Monday, March 30, 2009

Yankees Try To Move On With and Without A-Rod in 2009

I remember many years ago there was an episode of the Brady Bunch where one of the kids complained that her sister Marsha got more attention than she. "Marsha! Marsha! Marsha!" she screamed in frustration.

I guess you can say that pretty much describes the Yankees right now.
Derek Jeter has been frustrated all spring with the A-Rod talk; he must be thinking, "A-Rod! A-Rod! A-Rod!", or, if you believe Joe Torre's book, The Yankee Years, perhaps it is A-Rod who is the one who can't get enough of Jeter, e.g. that Single White Female claim, or Madonna, or himself, or whatever you want to believe for that matter.

Yes, this was supposed to be an offseason and training camp about the new additions of CC Sabathia, Mark Teixeira, and A.J. Burnett. It was supposed to be about Joe Girardi in his second season as manager; instead, it has been A-Rod, A-Rod, A-Rod all the time!
First, it was Selena Roberts' report that Rodriguez had used steroids in 2003 when he was still a Texas Ranger; next it was A-Rod long lost "cousin" and he acting "young and stupid" at the age ripe old age of 26, when he used 'roids! Then, it was an injury to A-Rod's cyst in his hip which will cost Rodriguez most of the first two months of the regular season. Next, A-Rod was in the news posing for seductive pictures of himself, and oh, did I forget to mention that Selena Roberts has a book coming out on A-Rod's strange lifestyle?
Yeah, that is coming out in mid-April, can't wait! Maybe it's a good thing that Rodriguez will not be in New York when the book hits stores?

It remains to be seen what kind of impact the absence of Rodriguez will have on the Yankees' lineup, but one can imagine that the Yankees will still find ways to score runs, even with the huge hole no A-Rod leaves on a lineup.

With the exception of Jeter and Teixeira, there is nothing but lingering questions about the Yankee lineup: Will Jorge Posada return to his All Star form off an injury at 38 years of age? Will Hideki Matsui find his swing again after he had an injury plagued 2008? Will Johnny Damon continue to produce at a high level at 36 years old? Will Bret Gardner become the answer in center field for the Yankees?
Those questions will be answered throughout the season. One thing is for sure in Yankeeland, it is this: no excuses; just win baby!
At the top of the lineup, Girardi is tinkering with the idea of leading off with Jeter and batting Damon second. That is probably a strategy that will last almost as long as Mets manager Jerry Manuel's idea to bat Jose Reyes third. It won't last longer than a second. Damon hit 17 homers, drove in 71 and stole 29 bases. For a guy 36, that is all you can ask, especially from a lead-off man. Throughout his career, Damon has been an excellent leadoff hitter, certainly during his caveman days in Boston when he lead the Red Sox to the World Series title in 2004. The Yankees should leave Damon and Jeter alone. Damon takes pitches, walks and steals bases, while Jeter is the perfect No. 2 guy who can drive the ball the opposite way.
What Joe Girardi should be worried about is Matsui, Posada, Robinson Cano, and Gardner. Until A-Rod comes back, Matsui will be leaned on to bat fourth or even fifth behind Teixeira. The beauty of having A-Rod behind a guy like Teixeira, is the fact that it would force teams to pitch to Teixeira. Now people can walk Tex, until Matsui or Posada can prove otherwise.
Both players had injury problems last year, but it is Matsui who has had the biggest issues. He missed a lot of time in 2006 due to a wrist injury, and in 2008, he was banged up again. When healthy, Matsui can be a very dangerous hitter. In 2007, Matsui hit .285 with 25 home runs and 103 RBI; his health at this time of the year is critical to an early Yankee start.
Meantime, Posada, who signed a big four year deal last year, needs to prove that he still has something left in the tank. A lot of catchers tend to get worse the older they get. Expect to see Jose Molina catch 60-65 games this year, just to give Posada a break, and DH for a day. However, if Posada struggles, the Yankees will be in trouble at catcher. Molina hit only .216 last year, and Pudge Rodriguez was a total disaster in his two month stint as a Yankee. Therefore, Posada must return to his old form if the Yankees are to be successful this season.

Xavier Nady is probably the most underrated players on the Yankees. The guy can flat out rake, and he plays a good outfield. In 59 games with the Bombers Nady hit only .268 but still hit 12 home runs and drove in 40. He is the perfect No. 6 hitter who will give any team 20-25 homers and 85-90 RBI. His value is tremendous on this ball-club, especially with A-Rod out.

