The other half of the best rivalry in sports, The New York Yankees.  The Bronx Bombers “only” ended up with 89 victories last season.  And the key players they inked this past off-season, have them looking incredibly strong on paper for this upcoming 2009 season. 

The philosophy about building a strong farm was basically put on hold for a year.  But Brian Cashman made some nice maneuvers, and the result–whether it was intentional or not–allowed the Yankees to lose their first three picks this year.   And that is better than losing a first-round pick in three consecutive seasons, of course.

Cashman does deserve a little credit if this was done intentionally, however, they may go out and do the same thing next season, we will see.  But the acquisitions were made mostly because they had more money than anyone else, so I don’t know how much credit Cash should receive in that regard. 

Nevertheless, the team is very talented going into 2009, and makes the division the toughest in baseball. 

Predictions:  Pat, Evan, and Shawn have the Yankees finishing third.  Tim and I (Joe) have them finishing second.  And Zack has them finishing atop the division.

C Jorge Posada | Jose Molina

Posada is coming off of surgery, so how well he can catch is still kind of up in the air.  He is also getting older, and should not be expected to continue being a good hitting catcher year in and year out.  Although, when one does have a track record of success, like Posada does, then it is not out of the question for him to come out and hit well this season. 

.338/.426/.543 will not happen again.  That line of course being Posada’s career year of 2007.  But .270/.360/.440 is reasonable if Posada stays healthy. 

Molina is of course a bonafide backup catcher.  Atrocious at the plate, but good behind it.  He adds some insurance so that if Posada cannot catch, at least someone can come in and do what they need to do back there–except for the hitting part of course. 

Who has the edge:  If Posada is healthy, then the Yankees have the edge here.  If he is not healthy, and cannot catch, then the Red Sox have the advantage, although that is nothing to gloat about.

1B Mark Teixeira

Mark Teixeira is a great player.  One of the top three 1B in the game.  And that is why he received so much attention–and money–from the Yankees this year.  Not only that, but he is a great fielding 1B as well, a switch-hitter, and seems to be a good guy.  May be overpaid over the duration of his contract, but very valuable right now.  And right now matters most in this article.

Who has the edge:  Kevin Youkilis is a good player, and was great last season.  Tex has been great for several seasons.  Expect an OPS+ between 135-150 from Tex.  And the Yanks have the edge, although it might be really, really close if Youk continues to perform as he has the past few years.

2B Robinson Cano

Cano is a great talent.  A little challenged defensively–and mentally.  But he can hit a ton when he is focused.  Batting title ability.  It seems like “superstar” may be a little less likely at this point, but expect Cano to bounce back with a solid season.  He is, after all, only 25.

Who has the edge:  Going into 2007, Cano was a known quantity, and a good one, so he definitely had the advantage.  And in 2008, he was still the superior player going into the season.  But after 2008, things changed.  The gap may not be huge this season between he and Pedroia, but Pedroia is the better player and should continue to be.

SS Derek Jeter

Derek Jeter is everything that you look for when emulating a ballplayer.  He really does play the game the right way, that is not made up.  His ability to field well is made up, but his approach to the game is something that kids should try and duplicate. 

I expect Jeter to be an above average hitting SS, however, add in his defensive deficiencies and he will be closer to an average all around shortstop.  The Yankees had little choice but to keep him there, since they don’t have a viable replacement, but his stick should make up enough to warrant leaving him there

Who has the edge:  Jeter does, but if Lowrie plays the position all season, it is very possible that he is about as effective.

3B Alex Rodriguez

Rodriguez is of course a great player.  But he is going to miss the beginning of the year because of an injury.  Still, he should surpass the 30 home run mark assuming he doesn’t have any setbacks after his return.  People will be all over him all season long, and that may or may not get to him, but I cannot see him struggling too much. 

Who has the edge:  If he “struggles” then he will still probably be a better hitter than Lowell.  Give me Lowell in the clubhouse, but Rodriguez is clearly the better player here.

LF Johnny Damon

Damon is a solid hitter, but decline is inevitable, for every player.  For a corner outfielder, Damon actually has a pretty decent chance of being average at best, all around.  Johnny boy is 35 now and the fact that he cannot play center anymore really hurts his value, especially on a team that could very much use a center fielder.  Batting him second is practically irrelevant compared to batting him first, but wherever he hits, he should hit okay enough.

