30 Teams in 30 Days: New York Yankees Preview

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New York Yankees – American League East

2009 Record: 103-59, 1st Place in American League East, World Series Champions, Defeated the Philadelphia Phillies (4-2)

2009 Review: The New York Yankees finished 2009 winning the World Series, winning Game 6 in the New House that Ruth Built (The House George Built? The House Derek built?). They won the American League East by eight games and were six games better than the next closest team in terms of wins. The offseason started with the release of $89 million in the form of Ivan Rodriguez Carl Pavano, Jason Giambi, Bobby Abreu, Mike Mussina retiring and the signings of C.C. Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, Mark Teixeira and the acquisition of Nick Swisher. Add to that the hip issues and steroid admissions by Alex Rodriguez, it seemed like a typical New York off-season. The season started off slow, losing their first eight games to the Red Sox, among others, but two events signaled the return of the Yankees to American League dominance.

The first event was the return of Alex Rodriguez to the Yankees lineup in Baltimore. It has been well documented that the Yankees (and in particular Mark Teixeira) were floundering before the return of A-Rod. The Yankees had a record of 13-15 before A-Rod returned and a record of 90-45 with him. His presence and impact drove the team offensively and showed baseball what a relaxed and happy A-Rod was finally capable of being a good teammate and was finally relaxed as “one of the guys”.

The other event that had a huge impact on the 2009 Yankees was the pitching return of Chien-Ming Wang to the starting rotation. At the time, Phil Hughes was in the rotation and was moved to the bullpen instead of being sent to AAA. As a starter, Hughes appeared in seven games, with a 3-2 record and an ERA of 5.45. As a reliever and the primary set-up man for Mariano Rivera, Hughes was 5-1, 3 saves and an 1.40 ERA. His WHIP decreased from 1.50 to 0.86 and he gave up only 9 runs in 51.1 innings of relief. His dominance allowed the Yankees to shorten games to seven innings as the unlikely bridge to Mariano was complete with the return of a pitcher the Yankees did not re-sign after the 2009 season.

In addition to these players and events, Captain Derek Jeter had one of his best seasons in recent memory, Mariano Rivera was still the best ever at closing games, Robinson Cano re-found his baseball stroke, the bullpen was settled by castaways and young pitchers, older players still showed they had winning form and a manager changed his style in his second year at the helm for the Yanks. Put all of this together and the Yankees lead the American League in runs, hits, home runs, bases on balls, on-base percentage, slugging percentage and on base plus slugging percentage. They finished in the top three in at-bats, doubles and batting average. They opened a new building that for most of the season had a jet stream pushing towards right field. A lefty dominant team took advantage of this phenomenon and made the most as shown with their leadership in nearly every offensive statistic in the American League.

Pitching wise, the Yankees did very well. The team was in the Top 5 in the American League in wins, ERA, saves, innings pitched, hits allowed and earned runs. The combination of C.C. and A.J. won 32 games and Mariano Rivera saved 44 games. Third starter Andy Petitte had fourteen wins and reliever Alfredo Aceves had a 10-1 record coming out of the bullpen. Youngsters Phil Coke, David Robertson, Jonathon Albaladejo and Mark Melancon helped to round out a young bullpen for Joe Girardi while Joba Chamberlain fought through the “Joba Rules” to finish the season with a 9-6 record.

The Yankees swept the Twins in the ALDS and beat the Angels to take the American League Pennant. Finally, in Game 6 of the World Series, “One More for the Core Four” was completed as Robinson Cano tossed to Mark Teixeira for the 27th World Title for the Bronx Bombers.

Key Losses for 2010:

Melky Cabrera – Traded for Javier Vazquez, Cabrera was the starting centerfielder for most of the 2009 season. In over 150 games, Cabrera hit .274 with 13 home runs and 68 runs batted in. He was the best friend of Robinson Cano. The Braves wanted Cabrera, a switch hitter enough to send a starting pitcher to the Yankees in return. It is rumored that Cabrera is fighting for a starting position in 2010 with the Braves.

Johnny Damon – After coming off one of his most productive years ever, Damon became a free agent and played a game of chicken with the Yankee Front Office. His agent asked for $13 million per season and the Yankees offered $14 million for two years. Instead Damon ended up signing with the Tigers for one season at $8 million. Damon had an excellent year, batting .282 with 36 doubles, 24 home runs and 82 runs batted in. He scored over 100 runs and walked over 70 times. However, he was usually replaced late in games as his defense and his arm became liabilities in the late innings. He was a leader in the clubhouse, but after Nick Johnson was signed to be the full-time designated hitter, Damon’s days were done.

