As the old saying goes hope springs eternal and in the case of the 2009 New York Yankees that means spring training.
The Yankee will try and bounce back from a disappointing 2008 season that saw the team win less than 90 games for the first time since 2000 (the club’s last World Series victory), and not make the playoffs for the first time in 13 seasons.
Second year manager Joe Girardi knows he has to make the playoffs to keep his job. It would be better still to get to the World Series, and even better still to win it all. For most teams making it to the playoffs constitutes a successful season, but not with the Yankees. Anything less than a trip down the Canyon of Heroes holding aloft the coveted World Series trophy is considered a failure.
Going into the 2009 season there are still a lot of question marks as the landscape of the team have changed.
Gone are Mike Mussina (retirement), Bobby Abreu (signed with Angels), Jason Giambi (returned to Oakland A’s), Wilson Betemit (traded to White Sox), Carl Pavano (free agent, signed with Indians), Sidney Ponson (free agent, unsigned) and Ivan Rodriguez (free agent, unsigned)
Newly arrived are LHP C.C. Sabathia (free agent from Brewers), RHP A.J. Burnett (free agent from Blue Jays), OF/1B Nick Swisher (traded from White Sox), and last but not least 1B Mark Teixeira (free agent from Angels).
Girardi knows the pressure is on him to produce a winner. The Yankees committed nearly $500 million in salary over the past winter to Sabathia, Burnett and Teixeira, plus maintaining the huge salaries of third baseman Alex Rodriguez and shortstop Derek Jeter. Managing in the Bronx is difficult enough, but, now with the Rodriguez steroid scandal to deal with Girardi’s job just became that much harder. However, a strong start out of the gate and a lot of winning can cure a lot of anxieties.
The first question mark is Andy Pettitte. Pettitte, after going 10-6 with a 3.93 ERA in the first half of the ’08 season, struggled in the second half and finished with a 14-14 record and a 4.54 ERA. He has always been the Yankees stopper, but after it was discovered in the previous December he had used performance-enhancing drugs Pettitte fell off badly from the 2007 campaign. He said of his poor performance last year, “My shoulder, for whatever reason, just broke down.” Pettitte said he needed the help of the trainers to get through his last 10 games. All eyes will be on the big lefty who, after collecting a $16,000,000 payday for 2008, re-signed with the club for a reported $5,000,000 + incentives. Can Pettitte reclaim that toughness that has marked his career? Only time will tell.
Two other reservations are in the persons of Jorge Posada and Mariano Rivera. Posada landed on the disabled list twice last year with a torn labrum and rotator cuff injury. His season ended on July 31 after he opted for season ending surgery to repair the damage. The team has been very cautious with Posada. First they forbad him from competing in the World Baseball Classic for his home county of Puerto Rico and he won’t catch a game in spring training until mid- March. Posada who turned 37 this past August will be expected to get a lot more rest this season as the Yankees hope he can return to his pre-injury power.
Rivera had one of his best seasons ever in 2008. Arguably best closer in history, Rivera finished the year with 39 saves out of 40 chances and a infinitesimal 1.40 ERA. However, when it was reported he was having surgery on his right shoulder everyone held their collective breath and then gave a big sigh of relief as the surgery was deemed “minor.” Rivera had some bone shaved off his throwing shoulder and has been otherwise healthy. Rivera reportedly has been tossing for approximately two weeks and hasn’t pitched off a mound this winter. He expects to be ready for Opening Day.
The big off-season news was supposed to be the big free agent signings of Sabathia, Burnett and Teixeira. However, a week ago Sports Illustrated broke a report that A-Rod had tested dirty in a drug test administered in 2003. The results were supposed to be anonymous, but Rodriguez’s name surfaced in a story written by Selena Roberts, who cited for anonymous sources for her claim. This past Monday A-Rod admitted to ESPN’s Peter Gammons he had, in fact, used steroid from 2001 to 2003 while playing for the Texas Rangers. The confession hit baseball like a bombshell.
A-Rod has been both vilified and defended in the week that has passed since his cheating was discovered. Other than his confession to ESPN’s Peter Gammons, Rodriguez has remained silent on the matter. He was at the University of Miami on Friday, because he donated $3.9 million dollars for the renovation of their baseball field and the park was named after him. In his speech A-Rod alluded to his difficulties. “There will be adversity along the way,” he said. “But regardless of the challenges that lie ahead, move forward, address your errors and right your path.”