Who has the edge:  You tell me.  Jason Bay is a star in his prime, while Damon is on the decline.

CF Brett Gardner

Gardner has speed and patience.  And he should field well enough to give the Yankees some decent defense in center.  But Gardner will hit for almost no power, reducing his value greatly.  Still, he presents the better option for the Yankees, as Melky just doesn’t fit into the equation right now.  Gardner may not fit into it well either, but a little better than Melky, currently.

Who has the edge:  Ellsbury may not be a superstar, but he has more talent than Gardner.  Both possess great speed, but Ellsbury will be the better defender, and should hit for more power, all while getting on base more.

RF Xavier Nady | Nick Swisher

Joe Girardi recently named Nady the starting right fielder for the Yankees.  May not be the best choice.  Swisher has been the better player up to this point in their careers.  But I don’t think the difference in the two players is so great that the decision should be ridiculed.  However, Nady had his best year at age 29.  Probably isn’t going to happen again.

Who has the edge:  If Drew stays healthy, the Red Sox do.  Drew is a better defender than Nady, gets on base way more, and hits for as much power as Xavier.  However, Drew may not actually stay healthy, which may end up giving the Yankees the edge.  But Posada got the edge, so Drew gets the edge here. 

DH Hideki Matsui

Matsui is declining and what we should expect from him is really up in the air.  35, injury prone, and poor enough defensively at this point, that this is the best spot for him.  I always respected Matsui when he apologized to the fans after breaking his arm, and back then Hideki was a good player.  But I just don’t see him doing much in 2009.

Who has the edge:  David Ortiz might still be a great hitter, Matsui might be near-average.  Great hitters are better than average hitters.

SP CC Sabathia | Chien-Ming Wang | AJ
Burnett | Joba Chamberlain
| Andy Pettitte

The rotation could potentially be the best in baseball. 

Burnett is not a great pitcher, and I don’t like the contract, but he could very well be a solid piece in 2009. 

CC is easily one of the best in the game. 

Wang is really good, and is not actually injury prone as some seem to think after he was injured running the bases last season. 

Pettitte may only be average, but is the projected fifth starter, and I would take average from my fifth starter. 

Joba could be an ace, not known yet.  But there is a lot of talent in this rotation. 

And the depth is actually decent enough this season.  Hughes and Kennedy are only a call away to make spot starts, and trust me, it could be much worse.  See:  Jason Johnson and Sidney Ponson. 

Who has the edge:  Toss-up.  The Yankees rotation does have the potential to be slightly better and the best in baseball if everything works out.  But both rotations are easily top five in the game, so it really could be a toss-up.  I do think the Sox rotation has more depth, but the Yankees rotation is very, very talented. 

RP Jose Veras | Brian Bruney | Damaso Marte | Alfredo Aceves | Edwar Ramirez

The Yankees bullpen is solid talent wise and very cheap.  Cashman has done well not overpaying relievers outside of Rivera.  It may not be a spectacular bullpen, but it should get the job done.  And assembling a cheap, capable pen is obviously the way to go. 

Who has the edge:  Well, the Red Sox might have the best bullpen in the game.  But the Yankees have a capable enough bullpen, and it will most likely be above-average overall. 

CL Mariano Rivera

Before 2008, my opinion was that Papelbon was the best closer in baseball.  An honor that he took from Rivera after 2007.  But I was wrong, Rivera ended up being the best closer in baseball last season, and is the best reliever, probably ever.  I see no reason that he won’t be great again in 09.’  Although, I do see him performing slightly worse than last year, which by the way, would still be pretty great.

Who has the edge:  Yankees.  Papelbon could be better this season, but Rivera is just a little better going into the season.

Conclusion:  The Yankees handed out some huge contracts this off-season and they should pay immediate dividends.  The rotation is very strong, the pen solid.  Although the offense does have a few question marks, it should definitely be above average.  My only concern would be its up the middle defense (and defense overall), with Posada returning from injury, Jeter’s lack of range, and Cano’s inabilty to field well. 

They will be a serious threat in the AL East, however, and should be one of the three best teams in the game.  Unfortunately, all three of the best teams reside in the same division, the AL East.