New York Yankees: 5 Bold Predictions for the 2012 Season
Overall, the 2011 season was a failure for the Yankees. Because in New York, 97 wins and a division title simply don't serve as any sort of consolation. Not for the 27-time World Series Champions.
In fact, Yankees regular season success in 2011 was nothing more than a testimony to the promising foundation they have in place. Despite subpar starting pitching, New York managed to win arguably the toughest division in baseball last season—thanks to stellar hitting and a solid relief pitching.
Baseball's second-best offense and fourth-ranked bullpen carried the Bronx Bombers into the postseason with the second-best record in the majors. But for the second time in six years, the Detroit Tigers eliminated New York in the first round, showing the Yankees again that it takes a complete team to win in October.
With a glaring weakness in the rotation, the Yankees entered this past winter trying to cut down on payroll. An unfamiliar concept in New York left fans skeptical about the 2012 roster until Brian Cashman silenced the talk with a handful of moves that bolstered starting rotation while sparing the checkbook too.
With the low-cost additions of Hiroki Kuroda and Michael Pineda, the Yankees now have six starters battling for four spots behind ace CC Sabathia.
A new-found depth at starting pitching could give New York one of the most well balanced teams in the majors, but a minimum of 173 games (including the playoffs) still stand between the Yankees and their ultimate goal.
Here are five bold predictions that could happen along the way...
Derek Jeter Will Be Moved Down in the Batting Order
I hate to be the wet blanket, but the time has finally come. A man that will undoubtedly go down as one of the greatest players in Yankee history will inevitably fill a slot in the bottom-third of the team's lineup card. And 2012 could be the year.
Such a move in New York could be the biggest tabloid favorite since Jeremy Lin and Tim Tebow. And yes, the fact that those two names have been mentioned in the same conversation as Derek Jeter now sickens me.
It would bring anger to many, but tears to most.
A guy who epitomizes success and moral integrity has garnered the respect of not only Yankee fans, but baseball fans everywhere. I mean, really, when was the last time you heard someone say, "I hate Derek Jeter," outside of Boston.
Five World Series championships ranks first on a long list of career achievements that will, one day, send the Yankee captain to Cooperstown on the first ballot. But for Jeter, the numbers don't begin to tell the story.
There is no question as to whether or not Derek Jeter deserves to stay atop the order, because, frankly, Derek Jeter has earned the right to do whatever he wants.
But the man is a legend for a reason. And no ego will cause him to lose sight of the team's best interest. Because the fact remains that DJ will be turning 39 this upcoming June, and he is no longer the machine who would send nearly 200 hits the other way on a yearly basis.
It is no longer arguable that Jeter is as valuable in the top-third as is Brett Gardner and his unmatchable speed. And that's why Jeter will take it upon himself to move down in the lineup. Honorably as always.
Alex Rodriguez: Comeback Player of the Year
It didn't take long for Alex Rodriguez to make his presence felt at spring training this year. In his first live action since a disappointing 2011 campaign, A-Rod took one of baseball's best pitchers (Roy Halladay) deep on the first pitch he saw in 2012.
A multitude of injuries limited New York's third baseman to just 99 games last season—the fewest he has played since he broke into the league with Seattle back in 1994-1995. As a result, Rodriguez failed to reach the 30 HR/100 RBI mark for the first time in the past 13 years.
While many attribute his recent decline in production to old age and steroid abuse, A-Rod is determined to prove the critics wrong in 2012. He claims to feel the best he has in years, and a fully healthy Rodriguez batting clean-up in a deep Yankees lineup could mean a return to glory for the 36-year-old slugger.
Manager Joe Girardi will be sure to give his veteran third baseman plenty of rest over the course of the season, using the American League's DH position to his full advantage.
And while 30 HR and 100 RBI seems unlikely, it is by no means out of the question for a rejuvenated Alex Rodriguez batting cleanup in one of baseball's most potent lineups.
Michael Pineda Will Win 17 Games
For the 6'7" Michael Pineda, there is no ceiling in terms of potential. And after an old-fashioned exchange of blue chip prospects this past offseason, the hard-throwing righty finds himself in the Bronx with one of the game's most potent offenses behind him.
A stellar rookie campaign yielded him to just nine wins with the Mariners last year, but a brief look at the numbers will show you that his record was no indication of Pineda's performance in 2011. Rather, it was indicative of Seattle's anemic offense that scored just 3.4 runs per game—the lowest of any team in baseball.
Now, the hard-throwing right-hander is in New York pitching for the Yankees who ranked second in offensive production a season ago. With the added support and a little bit of luck, there is little reason to doubt that Michael Pineda could win 17+ games in 2012.
Sure, the second-year starter will have to be more careful with the high fastball and a short right field in Yankee Stadium. But the 23 year old displayed exceptional control in his 28 starts with the Mariners last season. In fact, in 28 starts, Pineda surrendered just 55 walks, while finishing second in the American League in K/9 innings.
After recently silencing the conversation about a lack of velocity on his fastball, only a six-man rotation or an innings limit could stand in the way of Michael Pineda and 17 wins.
Robinson Cano: 2012 AL MVP
With the addition of two MVP caliber players (Pujols and Fielder) to the AL, Robinson Cano could be blossoming at the wrong time. But that's not to say he won't be in contention for the league's Most Valuable Player award come voting time in November.
A steady progression in production over recent seasons has made Cano not only one of the most feared hitters, but one of the most complete players in baseball. And coming off a career year that featured 28 HRs and 118 RBI, Robinson will finally be batting where he belongs in the batting order—third.
Increased opportunities in 2012 will almost certainly yield positive results for the natural from the Dominican Republic. A batting average of .342 in his second year led many to believe that Cano was destined for a batting title; however, it has become clear the Yankees second baseman had his eyes on bigger things.
While still maintaining an impressive .308 career average, Cano has made vast improvements in nearly every offensive category. He consistently ranks among the league leaders in both hits and doubles, and he doesn't lack power either.
The guy can hit lefties just as well as righties. He has won both a Gold Glove award and a Home Run Derby. He is just entering his prime, and he will be hitting in the middle of the order in a Yankees lineup that scored 867 runs a season ago.
Move over, Verlander. It's Robbie's time to shine.
The Yankees Will Celebrate World Series Title No. 28
Even with all the big names on the market this past offseason, one of the biggest stories around MLB remains about a team who did not make any big free-agent signings. For the second consecutive year, the Yankees laid low in the winter months, and the rest of the league is hoping not to wake a sleeping giant.
That's because the core is already in place in New York, and the Bronx Bombers managed to address their biggest needs without crippling the check book.
For a team that finished with the second best record in all of baseball last season, a lack of quality starting pitching (along with Justin Verlander) ultimately led to their demise in the playoffs. But a couple of lower-profile signings and an exchange of top-tier prospects has left the Yankees with an abundance of options for the 2012 rotation.
Consider that CC Sabathia and Ivan Nova went a combined 35-12 last year and then recall that the Yankees added Hiroki Kuroda and Michael Pineda in the offseason. Phil Hughes may finally be healthy again, and Andy Pettitte is coming out of retirement ready to fill any potential holes.
Sorry, Freddy (Garcia).
The Tigers, Angels and Red Sox will certainly have a lot to say about the Yankees pennant chances; however, the addition of quality starting pitching to a team that previously owned the league's second-best offense and fourth ranked bullpen is quite menacing.
Look for manager Joe Girardi to be wearing the No. 29 next spring.