Along with the other position players, A-Rod will report to spring training on Tuesday where he is sure to meet a huge throng of reporters asking questions. The big question here is how fast can A-Rod put this latest bump-in-the-road behind him and how badly will the tremendous pressure of constant scrutiny affect him on the field of play.
Rodriguez didn’t help in himself out with his initial admission. He tried to paint himself as somewhat of a victim by telling Gammons he was young, naïve and stupid. He also attacked Roberts by saying she was practically stalking him. That was not supported by police.
According to a report in Yahoo Sports, Rodriguez called Roberts this past Wednesday and apologized for his critical comments. The report also said that Roberts won’t comment on the call until A-Rod addresses the media on Tuesday.
Next up are C.C. Sabathia and A.J. Burnett. Sabathia made it known he preferred playing on a west coast team, because he is from the area, and the Yankees made it known they wanted him in New York. The Bombers initially offered Sabathia $140 million over 6 years. After Sabathia sat on the offer for a month Brian Cashman visited him and convinced him New York was a great place to play in. The Yankees sweetened their offer and signed C.C. to a 7-year, $160 million deal, which Sabathia can void after the third year. The clear question here is can Sabathia thrive in New York, where the fans can turn quickly on you if you don’t perform?
A.J. Burnett has just one area of concern and that’s injuries. Burnett has had a reputation for being injury prone. Last year, in a contract year, Burnett had a big season where he set a career high for innings pitched. The Yankees signed him to a 5-year, $82 million contract, but have to be pacing the floor in hoping Burnett’s injury problems are a thing of the past.
Another area of apprehension is Chien-Ming Wang who appears to be fully recovered a foot injury that he sustained in June and never pitched again in 2008. If Wang is the 2-time, 19-game winner he was before the injury, then the Yankees rotation with Sabathia, Wang, Burnett and Pettitte will be very formidable.
The no. 5 starter in the rotation is another question mark the Yankees have to address in spring training. Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy were both considered blue chip pitchers who GM Brian Cashman refused to put into any deal to obtain Johan Santana from the Minnesota Twins in 2008. Hughes went 0-4 with a 6.62 ERA before a rib injury put him on the DL. Kennedy was a huge disappointment. Kennedy started 9 games and went 0-4 with an 8.17 ERA.
That leaves Joba Chamberlain, the 23-year old fireballer who made a name for himself in the bullpen. In 2007 Chamberlain worked 24 innings and struck out 34 while walking six. He only gave up one earned run to post a microscopic 0.38 ERA.
In 2008 Chamberlain was promoted to the starting rotation. He started 19 games where he went 4-3 with a 2.60 ERA. Chamberlain had good numbers as he struck out 138 in 100.1 innings and walked only 38. However, he injured his shoulder in August and landed on the DL. When he came back he went into the bullpen to finish the season.
Going into the 2009 season, Chamberlain is projected for the rotation, but depending how he performs he could be headed back to the ‘pen.
The outfield looks like it will be Damon in left, either Cabrera or Gardner in center and Xavier Nady in right. Meanwhile, according to Girardi, Swisher will get the chance to compete with Nady for the job in right.
Hideki Masui is in the last year of his current contract and is coming off knee surgery. He is slated to be the everyday designated hitter, but could fill in the outfield from time to time.
On paper things look good for the Yankees, but given their projection last year and where they ended up the Yankees have a big hill to climb. Injuries are the biggest key to this club’s success. If they stay away from a revolving door trip to the disabled list this could be a monster year for them. However, if the injury bug strikes the Yankees’ year could quickly unravel.
They are in the toughest division in baseball and they still have to contend with a young, talented and hungry Tampa Bay Rays team who went to the World Series where they lost to the Philadelphia Phillies in five games. The Boston Red Sox are still a dangerous team.
It’s a long season and it should be a fun one to watch.
The projected roster looks like this:
1. LHP CC Sabathia
2. RHP A.J. Burnett
3. RHP Chien-Ming Wang
4. LHP Andy Pettitte
5. RHP Joba Chamberlain
RHP Mariano Rivera (closer)
LHP Damaso Marte
RHP Brian Bruney
RHP Edwar Ramirez
RHP Dan Giese
RHP Jose Veras
1. LF Johnny Damon
2. SS Derek Jeter
3. 1B Mark Teixeira
4. 3B Alex Rodriguez
5. C Jorge Posada
6. DH Hideki Matsui
7. RF Xavier Nady
8. 2B Robinson Cano
9. CF Brett Gardner or Melky Cabrera
C Jose Molina
OF/1B Nick Swisher
OF Brett Gardner or Melky Cabrera
INF Angel Berroa or Cody Ransom