Major League Baseball season is right around the corner and although my mind is still firmly affixed on hockey and the usual plight of my beloved Caps. However, here we are at the end of Spring Training and the Yankees are not exactly the forerunners of years past compared to a once again much improved American League East.
The devil is always in the details and the details lie in the rotation. Sometimes, I feel like a broken record writing about it seemingly year after year but here we are, yet again, talking about how it lacks the depth and consistency that would normally make a team strong. After workhorse CC Sabbathia there is just question mark after question mark, but, lets start with CC. How much longer can the Yankees ride the big man’s arm before he finally breaks down from the heavy workload? He is in his prime and looks as good as ever so hopefully he maintains his stamina again this year. Stamina has to be in question though for young Phil Hughes, who’s workload last season was well in excess of most kids his age and experience. There isn’t really a doubt he has the stuff, but his power is down this spring, his control hasn’t been as pinpoint and he sometimes just looks plain gassed. Is he just taking it easy in the pre-season and building up? Is he suffering from dead arm? Is there something else? On the flipside, constant concern AJ Burnett looks as good as ever, especially on his particularly finicky breaking pitches. No surprise is his confidence seems to be stemming from not pitching to the venerable Jorge Posada. Like Mike Musina, Kevin Brown, Roger Clemens and so on, AJ seems to do his best with a different Yankee backstop and with Posada mostly limited to DH this could be the bounce back year he needs. Ivan Nova continues to show flashes of brilliance followed by flukes of inexperience that make him a good bet at a number five as he eases into the majors with hopefully a different fate than the flame-throwing flare out of Joba Chamberlain or those early woes of Hughes. After that, there’s a stunningly resurged duo of Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia. Both veterans who haven’t have so much potential to both succeed and fail that it’s a crap shoot. The Yankees should ride both while they are hot but not put too much stock in either’s long term success. Colon looks as if he’s reinvented himself and might be able to hold both long relief and spot starts when the rotation suffers, while Garcia is still refinding himself and could lend stability at the back end while he has his confidence. Should the Yankees have put more effort into front-end pitching even without the move for Lee ending in melee? Absolutely, but there’s still plenty of time during the season to pick up the spare parts other teams let go of as they inevidably fall out of competition.
Bullpens are finicky bunches, for sure, but then there’s the Yanks closer Mariano Rivera. True, he cannot carry the entire bullpen three innings of relief but he can give a sold 9 and the occasional 8th inning outs and this year is backed up by last season’s big time closer Soriano. Was Soriano necessary in a bullpen that already featured home growns Chamberlain and Robertson among others? Probably not, but when you add him into that, assuming he pitches even half as good as last season, it’s hard to imagine too many leads ever going up in smoke and with the potential instability of the rotation any sense of strength on the mound will be a good thing.
The defense has its potential holes, namely Jeter at Short and Swisher in Right, but neither are players to lament their abilities as they are still solid enough there and provide so much more in the clubhouse then their fielding lets on. The change in catching comes with it’s own questions but so far, Russell Martin has more than proven he can handle the staff and hold offenses down in the pre-season, thus giving hope that he and Cerveli and Posada will make solid backstop throughout the season.
As for the bombers offense, it is deep. As deep as its ever been and with Cano continuing to mature, he could easily be the most dangerous hitter in the lineup, a lineup that already features A-Rod and Tiexeria, Posada and Swisher, Granderson and Gardener, which have the ability to become almost interchangable as a batting order. The biggest question is where to hit Jeter. Traditionally, he’s hit second, but after becoming a double play machine a few seasons back he and Damon were swapped in the order and Jeter seemed to adapt fairly well to the lead off spot. That was, of course, until Gardener began coming into his own and with both Swisher and Granderson better two-hole hitters than what Jeter’s become, it’s hard to imagine that despite his Captaincy and his legacy he shouldn’t actually be hitting further back in the order. If the changes in his stride are able to positively effect his swing he’ll bring even more depth to the lineup along with Chavez on the