him open the season in Triple-A. For a total cost of $46 million, Igawa will have to do a lot better than he’s projected to do to be worth the investment. Honestly, I’m still baffled the Yankees bid so much for Igawa. Do they really think he’s that good, or did they need to answer the Daisuke Matsuzaka acquisition somehow?
Carl Pavano, who may shockingly get the start on Opening Day, is trying to recover from a bizzare spate of injuries on top of being absolutely worthless in the little time he pitched in 2005 for the contract he signed: 4-6, 100 IP, 4.77 ERA, 1.47 WHIP. The bottom line is this. Pavano has exactly ONE year in his career in which he dominated (3.00 ERA in 31 GS in 2004 for the Marlins) and two total years where he didn’t have injury problems. The former Red Sox farmhand, traded for Pedro Martinez, has a lot to prove this season. The question is: will he?
Jeff Karstens impressed in a short time last year with the Yankees and has also continued to impress this year. Karstens looks like he could be one of those under-the-radar starters who ends up having a pretty good career, ala the Red Sox and Kason Gabbard. That being said, Baseball Prospectus projects Karstens to have a 5.58 ERA this year. Ouch. Karstens was expected to open the season in the rotation due to Wang going down, but he just went down to injury and it looks like Darrell Rasner may win the spot. When Karstens gets healthy, he will probably go back to the bullpen once Wang returns … or to Triple-A if that 5.58 ERA rings true.
Darrell Rasner is also expected to make the team if Jeff Karstens can’t go, or he wins a bullpen spot. Rasner, a sinkerballer, was claimed off waivers from the Washington Nationals last year and is a solid starter. I’ve followed Rasner for a bit (no idea why) and I’m a bit high on Rasner, so if he gets his shot, I expect him to be solid. Not great, but solid. The play of Karstens and Rasner will affect to a large part the outcome of the season for the Yankees, because I do not expect the front five to last the entire year without injury or effectiveness. I look at this rotation and see the same issues that plagued the Red Sox last year.
RP: Kyle Farnsworth (2006 stats: 4.36, 1.36, 66.0) | Luis Vizcaino (2006 stats: 3.58, 1.22, 65.1) | Mike Myers (2006 stats: 3.23, 1.27, 30.2) | Scott Proctor (2006 stats: 3.52, 1.19, 102.1) | Brian Bruney (2006 stats: 0.87, 1.40, 20.2) | Sean Henn (2006 stats: 0-1, 4.82, 9.1)
This bullpen doesn’t blow me away. Farnsworth is a very solid middle reliever. Quite frankly, he’s just not dominating enough to reach that elite level. He gives up too many hits and HRs to be a dominant setup reliever, but you could do much worse than what Farnsworth’s season ended up at. He’s a solid middle reliever, while he’s now joined by Luis Vizcaino, the former Athletic/Brewer/White Sox/Diamondback. He’s another solid reliever: nothing more, nothing less. We all know how well Mike Myers can get lefties out, but the Red Sox let him go because they didn’t like the fact that they could only use him so rarely and only against lefties. Of course, after he left, the Red Sox scrambled to find someone to get lefties out. Now, it seems as if the Sox understand that a lefty specialist is an idea worth embracing, but those specialists should at least be passable against righties, and Myers is not. Scott Proctor had a heck of a season with a 1.19 WHIP and soaring over 100 innings pitched, but he was abused and showed signs of falling apart during the course of the year. If he was six or even three years younger, he could be on the cusp of something big, but that was his age 29 year. Proctor has another decade of good service left in him, but what he did last year represents the high-water mark of his ability in my opinion. Bruney… wow. Came in throwing gas after being cut from the Diamondbacks, but his 1.40 WHIP and his 5.05 career ERA (tempered a LOT by that 0.85 from last year) is worrisome. He’s only going to be 25, though, and bears very close watching. He could turn into Mariano Rivera’s replacement if he can firm up his control. He’s making progress with that, as his strike percentage has risen from 58 to 59 to 62 in his three cracks at the bigs. Sean Henn looks like he probably will beat out Ron Villone, and has 20.2 IP to his name entering his age 26-season. The lefty doesn’t have great command (11/3 BB/K in 2005’s 11.1 IP and 5/7 in 2006’s 9.1 IP) and had a 4.01 ERA in Triple-A last year, so the jury is out on what Henn can do, but if he can beat out Ron Villone, he must have some promise. Overall, it’s a solid bullpen. It’s not exactly deep or with a high-ceiling, but it’s a solid ‘pen.
CL: Mariano Rivera (2006 stats: 1.80, 0.96, 75.0, 34 SV)
Rivera is still plugging away, and as an impending free agent, has a lot to prove. Being limited to strictly ninth-inning duties this year, his innings pitched will likely decline, but there’s no reason to think that his other statistics will. Jonathan Papelbon out-pitched Rivera last year. One of the more interesting subplots this year will be which team has the best closer, and the only way we’ll find out the answer is when the regular season ends.
MGR: Joe Torre
Joe Torre has come under fire lately for being a poor in-game manager. It’s funny how I never heard this stuff when he was too busy winning World Series’, but it just goes to show you that in today’s day and age, managers are all about coddling players and keeping the clubhouse loose. The tacticians just don’t sit in a job for years anymore. Buck Showalter is a prime example. Personally, I think some sort of ability to manage a game (which Torre cannot do in any aspect, which has been evidenced by his curious bullpen use and sometimes baffling lineup use) is paramount, and Francona scores ok in that department. But you can’t argue with results, and Torre delivers results. He’s bottom line a Hall of Fame manager.
GM: Brian Cashman
Cashman has finally gotten control of the team, wresting it away from George Stienbrenner. Now we will finally be able to see what kind of GM Cashman is after years of being a lackey. So far, Cashman scores good points here, but his continued insistence on younger players may burn him in the future. For now, he managed a 2006 very well, but his 2007 management is curious, which starts and ends with the baffling Kei Igawa purchase, but Igawa has looked solid his last two Spring Training starts (as of Monday). In the end, Cashman is a solid GM who should hold the job for at least the next few years, because Stienbrenner will chop Joe Torre’s head off first.
Fire Brand