2009 NEW YORK YANKEES PREVIEW
The Yankees saw the end of an era in 2008 as longtime manager Joe Torre was let go. In his place was former Yankee Joe Girardi, who oversaw a difficult season in the Bronx. The Yankees missed the playoffs for the first time in 12 seasons and finished with an 89-73 record. The Yankees suffered a number of injuries last season to their pitching staff and it didn’t seem right that the lights were extinguished at Yankee Stadium for the final time after a regular season game instead of a playoff affair.
However, the Yankees now move into their bright future at New Yankee Stadium with a litany of new faces. Out with the old (Bobby Abreu, Jason Giambi, Mike Mussina) and in with the new and younger! The Yankees threw tons of money at CC Sabathia, Mark Teixiera and AJ Burnett and should be significantly stronger up and down the board because of it. As always, the expectations in New York are no less than a World Series Championship, something the Yankees haven’t achieved since 2000.
The Yankees’ rotation is significantly upgraded from last year. CC Sabathia (17-10, 2.70 ERA, 35 starts, 253 IP, 251 K last year) came over from Milwaukee and is now the staff ace. Joining him will be newly acquired AJ Burnett (18-10, 4.07 ERA, 34 starts, 221 IP, 231 K), who came from Toronto. The Yankees will also benefit from the return of Chien-Ming Wang (8-2, 4.07 ERA, 15 starts), who missed the second half of last season due to injury. Andy Pettite (14-14, 4.54 ERA, 33 starts, 204 IP) will again provide a very solid veteran presence in the 4 th slot of the rotation while superstar reliever Joba Chamberlain (4-3, 2.60 ERA, 42 games, 12 starts) will spend his first full season in the starting rotation after setting up Mariano Rivera for the past two years. Superstar prospect Phil Hughes, who struggled with injuries last year, should also be a very good option should the Yankees suffer any injuries. This starting rotation should be excellent as long as Burnett and Sabathia can handle pressure from New York’s notoriously rabid fans.
The Yankees bring back star closer Mariano Rivera (1.40, 39 SV, 77 K), who is still going strong at age 40. However, the bullpen had issues setting him up last year and with Chamberlain in the rotation, they could find themselves looking for bullpen help in July. Damaso Marte should be the best option for the Yankees heading into the year after proving that he was more than a lefty specialist last season. New York has a solid bullpen that should be good enough to allow the Yanks to compete for the division title, but it isn’t the division’s best.
What is the division’s best is the Yankee infield. First baseman Mark Teixiera (.308, 33 HR, 121 RBI, .410 OBP) is an excellent switch hitter who also is one of baseball’s best defensively. Meanwhile, third baseman Alex Rodriguez (.302, 35 HR, 103 RBI, .392 OBP, 18 SB) is one of baseball’s more controversial figures but is also perhaps the sport’s best player. At shortstop, Derek Jeter (.300, 11 HR, 69 RBI, .363 OBP) is the heart and soul of the team and is beloved by Yankee fans. Second baseman Robinson Cano (.271, 14 HR, 72 RBI, .305 OBP) was solid last year but fell well below the high expectations that have been set for him. Expect his numbers to be significantly better this year. Newly acquired Nick Swisher (.219, 24 HR, 69 RBI, .332 OBP) will back up Teixiera and serve as part time DH while he looks to increase his batting average. The only potential weakness is at catcher, where Jorge Posada (.268, 3 HR, 18 RBI, .364 OBP in 64 games) is starting get up in age. However, there is absolutely no question that the New York Yankees have the best infield in baseball.
The outfield, on the other hand, is a different matter. Most entrenched is right fielder Xavier Nady (.305, 25 HR, 97 RBI, .357 OBP), who was solid after coming over from the Pirates in July. Meanwhile, expect Johnny Damon (.303, 17 HR, 71 RBI, .375 OBP, 29 SB) to play almost every day in different spots. Veteran Hideki Matsui (.294, 9 HR, 45 RBI, .370 OBP) will also play a lot in left field and at DH. In center field, there is a battle brewing between Melky Cabrera (.249, 8 HR, 37 RBI, .301 OBP) and youngster Brett Gardner (.228, 0 HR, 16 RBI, 12 SB in 42 games). Expect both to get plenty of at-bats since they are the only two Yankees with the ability to cover New Yankee Stadium’s vast center field. However, Nady is the only player who isn’t either past his prime or not quite there yet. Expect plenty of production from the Yankee outfield but it is no better than average in the tough AL East.
For all of their troubles last year, the Yankees still won 89 games! Now, factor in an improved starting rotation and a world class switch-hitting first baseman and it isn’t unrealistic to expect the Yankees to challenge for 100 wins. That said, their rivals in New York are still very good and Tampa Bay will not relinquish the division title without a fight. Expect the Yankees to win between 90-95 games but fall short of the AL East title. However, that will definitely be enough for the Bronx Bombers earn the AL Wild Card.
By Ben Burrows
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