Hideki Matsui – With deteriorating knees, Matsui was the full-time DH for the Yankees in 2010. He had been injured in the 2008 and 2006 seasons, but came back in 2009 to hit 28 home runs, hot .274 and become the World Series MVP even though he did not ply the three games in the National League Park (he did have a pinch hit home run in one game). The Yankees wanted to get younger in 2010, and Matsui signed with the Angels after seven years in New York.

Jose Molina – Why is he mentioned here? Any catcher with the defensive skills (or aptly named Molina) deserves to be mentioned here. Although injured throughout the 2009 season, Molina became the favorite backstop to many pitchers on the Yankees staff, including A.J. Burnett.

Chien-Ming Wang – Most people forget Wang is not yet 30. He has been in the majors only five seasons, injured most of the past two years. He was once the top of the Yankees rotation, winning 46 games in three seasons. However, running the bases at Shea Stadium turned his career around. He was 8-2 when he got hurt against the Mets and barely pitched in 2009. The Yankees let him go as a free agent, although he still has years of potential left. He could have been a great Yankee in this rotation, and instead he is an afterthought after signing with the Nationals.

Other losses from the 2009 season are: Brian Bruney, Kevin Cash, Phil Coke, Shelley Duncan, Mike Dunn, Freddy Guzman, Jerry Hairston Jr., Mitchell Hilligoss, Eric Hinske, Austin Jackson, Ian Kennedy, Xavier Nady, Cody Ransom, Josh Towers, Arodys Vizcaino

Yankees Gains for the 2010 Season:
Curtis Granderson – It is rare that a World Series winning team feels it has gotten better in a position “up the middle” without giving up a major portion of the roster. The Yankees feel they pulled off a major coup by getting Granderson from the Tigers. An All-Star in 2009, Granderson had the worst batting average of his career, .249 but hit 30 home runs in the cavernous Comerica Park. The Yankees feel his left swing will reap benefits and also started working with the outfielder on his poor batting average in 2009 and his outfield skills. His 2010 salary is less than the salary that Johnny Damon signed for with the Tigers. The Yankees feel the got the better of the outfielder “trade”.

Nick Johnson – Resigning with the Yankees after many years away, Johnson signed for one year at $5.75 million (only $750,000 more than Matsui signed for with the Angels). Originally traded for new teammate Javier Vazquez in 2004, the Yankees bring back a DH with a career .273 batting average and a career on-base percentage of over .400. The Yankees feel that teaming him up with Derek Jeter will allow the rest of the lineup to produce more runs with his ability to get on base. He has a history of getting injured, but if he can stay injury free, he has potential to do a lot of damage in the Yankee lineup.

Javier Vazquez – Vazquez had a 15-10 record for the Braves as their number two pitcher. He was second in the National League with 238 strikeouts and sixth with an ERA of 2.87. He will be the fourth starter for the Yankees and he should have much less pressure this time around in pinstripes. His addition to the rotation will allow either Phil Hughes or Joba Chamberlain to remain in the bullpen, along with other Yankees who helped out with fill-in starts in 2009. The addition of Vazquez will now bring the salary of the Yankees top four pitchers to $64 million.

Other additions and minor league contracts for 2010 include: Greg Golson, Jamie Hoffman, Reid Gorecki, Boone Logan, Dustin Moseley, Royce Ring, Mike Rivera, Zack Segovia, Marcus Thames and Randy Winn.

2010 Preview: Derek Jeter, Nick Johnson, Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez, Robinson Cano, Jorge Posada, Curtis Granderson, Nick Swisher, C.C. Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, Andy Petitte, Javier Vazquez and Mariano Rivera. Barring any major rash of injuries, this team is stocked and loaded and ready to make a run at a World Series repeat. The team’s biggest question is the fifth starter and is the bench good enough.
The fifth starter will be Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlain or Chad Gaudin and the other two will be in the bullpen. Hypothetically, if Gaudin gets the fifth spot, Hughes and Chamberlain will both set up Mariano Rivera as they did during the end of 2009 and in the playoffs. If all three of those pitchers live up to their potential, the fifth starter and bullpen get even stronger than a bullpen anchored by the best closer of all time.

The Yankees have to stay away from more than one major injury. They could survive a starting pitcher or one of the main batters, but not both. However, if they stay away from the injury bug, they are unstoppable. They traded their starting outfielder for a fourth pitcher. They let go two aging players and replaced them with younger players that may in fact be better for the organization. The top four pitchers should win between 55 and 60 games. Mariano should save 40 more games. Derek Jeter should be…Derek Jeter. A-Rod is around all year and Teixeira will be more comfortable as a Yankee.

So do not forget, July 31 is right around the corner and the Yankees will do anything to win. Is that not the way of the Evil Empire?

With all things considered, the Yankees should win approximately 98 games this season, win the American League East and potentially repeat as World Series Champion.