Then there are the kids. Melkey Cabrera has worn out his welcome in New York, and is now on the trading block, meaning that Brett Gardner is the new center fielder. Even though he doesn't look the part, the 5'10" 180 pounds Gardner's success harkens back to the days when the Yankees were successful with home grown talent in the 1990's. Gardner is no Bernie Williams, but if he can provide a steady bat at the bottom of the order and doesn't kill the Yankees in center, then they can live with him. If Gardner should struggle, the Yankees will have to look for a center fielder.

It will be a long search and will probably come at a heavy price too, considering that the two best center fielders in the game: Tori Hunter and Carlos Beltran play on the rival Mets and Angels and will never wear pin strips because of that. Thus, it is important for Gardner to develop into something promising ASAP.

Unlike their crosstown rival Mets, the Yankees pitching staff is in great shape. Sabathia is a work horse in every sense of the word. Last year, when the Brewers needed him the most, Sabathia pitched three games in a matter of seven days just to make sure that Milwaukee got to the postseason. The hefty lefty went 11-2 with the Brew Crew, posting a 1.65 ERA and was in the running for NL Cy Young Award to boot. However, in the AL, Sabathia got touched up a bit more. He had a 3.83 ERA during the first half of 2008 in Cleveland. Still, 3.83 in the AL is nothing to sneeze at.

Chien-Ming Wang is now the best No. 2 starter in baseball. A freak injury against the Astros ended a brilliant season too soon for the Tainan native. In 2006 and 2007 combined, Wang went 38-13 with an ERA around 3.65. If Wang is healthy, it will create an impossible scenario for opponents in a short series. Imagine having to face both Sabathia and Wang? Not exactly a good dream for potential playoff opponents.

A.J. Burnett comes over from Toronto based on the fact that he was 5-0 against the Yankees in 2008. I suppose the Bombers were tired of seeing him beat them all the time. Burnett is an okay pitcher, nothing spectacular.He is perfect as a three or four starter; the big concern with him is that he gives up a ton of hits. Last year, Burnett surrendered 211 hits and 109 runs in 221 and a third innings. If that continues, the Yankee faithful will grow to detest Burnett big time.

Andy Pettitte will return as well this year. After a terrible 2008, Pettitte will look once more to end his career in style with the Yankees. Age is a factor though. Pettitte is 37 and not getting any younger. Perhaps his time has passed him already. We shall see.
Now for the controversy: Should he start or should he be in the bullpen? Right now, Joba Chamberlain is slotted in as the Yankees number five starter. He did strike out 118 batters last year and had a 2.60 ERA, but the fact is that Chamberlain got hurt when the Yankees stretched him out last year. At one point, he had to skip a couple of starts because of arm fatigue.
That shouldn't be a problem this year, but the Yankees would be better served with Chamberlain in the bullpen, setting up for Mariano Rivera.

In 2007, Chamberlain was fantastic! He went 2-0 with a 0.38 ERA in 24 innings and surrendered only a single earned run. Chamberlain has nasty stuff that deceives hitters into swinging at garbage in the dirt pitches. He throws so fast, that no one can tell the difference. That is a valuable asset for a eighth-inning guy.
The Yankees should take advantage of his gifts and keep him in the pen. Rivera is 39 and will one day retire. Chamberlain will make his big bucks as a closer one day, so the Yankees better wake up before someone else does and pays him the money to close.
As for Rivera, he is better than Father Time; in fact, he is like a good wine that gets better with age. Last year Rivera had 39 saves in 40 opportunities. Everyone wonders when he will run out of gas, but right now it doesn't look like that will happen. If it does, it will come as a shock.

The Yankees have enough pitching to get them over the Red Sox and Rays this season. Offensively, if some Yankees can defy father time, and A-Rod can stop being A-Fraud then there shouldn't be a problem, and the Bombers should score somewhere around 750-800 runs this season.

Don't expect the Tampa Bay Rays to be much of a threat this year; last year was a fluke. The Red Sox will challenge as usual, and, as usual, it will come down to the final two weeks of the season. Remember, the AL is a deep league, so the wild card is never a guarantee. PREDICTION: YANKEES First Place, 94-68.

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