The New York Yankees had a very special year in 2009 — one of their best seasons in their history. But, a new season is just beyond the horizon, and, as always, the goal remains the same for the Yanks, as it was from the first day George Steinbrenner took over ownership of this historic franchise in 1973 …
“Win the World Series” !!! … “Anything less is a failure” !!!
This is the “Yankee Way”, which continues the great Yankees Tradition of greatness that goes all the way back to the 1920’s. And, all in the Yankees Universe can thank George Steinbrenner for always making “winning” the number one priority each and every season.
Without any major controversy [so far] this spring, it gives the Yankees braintrust, and fans, the opportunity to fully focus on key areas of concern that need to be resolved on the Yankees roster before the new season begins against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park on April 4th, Easter Sunday night.
So, the following is my list of some major issues the Yankees need to address during Spring Training, and throughout the 2010 season …
1. Battle For Fifth Spot In Starting Rotation …
I have always been of the opinion that Joba Chamberlain should be a starter, as opposed to being “exiled” in the bullpen … Last season the Yankees braintrust devised all kinds of plans and rules that restricted Joba’s number of pitches thrown, and innings pitched … I think all these rules also restricted Joba’s development as a major league pitcher … In my view, the “Joba Rules” had a negative effect on Chamberlain’s “mindset” which resulted in an overall below average performance on the mound in 2009 … The one good and positive thing about the “Joba Rules” is that they are no longer in effect in 2010 … Chamberlain pitched enough innings during the ’09 season to not have any more restrictions in his starts this season … So, it makes all the sense in the world to pitch Joba Chamberlain as the fifth starter in a rotation that features: CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, Andy Pettitte, and Javier Vazquez as the first four starters … We all need to see how well Joba can perform as a starter over a full season before any decisions are made that will send him to the bullpen … If Chamberlain fails to deliver by the All-Star break, then, Phil Hughes can step into the rotation for the second half of the season … No matter where Hughes pitches this year, [bullpen or as a starter], there will be restrictions [Hughes Rules?] placed on him … So, saving Hughes for the second part of the season will be insurance if Chamberlain is not effective … Also, I believe Phil Hughes is more valuable to the Yanks – in the bullpen – then, Joba would be … That’s my opinion based on how they both pitched last year … And, who knows? … In the future, the Yankees rotation may include both Chamberlain and Hughes pitching as starters … As for the other candidates battling for the fifth spot this spring, I think: Alfredo Aceves and Chad Gaudin will end up in the bullpen as long and middle relievers; and, Sergio Mitre will either start the season at (AAA) Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, or be released by the Yanks … Also, Aceves, Gaudin, or Mitre, could be part of some future Yankee trade.
2. The Lineup: Who will bat number two in the order?
It will be interesting to see who gets hurt more by Johnny Damon signing with the Detroit Tigers this year — the Yankees or Damon? … Certainly, the Yankees will miss Damon in the number two spot in the order … Damon’s working the count, getting on base, hitting for a good average with some power, and great speed, were perfect combinations batting behind Derek Jeter last year. Especially, Johnny’s speed and base running abilities will be missed … But, at this early point in the spring, it has been reported, Nick Johnson will start the season as the Yanks designated hitter and bat number two in the lineup … Johnson is a good hitter, with no speed, who will bat in the .290-.300 range, with power, and an on base percentage of .400 plus … Johnson is a good addition to the Yankees; but, I would rather have Hideki Matsui as DH and Damon batting second in the order … Of course, they are both gone, as Matsui will play for the Angels, and Damon for the Tigers, in 2010 … I don’t think Johnson is the perfect number two hitter; and, he has been very injury-prone throughout his career … But, with that said, the Yankees batting order will look something like the following most of this year:
