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 Çƒ˙never been the sameÇƒ˘ 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 Çƒ˙restore orderÇƒ˘ 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.