As a new Yankee Stadium is being built in the Bronx, a similar project is occurring in Tampa, Florida at the newly renamed Steinbrenner Field.
In addition to the seasoned veterans who will don pinstripes for the 2008 season, a mix of youth will be seen at camp, much like the group from 1995 that included Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte, and Derek Jeter. The change is startling and interesting for the Yankees, but it is also welcomed by many, if not all, fans.
The Yankees came dangerously close to reverting to their old selves, attempting to deal multiple prospects and massive amounts of money for one player—Johan Santana. It appears the Bombers could've had Santana if they chose to, but decided the price tag was too high even when the Twins called to let Brian Cashman know their price had dropped.
Minnesota was forced to accept what many agreed was the third or fourth best package for the two-time Cy Young winning left-hander from the Mets. In a few months, if it appears Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy can't cut it, and Melky Cabrera is mired in a season long slump, we will surely hear from Boss Jr. about it.
For now the idea of getting to watch so many highly touted prospects grow up right in front of their eyes has most Yankees fans giddy. The danger that comes with that is the lack of experience. This season, the Yankees rotation could feature three starters who are 22 or younger. For a team expected to compete for a world championship every year, this is a calculated risk at the very least.
In past years the Yankees have dealt for the likes of Randy Johnson, Kevin Brown, and Javier Vasquez, and signed busts such as Jose Contreras, Jaret Wright, Kei Igawa, and the Super Pariah himself Carl Pavano. At some point, Brian Cashman finally had enough and decided the team should invest more money in scouting and drafting.
The sandwich pick the Yankees received in the 2006 draft as a result of Tom Gordon signing with the Phillies has turned into phenom Joba Chamberlain. The Yankees first round pick that year, Ian Kennedy, had a 1.90 ERA in limited 2007 duty and will be pushing Mike Mussina for a rotation spot.
Then there's Phil Hughes, who has been regarded as the top pitching prospect in baseball for some time now. After a near no-hitter against the Texas Rangers ended in a pulled hamstring that took almost two months to recover from, Hughes regained his form that so many have raved about down the stretch and ended his year with the only playoff win for the Yankees when he pitched 5 2/3 innings in relief of Roger Clemens who left with an injury.
These three appear to be the real deal, and it will be interesting to see how they handle a full season in the Bronx.
Besides the youngsters in the rotation, there are other interesting story lines to keep an eye on. Of course there is the Andy Pettitte saga and how he will deal with his admission. So far he has handled himself extremely well, and the fact that he is highly respected in the game will only help him.
The problems will come when he starts on the road and the BALCO and HGH chants begin. (For the record, Pettitte had no involvement with BALCO. It just happens to be the "poster chant" to taunt admitted steroid users.) However, this article is supposed to be about baseball and not grand jury testimony, so let's move on.
I am very interested to see how Mike Mussina rebounds from his worst season as a Yankee, if not his worst season period. He has the younger version of himself, Ian Kennedy, attempting to pitch him out of the rotation and looming free agency/retirement to keep him motivated.
If Jason Giambi wants a team to play for next year, he has to step it up. Giambi is at the end of his seven-year, $121 million contract, which he signed in the 2001-2002 offseason. The Yankees have a $22 million club option for 2009 or a $5 million buyout. I will eat my hat if the Yankees pick up that option.
I also don't see the Yankees re-signing Giambi at a lower salary no matter how good of a season he has, unless they deal Johnny Damon or Hideki Matsui and he discovers the fountain of youth. He has free agency to motivate him, along with the muddled first base situation. The characters in that performance include, to date, Shelley Duncan, Wilson Betemit, Jason Lane, Morgan Ensberg, and perhaps Johnny Damon.
Giambi has to show he can still hack it, and try not to play a Neanderthal's first base.
The most interesting battle the Yankees have this spring is with their bullpen. The Yankees should have four spots available on their pitching staff, besides the five starters and the three relievers who have been guaranteed spots: Kyle Farnsworth, free agent signee LaTroy Hawkins, and Mariano Rivera.
I'm not sure why Farnsworth is guaranteed a spot. I know he's making $5 million, but Giambi is making four times that and he's being discussed as a bench player.
The Yanks decided they have the talent to fill up the 'pen and I agree with them. They have guys in the minors who can simply bring it. Kevin Whelan, J.B. Cox, Humberto Sanchez, Mark Melancon, Christian Garcia, Jeff Marquez, Steven White, Jonathan Albalajedo, and Chris Britton could all see time in the majors this year.
Humberto Sanchez, recovering from Tommy John surgery, is said to have Joba-esque stuff. If Chamberlain starts the year in the bullpen as it has been speculated, that leaves just three spots. I will be keeping a close eye on this.
Another intrguing part of Yankees' Spring Training will of course be Joe Girardi's first season at the helm. Girardi's assimilation seems to already be complete, as he played for the Yankees during his career and won multiple World Series' rings with them.
Girardi is a different manager than Joe Torre, make no mistake about it. He has no problem getting into a player's face and letting them know he's upset. Girardi is more apt to bring up a problem as soon as it surfaces. On the second day of full workouts, players are even noticing how much rougher conditioning is under Girardi than it was under Torre.
"I missed [Torre] when we were running," Derek Jeter joked after running in the outfield with Girardi watching. "We didn't run that much before."
For the Yankees, their next Spring Training proves to be an infinitely more interesting one. The young three will have a season under their belt, the new stadium will be awaiting games, and the contracts of multiple players such as Jason Giambi, Mike Mussina, Carl Pavano, Kyle Farnsworth, and Bobby Abreu will be gone, perhaps enabling the Yankees to usher in new talent such as Francisco "K-Rod" Rodriguez and C.C. Sabathia.
The only one from that group I can even remotely imagine the Yankees re-signing is Bobby Abreu. If Jose Tabata or Austin Jackson prove that they're ready however, Abreu will be gone for a draft pick or two. And we've all seen what draft picks can become.