(1) Derek Jeter SS
(2) Nick Johnson DH
(3) Mark Teixeira 1B
(4) Alex Rodriguez 3B
(5) Jorge Posada C
(6) Robinson Cano 2B
(7) Nick Swisher RF
(8) Curtis Granderson LF
(9) Brett Gardner CF
3. Who will play Left Field? … Center Field?
Joe Girardi has always had great praise for Brett Gardner; so, he will be given every opportunity to play everyday. And, when Gardner is in the lineup he will play center field because center is his best position, and he does play it well … This will then shift Curtis Granderson to left field when Gardner plays … The Yankees also have Randy Winn, Jamie Hoffmann, and Marcus Thames battling to become the fourth outfielder, with Winn probably the early-line favorite at this time … If Winn makes the team, he will play left field when he’s in the lineup, with Granderson playing center … Consistency is the key for success of the Yankees outfield: Granderson in left; Gardner in center; and, Nick Swisher in right … Granderson (.249 BA; .327 OB: .453 Slug; 91 R; 72 BB; 30 HR; 71 RBI; 141 K’s), had very similar stats as Swisher (.245 BA; .357 OB; .460 Slug; 84 R; 97 BB; 29 HR; 82 RBI; 126 K’s), in 2009 … Both players need to improve their numbers … Gardner needs to hit for a higher average; get on base more; and, steal many bases this season to justify being the Yanks regular center fielder … He has been working on his bunting this winter, which is a very positive sign that should result in many infield hits and sacrifice bunts for Gardner in 2010 … Another question that will be answered throughout the season will be: Which combination of players would be more productive for the Yankees this year ? …
Damon (LF) – Granderson (CF) – Matsui (DH) … or,
Granderson (LF) – Gardner (CF) – Johnson (DH)
Only time will tell.
4. Jorge Posada catching A.J. Burnett, and other starters?
The issue that some Yankee pitches have had difficulties with Jorge Posada catching their starts has been well documented over the years … Last year, A.J. Burnett seemed to be most distracted when Posada caught his games, which resulted in Jose Molina becoming Burnett’s personal catcher for most of the season … But, this year, Molina will be playing for the Toronto Blue Jays, and Francisco Cervelli will be the Yanks back-up catcher … It will be worth watching how this drama unfolds thoughout the year, but the early signs look positive as both Posada and Burnett are making every effort to work out all their issues during the spring …
In an article in the New York Daily News by Mark Feinsand, A.J. Burnett is quoted as saying, “I was looking forward to it [bullpen session with Posada] from the first day of camp, to be able to put that behind us and start working together. A lot of stuff was blown out of proportion last year. We’ve talked a handful of times already, so we’re excited to put that behind us, move on and learn from each other.” … “I hope he [Posada] catches me every bullpen and every game this spring. Me coming in here last year and feeling like I caused that controversy, I want to throw to Jorge. I don’t want to deal with that anymore.” … “I never questioned Jorge; I never would and never did. I questioned myself, but everyone thought I questioned Jorge. He’s caught in this league for a long time, so there’s a lot I can learn from him.” …
Posada was also quoted in the article, saying: “I can’t catch him [Burnett] every day, but I bet you the first time I’m not in there when he pitches, people will talk about it. If Cervelli catches him four in a row and he wins four in a row, I’ll make sure Cervelli catches him the fifth time.”
So, the signs look good that both Posada and Burnett are going to figure out how best to work together during games A.J. starts.
The one thing, though, that all the pitchers on the Yankees staff will agree on is … Jorge Posada’s bat in the middle of the lineup is very important to the Yanks winning … Posada has been a major part of “five” Yankee World Championship teams, and has produced many key hits and huge home runs throughout his great career … Those two and three-run homers make-up for any questions about Jorge’s catching abilities … And, for that, Posada deserves all the respect due him as one of the best catchers [maybe the best], in Major League Baseball over the past 15 years.
5. The Bullpen: “Bridge to Mariano” …
Mariano Rivera had one of his best seasons as the Yankees “closer” last year … And, there is every reason to believe that he will continue his dominance as the “best closer in the history of baseball”, in 2010, and over the next few years … Therefore, the main questions about the Yankees bullpen revolve around the middle relievers, eight-inning set-up man, and how well constructed the “Bridge to Mariano” will be built and hold-up over the course of the whole season … There are a full cast of characters that will battle it out during spring training to fill these bullpen spots, including: David Robertson; Damaso Marte; Mark Melancon; Jonathan Albaladejo; Edwar Ramirez; and newly acquired, Boone Logan; and Chan Ho Park; [plus others] … Also, in the mix are: Aceves; Gaudin; Mitre, as well as, Phil Hughes, who I think will start the season as the eight-inning “set-up man” … But, whatever the make-up of the Yankees bullpen is this year, my major concern is: I hope manager Joe Girardi and pitching coach Dave Eiland do not overuse the bullpen [again] in 2010 … Dare I mention: “pitch-counts”, “inning-limitations”, and, a “parade of relievers” from the bullpen to the mound, in many games? … In my view, the key for the best performances from the pitching staff is for the starting pichers to be allowed to pitch at least seven or eight innings per game, and, even be allowed to “complete games” … It would be great to see some “CG’s” this season … But, the main key is Mariano Rivera, and how well he pitches … Victory is certain [again] when we hear many times this season:
“Mariano closes out the game, and the Yankees win” !!!
Everybody, Enjoy “Spring Training” !!!
— Jimmy, “BY&L”